Over 4,000 Sri Lankan Tamils were killed and several hundreds were displaced in the riots that gripped the nation.
Over 4,000 Sri Lankan Tamils were killed and several hundreds were displaced in the riots that gripped the nation.(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)
  • 1. What Happened on 23 July 1983?
  • 2. The Funeral Trigger on 24 July
  • 3. An Uncontrolled Mob and a Bloody Massacre
  • 4. Allegations of "Assistance" from the Sri Lankan Government
  • 5. The Government’s Response to Black July
  • 6. The Aftermath
Black July: How A Bloody Massacre Set Off the Sri Lankan Civil War

The intervening night of 23 and 24 July 1983, when 13 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed, is said to have triggered the country’s civil war that lasted over 26 long bloody years, ending with the elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The events that unfolded that night resulted in a week of massacres, which saw the deaths of over 4,000 Sri Lankan Tamils.

The month of July is generally observed as Black July by the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora around the globe, in remembrance of the pogrom that claimed the lives of their brothers and sisters on a small island nation.

  • 1. What Happened on 23 July 1983?

    An already simmering Sri Lanka had witnessed a spate of violence and riots in the previous decades that were brought about due to the constant tussle for power between the Sinhalese and the minority Tamil population. Things had worsened for the minority in 1956, after the Sinhala Only Act recognised Sinhalese as the only official language of the country, depriving the Tamil population of positions in government institutions.

    Through the 1960s, protests marred the country, which only worsened after the United National Party (UNP) came to power in 1977. The primary incident of violence occurred soon after in 1981, when the Jaffna library, which was also a convening point for several ethnic Tamil groups, was burnt down.

    By early July, the Sri Lankan government had increased the presence of its troops in Colombo and on the night of 23 July, at around 11.30 pm, the LTTE attacked a patrol vehicle, where a bomb was detonated on the floor of a jeep, injuring two soldiers. When the rest of the convoy rushed to help out their colleagues, the LTTE militants staged an ambush, killing 13 soldiers in total.

    This attack was vastly touted to be in retaliation to the alleged abduction and rape of Tamil school girls by government forces.

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