1977 riots in Sri Lanka

4 09 2009

The 1977 riots in Sri Lanka followed the 1977 general elections in Sri Lanka where the Sri Lankan Tamil nationalistic Tamil United Liberation Front won a plurality of minority Sri Lankan Tamil votes in which it stood for secession. Around 300 Tamils were killed in the riots.[1]

After the independence and especially after the ‘Sinhala only act” of 1956, Tamils parties were asking for more power for North and east of Sri Lanka where Tamils are the majority. Some have gone further asking for a federal system. There were many agreements (at least two) with the Prime ministers, but nothing implemented. Finally, the desperate Tamil leaders decided that there is no point in co-existence and only solution is a separate state. In 1974, all major Tamils parties representing tamils in the North east tamils came under one forum (named as Tamil United Liberation Frunt – TULF) and in 1976 they adopted a resolution at their party convention in Vaddukoddai, Jaffna calling for a separate state (Tamil Eelam).

In the election of 1977 happened on July 21 1977, the Tamil districts voted almost entirely for the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF)[citation needed], a political party in Sri Lanka to openly advocate separatism of the Tamil regions of the country.

For some years, there had been sporadic attacks on army and policemen in the Jaffna region, by militant Tamil youth groups which consited a handful of members advocating separation through violent means. The new prime minister, Junius Richard Jayewardene, was convinced there was a link between the TULF and the militants, and wanted to suppress both. The riots began when four policemen entered a carnival without tickets. Apparently the policemen were inebriated and proceeded to attack those who asked for tickets. The conflict escalated and the policemen were beaten up by the public and in retaliation the police opened fire.

The riot

There were different beliefs on how the riot started. Some believe it started when there was a dispute over allowing policemen into a carnival without ticket. However, few accept it as the reason. Some have a view that it could be used as a chance. However, inquires revealed that it was conducted in an organized manner thus, a pre-planned attack.The riot started on August 12 1977, in less than a month of the new government.

Government response

Questioned in Parliament by Amarthalingam, Prime Minister Jayewardene was defiant, blaming the riots on the TULF:

People become restive when they hear that a separate state is to be formed. Whatever it is, when statements of that type are made, the newspapers carry them throughout the island, and when you say that you are not violent, but that violence may be used in time to come, what do you think the other people in Sri Lanka will do? How will they react? If you want to fight, let there be a fight; if it is peace, let there be peace; that is what they will say. It is not what I am saying. The people of Sri Lanka say that.

Finally, on August 20, the government ordered curfews and deployed the military to quell the riots.

Aftermath

The riots radicalized Tamil youths, convincing many that the TULF’s strategy of using legal and constitutional means to achieve independence would never work, and armed insurrection was the only way forward.

References

  • Chattopadhyaya, Haraprasad (1994). Ethnic Unrest in Modern Sri Lanka: An Account of Tamil-Sinhalese Race Relations. South Asia Books. ISBN 8-1858-8052-2.
  • Seneratne, Jagath P. (1998). Political Violence in Sri Lanka, 1977-1990: Riots, Insurrections, Counter-Insurgencies, Foreign Intervention. VU University Press. ISBN 90-5383-524-5.
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