It was on that trip to England in 1983 that I first began to speak publicly on the problems in Sri Lanka. The talks, at Oxford and at the LSE, had been arranged by friends, but I also felt a certain responsibility regarding the country itself, so sadly traduced now. I was particularly upset that there seemed only two opposing views of what had happened. One was what I saw as the standard UNP view, namely that we were a country developing rapidly after years of socialist stultification, and had to face problems from spoilers. The recent events were simply a reaction to the excesses of Tamil terrorists, though they had been exploited by Marxists, whereas the government itself was not racist at all.
The contrary view was that Sri Lanka was irredeemably riven by tensions between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The former had consistently treated the latter badly, and the recent brutalities were of a piece with the discrimination and violence that not just governments but Sinhalese generally had exhibited towards Tamils ever since independence.
I tried to indicate that the truth was somewhat different, that there had been discrimination but it had sprung from egalitarian ideals that were callous rather than wicked, and all this was very different from the recent instances of state sponsored violence that were of a piece, if more brutal, with what the government had done to other opponents over the last couple of years. However the bitterness of those who had suffered, or had felt the suffering of their kinsfolk, could not be reasoned with. It was clear that this was a watershed in the country’s history, and so it has proved, the emotions roused by what happened in July 1983 continuing to haunt us still.