On this day June 11, 1956

The six-day Gal Oya riots, the first ethnic riots that targeted the minority Sri Lankan Tamils in post-independent Sri Lanka, began, eventually resulting in the deaths of at least 150 people and 100 injuries.

The riots started on June 11, 1956 and continued over the next five days. Local majority Sinhalese colonists and employees of the Gal Oya settlement board commandeered government vehicles, dynamite and weapons and massacred minority Tamils by the hundreds. It is estimated that over 150 people lost their lives due in the violence. Although initially inactive, the police and army were eventually able to regain control of the situation.

As information about disturbances in Colombo reached outlying areas, 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. In the following days a number of rumors began to spread.

Chief amongst them was that a Sinhalese girl had been raped and made to walk naked in the street in the nearby Tamil-dominated town of Batticalao by a Tamil mob. Although it later proved to be false, the rumor inflamed the passions of the mob and led to further massacres and property destruction.

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.

According to journalist W. Howard Higgins and Manor well over a hundred Tamils were massacred by the mob. At first the local police made no attempt to control the mob, being as they said outnumbered by the rioters. Only the arrival of army reinforcements and stern action by them brought the killings and destruction under control.


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