It is now exactly 31 years since the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed in Colombo on July 29, 1987, between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene amidst political turmoil in Colombo and military advances in the North.
The Accord was signed “Attaching utmost importance to nurturing, intensifying and strengthening the traditional friendship of Sri Lanka and India, and acknowledging the imperative need of resolving the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka, and the consequent violence, and for the safety, well-being and prosperity of people belonging to all communities of Sri Lanka”.
India always took a keen interest in the ethnic conflict and related developments in Sri Lanka, mainly because of the Tamil Nadu factor. The Tamil populations in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka’s North shared the same linguistic, cultural and religious heritage and it would have been naive to suggest that the Central Government in New Delhi as well as the Tamil Nadu administration would take no interest in developments in Sri Lanka.
By Frances Bulathsinghala
The July 1983 anti-Tamil riots is a watershed in the recent history of this country, and 35 years later, with a three-decade war over and thousands killed, we are still left asking ‘Quo Vadis Lanka?’
This writer was seven years old when Colombo went up in flames on a seemingly ordinary July day. As a child, I did not know that 13 members of the government military had been killed in an ambush by the then fledging rebel outfit, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Neither did I know then that, twenty years later, I will be covering Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict and the 2002 peace process as a journalist. All I knew was that I was travelling in a school van with four Tamil female teachers wedged in our midst. I remember that these teachers were shaking in fear and trying hard to look nondescript with their pottus removed from their forehead.
To recall now the carnage of that afternoon is like bringing forth a horror movie. Our van was travelling to Panadura, about 25km outside Colombo. The driver drove through flames and often nearly lost his nerve every time mobs asked us to halt, demanding if there were any Tamils in the van. Several times along the way, the driver was asked for petrol. Thankfully, this petrol being used to burn people alive I did not see, as my mother forced me and the other children travelling in that vehicle to ‘sleep’.
Having in July 1983 mourned the deaths of 13 soldiers, by 2003, Sri Lanka had mourned thousands of its youth.
Covering the 2002 peace process for a national newspaper as a staff journalist and for a couple of South Asian publications as a correspondent, I recall the many interviews with parents of cadres, with female cadres and with rebels of diverse ranks, and being amazed at how some of them had grown up in the South and come to the North only after July 1983.