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. Police action resulted in the loss of nine lives, the loss of civilian property and more than 50 civilians sustaining severe injuries.
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.
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 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,
Appapillai Amirthalingam stated
This incident was the precursor to the revenge killing of the SLFP mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah by the LTTE which began the era of Tamil militancy amongst the youth leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.