Genocide '58

Place: Ceylon | Date: 19580000

On the night of May 25, 1958, one of the most heinous crimes in the history of Ceylon was carried out. Almost simultaneously, on the Government farms at Polonnaruwa and Hingurakgoda, the thugs struck remorselessly. The Tamil labourers In the Polonnaruwa sugar-cane plantation fled when they saw the enemy approaching and hid In the sugar-cane bushes. The goondas wasted no time. They set the sugar cane alight and flushed out the Tamils. As they came out screaming, men, women and children were cut down with home-made swards, grass cutting knives and katties, or pulped under heavy clubs

INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA

GENOCIDE '58

"...The time has come for the whole Sinhala race which has existed for 2500 years, jealously safeguarding their language and religion, to fight without giving any quarter to save their birthright... I will lead the campaign..." - J.R.Jayawardene, Sinhala Opposition Leader reported in Sri Lanka Tribune, 30 August 1957 - later President of Sri Lanka during

"News trickled out from Queens House that the Governor General had announced, off the record at the press conference, that the (1958) riots had not been spontaneous. What he said was: 'Gentlemen, if any of you have an idea that this was a spontaneous outburst of communalism, you can disabuse your minds of it. This the work of a master mind who has been at the back of people who have planned this carefully and knew exactly what they were doing. It was a time bomb set about two years which has now exploded.'..." - Tarzie Vittachi: Emergency 1958 - The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots, Andre Deutsch, London 1958


"The (Tamil) Federal Party's annual public meeting was called for late May (1958). The conclave was to decide whether or not to undertake a Satyagraha campaign now that the (Sinhala) Prime Minister had withdrawn his support from the agreement he had endorsed a year before (the Bandaranaike Chelvanayagam Pact).

The outbreak of violence began when a train, presumed to be carrying Tamil delegates to the meetings, was derailed and its passengers beaten up by ruffians. The next day Sinhalese labourers set fire to Tamil shops and homes in nearby villages where they lived intermingled with Sinhalese...

Arson and beatings spread rapidly to Colombo. Gangs roamed the districts where Tamils lived, ransacking and setting fire to homes and cars, and looting shops. Individual Tamils were attacked, humiliated and beaten. Many were subjected to torture and some killed outright...

Some ten thousand Tamils were reported to have fled their homes to seek safety in improvised refugee camps... Many fled to the North by sea.." - Professor Howard Wriggins: Ceylon - Dilemmas of a New Nation, Princeton University Press


"...(In 1958) passing cars and trains were stopped by mobs and their (Tamil) occupants butchered, houses were burnt with people inside and there was widespread looting..." - Walter Schwarz: Tamils of Sri Lanka, Minority Rights Group Report 1983

"...(In 1958) hundreds of persons, primarily Tamils, were killed in this first episode of communal violence. Over 25,000 Tamil refugees were relocated from Sinhalese areas to Tamil areas in the North. The government was criticised for failing to declare a state of emergency early enough..." - Virginia Leary: Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka - Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, July/August 1981


What are we left with (in 1958)? A nation in ruins, some grim lessons which we cannot afford to forget and a momentous question: Have the Sinhalese and Tamils reached the parting of ways?" - Tarzie Vittachi: Emergency 1958 - The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots, Andre Deutsch, London 1958

"On May 22nd, five hundred thugs and hooligans invaded the Polonnaruwa station, and smashed up the windows of the Batticaloa train in their frantic search for Convention-bound Tamils." The Observer reported this incident in more detail on May 24th:

'On Thursday night, passengers were intimidated into getting off at Welikande as news had reached them that a gang of men were on the way to prevent them from making the trip as they felt that passengers must be prevented from getting to Vavuniya for the Federal Party Convention.'

'A gang of men, alleged to have numbered nearly 500, got on the train at this station, smashed-windows, went from carriage to carriage looking for passengers, damaging railway equipment as they did so.'

On the night of the 23rd at 9.15 pm the Batticaloa Colombo train was derailed at the '215th mile post on the Batticaloa -Eravur line… Hoodlums, on the watch for Vavuniya bound passengers, attacked the wrecked train.

At 6.00 pm on May 24 a crowd -nearly a thousand strong - again invaded the premises of the Polonnaruwa railway station…

Labourers from the Land Development Department, the Irrigation Department and from the Government farms who made up the Sinhala Hamudawa (armed thugs) were constantly on the rampage, raping, looting and beating up Tamil labourers and public officers. The rumour that a Tamil army was marching to destroy Polonaruwa gave the roughnecks a heroic stature. More veerayas (heroes) joined in to share the glory of saving the ancient Sinhalese capital from the Tamil hordes as their ancestors had done a thousand years before them. The vast majority of the Hamudawa were imported Government labourers and the rest were recently arrived squatters who had no roots yet in the area.


