Living in Fear 40 Years On
Photo courtesy of Chathuranga Pradeep
When I confronted my Sinhala neighbour in my broken Sinhala over a certain issue recently, My Tamil neighbour pleaded, “Maureen we are Tamils, we can be in trouble”. I was shocked to hear the fear in her voice even after 40 years.
Last year when the curfew was imposed during GotaGoGama, I called my Sinhala friend and cried, “Do you think they will kill us like they did 1983? Can you help me to survive if another Black July happens?” There is always a fear that the Sinhalese will they turn against me. Will I, a Tamil, be safe in their presence is a worry I carry.
I was a happy kid in Jaffna in 1983. I visited Colombo for first time in 1988. I never lived with Sinhalese until I moved to Colombo in 1996. But I grew up with a hatred and fear of the Sinhalese. I was told that the Sinhalese would kill me and I believed those words until I made my first Sinhala friendship in 2017. When I first visited Polonnaruwa with my Sinhala friends in 2017, I was in a panic. I thought I would be killed by my Sinhala friends in a Sinhala village. All the stories I heard as a kid were about killings and murder that made me to doubt my Sinhala friendships and made me live in fear.
My uncle’s new house was burnt in Kandy during Black July. His family was saved by their neighbours. But his loss became our fear. My father was a rich engineer but he was too afraid to buy a property in Colombo. Before he died he bought apartments for me and my brother. But he was hesitant to live in his own house in Colombo. He felt that it was safer to rent from a Sinhala owner.
My aunt left because of Black July. It constantly echoed in our ears that it was not safe to live in here. When I left Sri Lanka in 2000 for my higher studies, one of the pleas from my father was never to return to this country. As a Tamil my father never felt safe here so he wanted his only daughter to be safe in a foreign land.
Black July is not just an incident that happened 40 years ago. We live in fear of Black July today too. When the government failed to protect Tamils in 1983, we lost faith in the government and we believed we should have a separate land to live in peace. Black July motivated Tamil youth to take up arms. Until 2009 we died by the guns we carried to protect ourselves from the government.
I grew up seeing Sri Lanka as a strange country. When I was in medical school, other students were loyal to their national anthem. But I didn’t have a national anthem because we were not allowed to sing it in the Tamil language. When other students venerated their national flag, I was confused because it was only in 2022, for first time in my life, that I carried a Sri Lankan flag at GotaGoGama. Before that, the lion flag was alien to me as a Tamil.
Black July made me to lose hope in the police who failed to protect Tamils. In 2022 I filed a police complaint because of a threat for my life. But instead of helping me, the police harassed me. I withdrew the case to protect myself from the police. So since 1983, life in Sri Lanka is an ongoing struggle for Tamils. Tamils have gone through 40 years of torture, pain, harassment and abuse by the state.