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Kandasamy Sivapragasam

My name is Kandasamy Sivapargasam. I was the former Chief Editor of Express Newspaper Ceylon Ltd, which published Virakesari and other such newspapers. It was the most prestigious Tamil newspaper in Sri Lanka.

As a journalist in Colombo, we were under very tiring conditions. As the government took action to obliterate any support in the fight for a separate state, we had to be very careful in collection or presentation of news. The environment was not conducive for an independent journalist to act and write as an independent journalist. Many ministers reprimanded journalists when they were merely presenting the facts. If they continued in writing against the government, they were imprisoned without charge.

I remember Jayawardene’s statement in the days leading up to Black July. By stating that he did not care about the opinion of the Jaffna (Tamil) people, he was stating that he did not care what happened to an important section of the population. He was giving the Sinhala people advanced permission to take the law into their own hands and behave as they saw fit against the Tamil people. This kind of attitude has prevailed for a long time in government. In 1981, Sinhala government ministers were directly involved in the burning of the Jaffna Library. The same type of government involvement was evident during the Anti Tamil Pogrom of 1983. They did not take any action to protect the Tamils. The army and police largely turned a deaf ear to their cries. The government should have taken firm measures to stop the killing and looting. However, they left us to our own fate and to mercy of Sinhala people.

My family was very badly affected. We were home Sunday night. The reporters kept me informed of the situation. As I was getting to leave the next morning, I got call from my friends and others that it was pandemonium in the streets. Within moments, we heard someone yell that men holding dangerous weapons were coming towards the area. I ran to the top of the house and I saw the group of men holding petrol cans, iron bars and chain. I quickly locked and bolted the doors. The house was owned by my aunt who lived there for nearly 50-60 years. We had difficulty in persuading her to leave with us. Finally, we ran out the back. At that time, my aunt’s daughter and another Tamil neighbor, who was an Army officer’s wife, ran out with their children. We went across the street to our Sinhala neighbor’s house. She was shocked to see us. She quickly hid us in the dog kennel. There was 17 of us. As we sat in the kennel, we could still see our house in the distance up above. The thugs climbed up the walls and began breaking everything to get in. They set our car on fire and then our entire house on fire. However, they were still looking for us.

At that time, our neighbor, the Army officer, arrived in a truck along with two others to check on us. He got us inside the truck but the mobs was ready to pull us out and slaughter. The army men threatened to shoot if they attempt to block them. Finally they stepped away. They saved our lives. I am quite certain if they did not arrive – we would have died that day.

They took us the military police headquarters. On Friday, there was a rumor that was spread all around Colombo that Tigers were going to attack. The Army and Police were put on alert to fight against any Tiger invasion. They fanned out protection to protect the building. We were told to stay in our room.

As I stood in front of the door, an Army officer came and pointed the gun at me. He was only three yards and ready to pull the trigger. He asked, “Why should we protect you and when the Tigers are here to attack?” I was frightened but kept quiet. Luckily, a Muslim commander came by and ordered him to put it down. When I went back into the room, I heard the other Army officers scolding us. We knew we were not safe any more. Soon after, we went to my Managing Director’s house.

After the Friday incident, I had decided I must leave the country. Since I was a journalist, I knew we would not be safe. Through the help of friends who worked within the American Embassy, I was able to convince the Embassy to pull me out of Sri Lankan and provide me refugee statues. By the end of 1983, my family and I were safely settled in Massachusetts.

When I look back with on Black July, it brings me deep sadness. It led me to leave Sri Lanka. It was also a dark time in the history of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Many were helpless. The government involvement in the events of Black July was visible through the lack of action to protect the Tamils.

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