There was evidence of method

There was some evidence of method in all this madness -it was crudely but effectively planned. The rioters had arranged signals-one peal of a temple bell to signify police, two to signify army and so on. They also had a simple system of hand signals to give their associates in the distance such information as which way a police patrol went. The element of planning was even more evident in the agent provocateur system which was widely used.

Many thugs-some of them well-known criminals-had shaved their heads and assumed the yellow robes of a bhikku. A taxi driver known to the police as a bad hat was stopped on the road. He had a shaven head.. Under the cushions of the seat they found two soiled yellow robes. Police reports record that two 'monks' arrested for looting and arson were car-drivers by 'occupation'.

These phony priests went about whipping up race-hatred, spreading false stories and taking part in the lucrative side of this game-robbery and looting. Whenever the police went after a looter with a shaved head, he disappeared into a house and came back in the invulnerable robes of a monk. Monks were ordained in Polonnaruwa in those few days faster then ever before in the history of upasampada, the Buddhist ordination ceremony. They paid no attention to the sacrilege they were committing, in the sacred robes that the Buddha himself had worn.

Before very long the goondas turned their spite against the Tamil officials in the Government offices. .. The thugs displayed a temerity which was quite unprecedented. They had complete assurance that the police would never dare to open fire. The Apey Aanduwa (The government is ours) bug had got deep into their veins.

The goondas had developed a slick technique of throwing dynamite. They carried it in the breast packet of their shirts, with the fuse hanging out. As the 'enemy' approached they struck a match, lit the fuse, pulled out the stick of dynamite and flung it at point-blank range.


Murder stalked the streets in broad daylight

"On May 24 and 25, murder stalked the streets in broad daylight. Fleeing Tamils, and Sinhalese who were suspected of having given them sanctuary had their brains strewn about. A deaf mute scavenging labourer was assaulted to death in the Hingurakgoda aret-just to see what had made him tick. The goondas burnt two men alive, one at Hingurakgoda, and the other at Minneriya.

"On the night of May 25, one of the most heinous crimes in the history of Ceylon was carried out. Almost simultaneously, on the Government farms at Polonnaruwa and Hingurakgoda, the thugs struck remorselessly. The Tamil labourers In the Polonnaruwa sugar-cane plantation fled when they saw the enemy approaching and hid In the sugar-cane bushes. The goondas wasted no time. They set the sugar cane alight and flushed out the Tamils. As they came out screaming, men, women and children were cut down with home-made swards, grass cutting knives and katties, or pulped under heavy clubs."

"At the Government farm at Hingurakgoda, too, the Tamils were slaughtered that night. One woman in sheer terror embraced her two children and jumped into a well. The rioters were enjoying themselves thoroughly. They ripped open the belly of E woman eight months pregnant, and left her, to bleed to death. First estimates of the mass murders on that night were frightening: 150-200 was a quick guess on the basis of forty families on an average four each."

The hoodlums were now motorized. They roamed the district in trucks, smashing up kiosks and houses, killing any Tamils who got in their way. The Anti-Tamil violence soon spread almost throughout the country.


Prime Minister Bandaranaike fuels the murders

"If there had been any chance whatever at this stage of keeping Sinhalese tempers under control it vanished completely following the Prime Minister's broadcast call to the nation of May 26…

By a strangely inexplicable perversion of logic, Mr Bandaranaike tried to explain away a situation by substituting the effect for the cause. The relevant portion of the speech was:

"An unfortunate situation has arisen resulting in communal tension. Certain incidents in, the. Batticaloa District where some people lost their lives, including Mr D.A. Seneviratne, a former Mayor of Nuwara Eliya, have resulted in various acts of violence and lawlessness in other areas-for example Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Galawela, Kuliyapitiya and even Colombo.
"The killing of Seneviratne on May 25 was thus officially declared to be the cause of the uprising, although the communal riots had begun on May 22 with the attack on the Polonnaruwa Station and the wrecking of the Batticalos-Colombo trail and several other minor incidents.

"No explanation was offered by the Prime Minister for singling out (the Sinhala sounding) Seneviratne's name for particular mention from the scores of people who had lost their lives during those critical days."

"…Colombo was on fire. The goondas burnt fifteen shops in the Pettah and a row of kiosks in Mariakaday. Looting on a massive scale took place in Pettah, Maradana, Wellawatte Ratmalana, Kurunegala, Panadura, Kalutara, Badulla, Galle, Matara and Weligama.

"The cry everywhere in the Sinhalese districts was 'avenge the murder of Seneviratne’. Even the many Sinhalese who had been appalled by the goonda attacks on Tamils and Tamil owned kiosks, now began to feel that the Tamils had put themselves beyond the pale. Across the country, this new mood of deep-seated racism surged. The Prime Minister's peace call to the nation had turned into a war cry.


