Given the track record of Muslim politics in Sri Lanka in recent times, it has consistently failed in addressing its community’s grievances, in representing its community’s legitimate aspirations, and in insulating its community’s interests. In late 1980s, when the Indo-Lanka accord Colombo and New Delhi signed to bring a permanent political settlement to the country’s prolonged ethnic question ignored Muslim community (particularly in the north-east) systematically, the Muslim politics remained brazenly muted despite Muslims expressing an overwhelming disappointment and frustration on this ignorance.
In 1990s, when some 75, 000 innocent Muslims were ethnically cleansed from entire north, the Muslim politics could not even get a recognition for these people as conflict-induced internally displaced persons (IDPs). Lack of this recognition later had dire consequences on their life, denying access to their basic needs, their right to return and their inclusion in peace talks that occurred over time.
In 2002, under international community- brokered peace initiative, when Sri Lanka’s government and Tamil Tigers sat together at peace table to reach a permanent peaceful solution that would accommodate all ethnic groups of the country and ultimately end its 30 years of armed conflict, Muslims another ethnic minority and apparent vulnerable victims of this bloody civil war sought an independent representation for their community in this solution finding effort to channel their problems and interests. The Muslim politics unfortunately was worried on how to please enough both government and LTTE at peace talks simply ignoring its community’s legitimate concerns.
In 2009, immediately after conflict termination, Sri Lankan government advanced the return of people internally displaced by the armed conflict to their places of origin implementing an “old-new IDP” return criterion, which defined displaced Muslims as old IDPs and only prioratised new IDPs’ return. When this criterion denied Muslim IDPs their return, the Muslim politics was turned a blind eye on its forcibly displaced people despite the denial being a flagrant violation of their right to return.
After 2012, when radical followers of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism in the country, with blessing of Mahinda administration, killed Muslims, burned their homes, destroyed their businesses, vandalized their worship places and endangered their very existence as well, the defenseless and helpless Muslim community sought security and justice against this brutal campaign on them. The Muslim politics at the time remained an impotent spectator despite it retaining country’s justice (ministry) in its hands.
In contemporary Sri Lanka’s political spectrum, anti-Muslim sentiment has become a deep-seated trend. Today, this trend has given a breath for the Muslim politics to re-emerge from steadily disappearing. The Muslim politics has employed the BBS factor to maximum once again to mislead innocent Muslim masses and plunder their votes both in recent presidential and parliamentary elections. It has used peoples’ mandate as a bargaining chip to distract more perks and posts from power- corridors to meet their selfish ends. The BBS has been an invaluable strategic asset today for Muslim politics to cover its impotence and betrayals against own community in representing community’s interests and aspirations. This phenomenon has produced a climate that if there is no ant- Muslim hatred, there is no Muslim politics in Sri Lanka.
Now that international community, with a clear mandate, has urged Sri Lanka’s government to probe into crimes and human right violations allegedly committed against civilians during the war in the country, The Muslims of the country want crimes explicitly committed against their community in the same civil war also to be inquired. They deserve to request this. Even though they were not a party directly involved in this war, Muslims had been an extreme target and vulnerable victims of this three-decade armed confrontation. They had been ethnically cleansed from their abodes. They had been ruthlessly massacred regardless of women, pregnant mother, children and elderly while praying at mosques, sleeping at homes, working at rice fields and returning home from hajj pilgrimage. Tens of thousands of agricultural lands belonging to Muslims had been forcibly occupied, and are yet to be returned even after conflict termination. Muslim businesses had been burned in broad daylight. Many of Muslims who had gone to market, office and work were yet to return home as they had been abducted for unknown reason. Muslims were also persecuted with illegal taxation, ransoms and life-threats. All this was perpetrated during this war by its actor/s. Muslim community, therefore, is long waiting for justice for their victimization and they expect International community to hear them and redress their war grievances.
Postponing its ongoing infighting who to and who not to distribute perks and posts they received by Muslim peoples’ votes, Muslim politics should ever come forward to act decisively for its community at this point. It should get Muslim victimization accommodated into this war crime inquiry agenda as a part of it. The Muslim politics should get a rightful place for its war-affected people in this internationally sanctioned probing process. For Muslim politics, this should not be another opportunity it was spoiling in the past. Instead, this would be certainly a historical opportunity to address Muslims’ problems and interests. If Muslim politics were to disregard this opportunity as always, the position given to it in the history absolutely would be vulnerable. And the price it may pay would also be huge in future.
*Salithamby Abdul Rauff, Assistant Professor, teaches at Dhofar University, Sultanate of Oman