By Latheef Farook –
It is back to square one to the island’s Muslim community when it comes to solutions to their burning issues.
Muslim community as a whole voted for President Maithripala Sirisena in the 8 January 2015 presidential elections mainly to free themselves from the persecutions they were subjected to during the Mahinda Rajapaksa government which used racist elements to almost annihilate them as a community.
Later in the 17 August 2015 parliamentary elections too Muslims voted for the united National Party led coalition in the hope of solutions to their problems. They did so on their own and not on the advice or guidance of politicians who, by and large, ended up as shameful liability on the community.
However their hopes is fading as the community feels abandoned and the very same Muslim politicians who took the community for ride in the past were absorbed into the government and awarded with ministerial positions .
All what the community expected from the government is solution to their problems and not ministerial portfolios which only serves individuals.
On the eve of the January 8 presidential elections these so called Muslim politicians suspected to have stuck deals and crossed over to President Maithripala Sirisena camp. They were rewarded with ministerial portfolios. These suspected deals, sorry agreements, were of no use to the community.
On the other hand by entering into deals with UNP and contesting in UNP tickets SLMC parliamentarians also lost their freedom to act on their own as they need to take into consideration the response of the UNP leadership.
Meanwhile UNP Muslims parliamentarians were not elected by Muslim votes alone. They were voted to parliament by majority community votes too. Thus their inability to speak on behalf of Muslims alone as this may prove fatal for their political future.
Meanwhile questions were also raised in many circles as to how defeated and rejected UPFA Muslim politicians were appointed as Members of Parliament in the national list and as State Ministers while politicians like Imthiaz Bakeer Markar and Asath Sally who made tremendous contribution to bring this government to power were left out.
Former minister Imthiaz Bakeer Markar, an excellent bridge between the Sinhalese and Muslim communities, went right round the country and canvassed for the UNP in the last month’s parliamentary elections.
Azath Salley, for example, not only made significant contribution to fight against Mahinda Rajapaksa government’s racist campaign against the island’s Muslim community but was also taken to custody. His support to bring this government to power remains significant.
The two were dropped. Thus the Muslims were confused of the wisdom behind rewarding defeated UPFA politicians and ignoring Azath Salley and Imthtiaz Bakeer Markar whose father Bakeer Markar spent his lifetime with the UNP.
Highlighting Muslim community’s problems in an interview with Muslim fortnightly “ Meelparvai” Colombo Central MP Mujibur Rahman said Muslims in different parts of the country face different problems. In Colombo Muslims in general suffer from extreme poverty. Illiteracy, education, health, housing and many other problems. He cautioned that unless Muslim parliamentarians work together solutions will not be feasible.
Muslim community’s problems are numerous. For example the plight of northern Muslims who were ethnic cleansed in October 1990. They were kicked out within two hours from their homes and all their possessions and allowed to take Rs 150 and a set of cloth .They walked and ended up in Puttalam where there were not even basic facilities.
They continue suffer to date in appalling conditions and no government has taken any proper initiative to resettle them in their lands in the North. They were even abandoned by their own Muslim politicians.
In the same way land issue has been one of the most burning problems facing Muslims island wide. In the east alone around 32,000 acres of Muslim owned land, occupied by Tamils during the time of LTTE war, remain occupied to date. So far no step was taken by any government to return these lands to their owners. Instead the government continues to acquire Muslim owned lands under various pretexts such as security zone for armed forces. Muslims remain helpless with their parliamentarians turning blind eye.
Recently in Seruwila in the Trincomalee district around 1000 aces of Muslim owned lands were declared as belonging to Seruwila Viharaya by Seurwila District Secretariat.
Acquisitions of Muslim owned land were also underway in Colombo and other areas during the former Rajapaksa government with racist arrogance in full display.
For example a top official from former president’s secretariat told the management of Ranmuthu Hotel at Colpetty that they needed the Ranmuthu Hotel premises for the car park for the Adjacent Hotel which is now underway. The management politely pointed out that it is a Trust property and they are unable to sell. The response of the official was” well if you don’t want to sell, we know how to take it.” Finally it was sold and this building was demolished few months ago.
In the same way owners of eleven shops at Chatham Street at Colombo Fort were informed on a Friday evening that their shops were to be acquired. Saturday morning they went to their shops only to find to their shock buildings were demolished.
This is the fate of many prime Muslim owned properties.
In yet another example of open discrimination Muslim tsunami victims are still suffering in huts while billions of dollars came in the form of aid to help tsunami victims disappeared without any trace. Added to this 500 houses built in Norochcholai for Muslim tsunami victims by the Saudi government remain abandoned dilapidated as Sinhala chauvinists who are part of good governance government blocked it from distributing to Muslim tsunami victims demanding Sinhalese too should be given part of these houses. There were speculations in the east that a corrupt former Muslim parliamentarian instigated Sinhala chauvinists to block it as he could not benefit from the project.
Discussing the current plight of Muslims former minister A.R.M Mansoor said” it may be wishful thinking, however it is time that all citizens, be they Sinhalese, Tamils ,Muslims and others, are treated as equals and provided with equal opportunities on the basis of merits. There is a constitution which clearly stipulates the rights of all. So what is needed is the implementation of the constitution to ensure laws are in force
He added that it is well known that Muslims were sidelined for long in almost every possible sector ranging from central government and all other public institutions. Isn’t it time that Muslims too be employed in all these sectors and make them feel part of the system in the overall interest of the country?