Black July: Recalling the Riot That Started Sri Lankan Civil War

Black July: Recalling the Riot That Started Sri Lankan Civil War

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On the night of 23 July, 1983, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam), a militant faction, killed 13 Sri Lankan soldiers.

This sparked an anti-Tamil riot, which soon spread to almost all of Sri Lanka. Mobs of Sinhalese, who were the majority, began to attack the local Tamils. Some reports suggested that they were aided by the government, the police and the army. The vandals who burnt down houses knew exactly which houses belonged to the Tamils and which were Sinhalese property.

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In just a few days, between 24-29 July, over 3,000 Tamils were brutally killed. Thousands more were wounded, stripped, raped and left homeless. The Sinhalese mob would ask random people to identify the Sinhalese name of an object, in order to identify the Tamils among them.

The riots, in turn, sparked a civil war that lasted 26 long, bloody years, culminating in the rout of the LTTE in 2009. Hundreds of thousands of Tamils were exiled. Many settled abroad and have since formed close-knit communities. Today, eight years after the war, many of those who were exiled either fear going back, or have nothing to return to. Over 69,000 Tamils still live as refugees. The Sinhalese government proclaims that all are equal. Yet it refuses to acknowledge the genocide or the unknown numbers of Tamil civilians who were killed to vanquish the LTTE.

Every year, Sri Lankan Tamils and many Sinhalese across the world commemorate Black July.

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

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