Hindu Priest burnt alive

"Another vicious story, fabricated by a ghoul with a keen sense of melodrama, careered through the country leaving a trail of arson and murder after it. A female teacher from Panadura, the story went, who was teaching in a school in the Batticaloa District, had been set upon by a gang of Tamil thugs. They had cut off her breasts and killed her. Her body was being brought home to Panadura for cremation."

On the morning of May 27, the Panadura townsfolk whispered it around that the mutliated body had been brought home. In the bazaar there was sudden pandemonium. The goondas intensified their depredations. They ransacked Tamil-owned shops and beat up shopkeepers and passersby.

A gang of goondas rushed into the Hindu temple, and attempted to set fire to it. In their frenzy they were clumsy and failed to get the fire going. But they had a more interesting idea. They pulled an officiating priest out of the Kovil and burnt him into a cinder.

The story of of the mutilation and murder of a Panadura teacher gained such currency that the Ministry of Education despatched a senior Inspector of Schools to investigate. His report: there was not an iota of truth in the story. He also discovered when he checked through the records, that there was no female teacher from Panadura on the staff of any school in the Batticaloa district.


Hundreds of acts of arson, rape, pillage, murder

"As panic spread, doors were closed in Sinhalese as well as Tamil homes. The Tamils closed their doors to escape murder, rape and pillage. The Sinhalese closed their doors to prevent Tamils running into their houses for shelter…

"Yet another fiendish rumour had been circulated to inflame the Sinhalese. This was the story of the 'Tar Baby'. In Batticaloa, it appeared, a Sinhala baby had been snatched from its mother's arms and immersed in a barrel of boiling tar. The atrocities increased with alarming rapidity.

"Among the hundreds of acts of arson, rape, pillage, murder and plain barbarity some incidents may be recorded as examples of the kind of thuggery at work."

"In the Colombo area the number of atrocities swiftly piled up. The atmosphere was thick with hate and fear. The thugs ran amok burning houses and shops, beating-up pedestrians, holding-up vehicles and terrorizing the entire city and the suburbs."

"Another Tamil officer, working in the same Government department was unfortunate. The thugs stormed into his house and assaulted, his wife and grown-up daughter in the presence of his little child. His mind cracked under the shock. In the French liner Laos which took the family away to safety in Jaffna he insisted on reciting large chunks of the Bhagavad Gita to the captain of the ship. All his formal education - he is a Cambridge scholar- had proved useless to him in the face of disaster. His broken mind reached out for the only solace a man has when his own ingenuity and ability have proved futile."

"At Wellawatte junction, near the plantain kiosk, a pregnant woman and her husband were set upon. They clubbed him and left him an the pavement, then they kicked, the woman repeatedly as she hurried along at a grotesque sprint, carrying her swollen belly."


Gangs of hoodlums worked according to a predetermined pattern

"While the Prime Minister was telling the citizens' delegation that it was an 'exaggeration to call the situation an emergency' in every village from Kalawewa to Nalanda, people's houses were in flames.

"When an eye witness reached Dambulla it was still intact. In a few minutes a factory-new Ceylon Transport Board "Special' arrived, loaded with 'passengers'. They disembarked and swiftly set about their business: in ten minutes, six houses were blazing. And hell spread through the bazaar."

"The rioters continued their battle in the streets. Fresh fires broke out in Wellawatte, Maradana and Rettah. Looting continued apace.

"Gangs of hoodlums in the Ratmalana area appeared to be working according to a predetermined pattern. Thugs disguised as policemen went round Tamil houses warning the residents that the police could no longer guarantee their safety and advising them to take refuge in the police station. Nearly 10,000 people left their homes in terror.

Then the 'policemen' returned, some now in mufti, others still in uniform, to ransack the empty houses. When they had left the scene, hard on their heels came the 'firing squads'. They came in vehicles in twos and threes. A bottle of petrol was flung into the house. A stick of dynamite was dispatched after it and another house was burning. Others less efficiently equipped, zealously collected whatever furniture was, left behind and used it as firewood to get the flames going.


Governor General says attacks carefully planned

..."News trickled out from Queens House that the Governor General had announced, off the record at the press conference, that the riots had not been spontaneous. What he said was: 'Gentlemen, if any of you have an idea that this was a spontaneous outburst of communalism, you can disabuse your minds of it. This the work of a master mind who has been at the back of people who have planned this carefully and knew exactly what they were doing. It was a time bomb set about two years ago which has now exploded.'...

What are we left with (in 1958)? A nation in ruins, some grim lessons which we cannot afford to forget and a momentous question: Have the Sinhalese and Tamils reached the parting of ways?" - Tarzie Vittachi: Emergency 1958 - The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots, Andre Deutsch, London 1958

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