Here is the third of our reminiscences, reflections, and articles about Black July. The author originally posted this on the Black July 83 website but asked us to repost it here.
If you have personal stories about July of 1983, or the role it played in your families’ history, or if you have experience of something similar from another country from which you think lessons can be learned, or if you simply feel you have something to say about memory, history, and understanding, then please email us here.
by Euphrashia Rajendra
One day it was paradise, the next day it was paradise lost, lost forever.
July 24, 1983 was a day like any other day. It was Monday morning and I was at work. I was the supervisor of the quality control laboratory at Pfizer, Sri Lanka. At 10:00am, we were informed that communal riots had erupted between the Tamils and the Sinhalese and we were asked to go home. I lived in an annex that I had rented from a Sinhalese family in Ratmalana, close to my work place. My daughter Audrey was a year old; I had left her with my in-laws. My spouse walked 10 miles from work in the midst of the riots and chaos, to his parent’s home to check on his family and my daughter. I asked a Sinhalese co-worker to check on my parents on his way home, since he lived close to them in Dehiwala, he never did.
My in-laws home was demolished and they were sent to a camp at the Ratmalana airport. My parent’s home was burned to the ground. My parents and siblings miraculously escaped to the Police station and were taken to the camp at the airport.
My spouse returned home, we had no idea where our daughter or our families were. Curfew was declared, a priest who had visited the camp, had met my dad and he informed us that my daughter and our families were safe in the camp.
My spouse’s employer who was a Sinhalese, offered to pick up our families from the camp the next day and take them to our relatives home. He offered to keep us temporarily at his office. He provided meals for us and we were hiding in the office for a few weeks. When the curfew was lifted, we decided to go to Batticaloa in the East. My parents decided to go to Jaffna.
My paternal grandfather was a Senator and my dad had lived in Colombo since childhood. Colombo was no longer a home for the Tamils who had lived there for many decades.
The next few months were a nightmare, not knowing what was in store for us. We were shuffling back and forth from Batticaloa to Jaffna to see our families. In addition, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Some months later a friend of my spouse offered him enough money to leave the country and go to the United Kingdom to complete his Accounting Profession and establish a home for us. He told us to pay him whenever we could.
God had turned our nightmare into a dream come true. We struggled for a few years but we survived, we established ourselves in London and immigrated after 5 years to Canada, our peaceful home now for 20 years. We sponsored our families, so they could live safely too.
We realized that we never walked alone. Christ walked beside us through all these trying times.
I am a Chemist by profession and working as a supervisor in a Pharmaceutical Company. My daughter Audrey Mogan who wrote the poem “Tear drop in the Sea” in the Akka Thamiza publication in 2000, in memory of the riots in Sri-Lanka is now in Rwanda bringing hope to other kids like her who are living in fear. She aspires to work for the United Nations someday in the future.