|1974 Tamil conference incident|
Memorial for those who died in the 1974 Tamil conference incident
|Location||Jaffna, Sri Lanka|
|Date||January 10, 1974 (+6 GMT)|
|Target||Sri Lankan Tamils|
|Perpetrators||Sri Lankan Police|
The 1974 Tamil conference incident occurred during the fourth World Tamil Research Conference, which was held in the city of Jaffna between January 3 and 9, 1974. Sri Lankan Police disrupted the meeting with force, killing nine people, and resulting in substantial civilian property damage and more than 50 civilians sustaining severe injuries.
The World Tamil Conference is a series of occasional conferences to discuss the social growth of the Tamil language. Each conference is attended by thousands of Tamil enthusiasts around the world. Conferences are hosted in various cities in India, as well as world cities with a significant Tamil population. The conference aims in promoting the heritage of Tamil language.
Jaffna is the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It is the administrative headquarters of the Jaffna District located on a peninsula of the same name. With a population of 88,138 in 2012, Jaffna is Sri Lanka's 12th most populous city. Jaffna is approximately six miles from Kandarodai which served as an emporium in the Jaffna peninsula from classical antiquity. Jaffna's suburb Nallur served as the capital of the four-century-long medieval Jaffna Kingdom.
The SLFP-dominated government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike had requested that the conference be held in the capital Colombo but the conference organizers held it in the Tamil-dominant city of Jaffna.
Sirima Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, commonly known as Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was a Sri Lankan stateswoman. She became the world's first non-hereditary female head of government in modern history, when she was elected Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 1960. She served three terms: 1960–1965, 1970–1977 and 1994–2000.
Colombo is the commercial capital and largest city of Sri Lanka by population. According to the Brookings Institution, Colombo metropolitan area has a population of 5.6 million, and 752,993 in the city proper. It is the financial centre of the island and a popular tourist destination. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to the Greater Colombo area which includes Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the legislative capital of Sri Lanka and Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. Colombo is often referred to as the capital since Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is within the urban area of, and a suburb of, Colombo. It is also the administrative capital of the Western Province and the district capital of Colombo District. Colombo is a busy and vibrant place with a mixture of modern life and colonial buildings and ruins. It was the legislative capital of Sri Lanka until 1982.
On January 10, the organizers decided to hold a public meeting to distribute awards to those who had participated in the cultural program. The audience, more than 10,000 in number, spanned the road and overflowed into open expanses.
Assistant Superintendent of Police Chandrasekera, a Sinhalese commissioned officer, led a truckload of anti-riot police of more than 40 to the scene. Their unheralded arrival ended in the chaotic disruption of the ceremony.
The Sinhalese are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group native to the island of Sri Lanka. They constitute about 75% of the Sri Lankan population and number greater than 16.2 million. The Sinhalese identity is based on language, historical heritage and religion. The Sinhalese people speak the Sinhalese language, an Indo-Aryan language, and are predominantly Theravada Buddhists, although a small percentage of Sinhalese follow branches of Christianity. The Sinhalese are mostly found in North Central, Central, South, and West Sri Lanka. According to the 5th century epic poem Mahavamsa, and the Dipavamsa, a 3rd–5th century treatise written in Pali by Buddhist monks of the Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese are descendants of settlers who came to the island in 543 BCE from Sinhapura, in India, led by Prince Vijaya.
The police had been advancing slowly through the crowd in jeep and truck wearing steel helmets, ordering the crowd to move. At the time Professor Naina Mohamed, a distinguished Tamil scholar from India, was speaking and the crowd was heavily packed, such that the police could proceed no further. Then the policemen who were armed with rifles, tear-gas bombs, batons and wicker shields started attacking those who stood in their way. The result was a stampede to escape the police attack, as policemen fanned out in all directions assaulting all and sundry. Some even jumped into the moat beside the Fort to escape the attack.
The overhead electric wires were brought down by gunshots. A policeman was seen throwing a tear-gas bomb which did not explode, and then firing at the electric wire, resulting in a burning coil falling on him. The foreign delegates who attended the conference had also confirmed that the police had fired into the air.
Seven civilians died of electrocution. Several others sustained severe injuries due to the police charging at them.
The police officers involved were subsequently promoted instead of being reprimanded by the government.
The report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Tragedy of January Tenth 1974 published on 18 February 1974 said,
|“||"The irresistible conclusion we come to is that the police on this night (10 January 1974) was guilty of a violent and quite an unnecessary attack on unarmed citizens. |
"We are gravely concerned that they lacked the judgment which we expected of policemen in a civilian police force whose duties call for tactful handling even in the most difficult situation.”
Appapillai Amirthalingam stated
|“||"the refusal of the government to appoint a Presidential Commission to inquire into the seven deaths and the conduct of the Police which led to those deaths, was a prime cause of the demand for a separate state."||”|
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