1956 Ceylonese riots
|Gal Oya riots|
Location of Sri Lanka
|Location||Dominion of Ceylon|
|Date||June 11–16, 1956 (+6 GMT)|
|Target||Primarily Tamil civilians|
|Decapitation, burning, stabbing|
|Weapons||Knives, sticks, fire|
The 1956 Ceylonese riots were the first ethnic riots between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils in the Dominion of Ceylon. The worst of the violence took place in the Gal Oya valley, where local majority Sinhalese colonists and employees of the Gal Oya Development Board commandeered government vehicles, dynamite and weapons and massacred minority Tamils. It is estimated that over 150 people lost their lives during the violence. Although initially inactive, the police and army were eventually able to bring the situation under control.
In British Ceylon, most civil service jobs (roughly 60%) were held by minority Tamils who comprised approximately 15% of the population. This was due to the availability of Western style education provided by American missionaries and others in the Tamil dominant Jaffna peninsula. The overrepresentation of Tamils was used by populist Sinhalese politicians to come to political power by promising to elevate the Sinhalese people. The pro-Sinhalese nationalist Freedom Party came to power in 1956 promising to make Sinhala, the language of the majority Sinhalese people, the sole official language. The so-called Sinhala only policy was opposed by the Tamil Federal party which conducted a nonviolent sit-in protest on June 5, 1956, in front of the parliament in Colombo, the capital city. About 200 Tamil leaders and politicians took part in this protest.
Gal Oya settlement scheme
in Sri Lanka
|Gal Oya (1956)|
|Black July (1983)|
Gal Oya settlement scheme was begun in 1949 to settle landless peasants in formerly jungle land. Gal Oya river in the Eastern province was dammed and a tank was created with 40,000,000 acres (160,000 km2) of irrigated land. In 1956 the settlement had over 50 new villages where over 5,000 ethnic Tamil, Muslim, Indigenous Veddha and Sinhalese were settled. The Sinhalese were approximately 50% of the settlers. Sinhalese and others were spatially separated from each other as Sinhalese were settled at the more productive headwaters of the Gal Oya tank and the Tamils and Muslims at the down rivers closer to their former native villages. Settlement of large number of Sinhalese peasants in what Tamil nationalists considered their traditional Tamil homeland, was a source of tension within the settlement area.
Federal Party protestors were attacked by a Sinhalese mob that was led by K. M. P. Rajaratne. The same mob, after listening to a speech by populist Sinhalese politicians urging them to boycott Tamil business, went on a looting spree in the city. Over 150 Tamil owned shops were looted and many people were hospitalized for their injuries. But these disturbances were quickly brought under control by the police.
Tamil rioters avenged the Federal Party satyagrahis in Batticaloa, where a Sinhalese shop was burnt, and the shopkeeper shot three people in the crowd that had gathered to watch the conflagration. Tamils from Karaitivu had thrown stones at Gal Oya Board trucks. Near Kalmunai, a group of 11 Tamils hid in trees and shot at a convoy of Sinhalese civilians and government officials, killing 2.
As information about disturbances in the capital Colombo reached the outlying area, the riots began on the evening of June 11, 1956, when agitated mobs began roaming the streets of Gal Oya valley looking for Tamils. Properties owned by Tamils, including those of Indian Tamils, were looted and burned down. In the following days a number of rumors began to spread. The chief amongst them was that a Sinhalese girl had been raped and made to walk naked down the street in Batticaloa by a Tamil mob. Although this was later proved to be false, the rumor inflamed the passions of the mob and led to further massacres and property destruction.
On the morning of June 13, a truck arrived with Sinhalese refugees from Bakiela who had been attacked by Tamil colonists. By noon of that day, there were further rumors that an army of 6,000 Tamils armed with guns were in the process of approaching the Sinhalese settlements in the Gal Oya valley. This led local groups of Sinhalese men to commandeer government vehicles to travel to outlying Tamil villages while Sinhalese officials and settlers fled. According to journalist W. Howard Higgins and Manor well over one hundred Tamils were massacred by the mob. At first the local police made no attempt to control the mob as they said that they were outnumbered by the rioters. It was only after the arrival of army reinforcements and stern action taken by them that the killings and destruction were suppressed.
- "An evolving army and its role through time". Sunday Times. 2005-10-16. Retrieved 2008-10-29.
Following the 1956 elections and the introduction of Sinhala as the country’s official language, the first major outbreak of ethnic violence occurred leading to the deaths of around 150 people.
- Vittachi, T. Emergency '58: The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots , p. 8
- Chattopadhyaya, H. Ethnic Unrest in Modern Sri Lanka: An Account of Tamil-Sinhalese Race Relations, p. 52
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- Vittachi, T. Emergency '58: The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots , pp. 6–8
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- DeVotta, N. Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, p. 86
- Vittachi, T. Emergency '58: The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots, pp. 7–8
- Tambiah, Stanley. Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia, p. 88
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- Tambiah, Stanley. Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia , p. 89
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- Tambiah, Stanley. Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia , p. 92
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- Horowitz, Donald (2001). The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22447-7. OCLC 43115056.
- Chattopadhyaya, Haraprasad (1994). Ethnic Unrest in Modern Sri Lanka: An Account of Tamil-Sinhalese Race Relations. South Asia Books. ISBN 81-85880-52-2. OCLC 36138657.
- DeVotta, Neil (2004). Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4924-8. OCLC 53900982.
- Swamy, M. R. Naranayan (2002). Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas. Konark Publishers. ISBN 9789558095140. OCLC 1041308276.