Colombo, March 5 (newsin.asia): The death of a Sinhalese lorry driver at the hands of an unruly gang of Muslims would not have led to anti-Muslim riots in Digana and Teldeniya in the Central Sri Lankan district of Kandy if only the police had immediately taken the assailants into custody and filed cases against them, said Udaya Gammanpila, a Member of Parliament with the Joint Opposition Group.
He alleged that instead of arresting the Muslims and filing a criminal case in court, the police were allegedly negotiating with the assailants.
“This infuriated the people and they took the law into their own hands. In a situation in which people already suspect that the present government is biased towards the minorities, lack of action on the part of the police makes people lose faith in the system. And they take the law into their own hands,” Gammanpila said.
“If arrests had taken place and cases filed immediately, the Sinhalese would have felt that action had been taken as per law and they would not have rioted,” he reasoned.
“Also when the government is perceived to be weak and lacking in public support (as evident in the results of the recently held Local Bodies elections) people tend to take the law into their own hands,” Gammanpila added.
The Minister of Dialogue and National Languages said that he had tried to contact President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, but neither was available. The Prime Minister also happens to be Law and Order Minister.
Dilantha Vithanage, CEO of the radical Sinhalese-Buddhist organization Budu Bala Sena, said that a BBS team had gone to the troubled Teldeniya and Digana towns in Kandy district and had urged the Sinhalese to calm down.
On February 22, a 41-year-old Sinhalese man M.G.Kumarasinghe driving a truck, was set upon by a group of ten Muslims when he did not or could not give away to the autorickshaws they were in because of the narrowness of the street. Grievously hurt, the man was admitted to the Kandy Teaching Hospital where he died last Saturday.
The police said that the assailants, who were residents of Ambagahalanda, Digana, were arrested and a three-wheeler was taken into custody.
The people in Digana, Teldeniya, Udispattuwa and Medamahanuwara then launched a hartal (shut down) in protest against the attack. But angry crowds set two shops on fire in Moragahamula. Police and the Special Task Force were deployed to bring the situation under control.
Twenty-four people who had resorted to violence were arrested by the Teldeniya police. Out of the 24, ten were directly involved in the killing of the victim while 14 people had been arrested on suspicion, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said.
Last week, there were anti-Muslim riots in Ampara district in South Eastern Sri Lanka, following a rumor that the Muslim eateries there were adding a chemical pill which will make men impotent.
According to Dilantha Vithanage, the rumor gained currency because there are constant reports of drug smuggling from Pakistan. The Sinhalese also believe that while their rate of growth is decreasing, the Muslims’ rate of growth is increasing allegedly because they do not practice birth control; they marry four times and want to make Sri Lanka a Muslim majority country.
“When rumors about the contraceptive pill or chemical being mixed with food served to Sinhalese customers in Muslim eateries were spreading, the government should have immediately countered them with scientific arguments. The government should be pro-active and not act after riots had taken place,” Vithanage said.
“Reconciliation can be brought about only by action on the ground by tacking practical issues like this and not by making films and having seminars with funds from the West,” he added.
National Peace Council’s Plea
Commenting on the incidents, the National Peace Council (NPC) said: “Incidents of violence against the Muslim and other minority communities are both political and systemic. These are often engineered citing fear, distrust and insecurities and the building of enemy images of the victim communities. Until the national political leadership takes firm and determined action at this time there is an increasing likelihood of Sri Lanka seeing a new cycle of communal violence that will become uncontrollable.”
“ A similar phenomenon was seen, with dreadful consequences, in the early 1980s when communal sentiment was directed against the Tamil which culminated in the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983,” the NPC warned in a press release.
“After enduring three decades of civil strife and internal war, and now having to answer to the international community at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Sri Lanka must not go through another cycle of violence which targets Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims.”
“In particular Sri Lankans need to remember the Muslim community has international support in many parts of the world including the Middle East, North Africa, South and South East Asia. This has been a source of strength to our country in many forms, including the provision of employment. It is the responsibility of the government and opposition to be aware of these realities and take immediate action prevent false propaganda and violence against the Muslim community spiraling out of control.”
“We note that the leaders of the Muslim and Tamil political parties have already condemned these incidents and made calls to the government to take deterrent action. However, the paucity of government and opposition leaders making similar calls is most disturbing. We fear that unchecked this type of activity will gather momentum, and due to lack of adequate response, will become entrenched.”
(The featured picture at the top shows a shop set on fire in anti-Muslim riots in a town in Central Sri Lanka)