By Latheef Farook –
It appears that racism and racist politics which brought endless misery to people have started rising its ugly heads again. This time it is at Gintota, a town close to Galle in the South of the island.
It was racist politics which divided communities, paved the way for the 30 year ethnic war which in turn virtually destroyed communal harmony, economic progress, caused political instability and the killing of innocent people from all communities while politicians and their sidekicks flourished on arms purchase.
On Tuesday 14, 2017 Minister Lakshman Kiriella said that the 30 year war might have cost Sri Lanka US Dollar 400 Billion. This is colossal amount of money which, if used for the development, the country would have been a paradise to the benefit of all.
However the disgusting racist politics since the end of the ethnic war in 2009 only point out that racist politicians and their mercenaries have not learnt any lesson .As a result communal tension continue to rise.
Sinhalese and Muslims in the Gintota area lived in peace and harmony for generations. However some racist mercenaries including Buddhist monks oppose peace.
On Tuesday 14 November 2017, a Sinhalese teenage boy riding a motor bike knocked down around a 55 year old Muslim woman who was injured. It was purely an accident and nothing to do with communal hatred.
The woman was taken to hospital, given treatment and sent home. Later the two sides, relative of the Muslim lady and the Sinhalese motor bike rider, met and amicably settled the issue. The boy reported to have paid a sum of Rs 25,000/- as compensation to the lady who has in turn agreed not to complaint to the police about the accident.
The issue ended there peacefully.
On Thursday 16 November 2017, around 6.30 PM some Muslim boys who were returning home after playing football in the same locality were attacked by some Sinhalese. Muslims went home, brought people and attacked the Sinhalese who attacked them. In the process Muslims also attacked a Sinhalese house which they admit was a mistake.
However since then tension began to rise and Pradeshiya Sabha member Kayas who usually takes active part in community issues went to meet prominent Sinhalese in the area to settle the matter peacefully. Representatives of the two mosques and Sinhalese in the area met on Friday 17 and agreed to settle all issues amicably.
However the Buddhist priest in the temple in the area, supposed to be a close associate of racist outfit Bodu Bala Sena general secretary Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thera, accused Kiyas of inciting problem, got him arrested and refused for a peaceful settlement. Result was tension again which many Sinhalese and Muslims believe was uncalled for.
In the midst around 7 pm two bus load of people, all of them outsiders and face covered, suspected to be armed, arrived at Gintota junction together with four Buddhist monks. In view of the rising tension there was increased police force and STF personnel at the Gintota junction. However police and STF personnel were withdrawn after Friday prayers at around 1.30PM. Now the people question why they were removed despite rising tension.
The mob started moving into less populated areas first. They threw stones at a small mosque in the Gentofte junction. From there they started stoning Muslim owned houses and shops. Some of these shops were robbed and emptied of goods.
They started their attacks in full swing around 8.30 pm and continued for one long hour until 9.30 pm. From 8.30 pm onwards the mob moved into areas such as Kurunduwatta, Maha Hapugala, Welipitimodera, Ukwattha and Piyadigama to continue their attacks.
They attacked in the darkness and people pointed out at Muslim houses and shops saying ‘meeka thmbigi ge, meka thambige kade’. While these attacks were continuing Muslims tried to contact the police. All their frantic efforts failed as there was no response.
According to Muslims in the area the mobs attacked two mosques, 66 houses, 26 shops and 14 vehicles. Police said 19 persons arrested in connection with the clash were produced before courts and remanded till November 30.
Muslims in the area feel that the absence of police till 9.30 pm gave the mobs sufficient time to continue their attacks on Muslim houses and shops. While the mob went on rampage the two buses which brought the mob were parked in the Sinhalese areas.
Till the police arrived Muslims were at the mercy of mobs. They gathered near the mosque to see what they could do to protect themselves and their property .They now suspect that the mobs were hiding in the temple where the monk who refused peace talks live.
Some Muslims claim that they had seen police vehicles using head light which facilitated the attacks while others said that they had seen police vehicles moving slowly while the mob attacked Muslim owned properties. However they didn’t make any attempt to stop the attack.
Muslims now begin to feel that this not an isolated attack but a planned and coordinated one.
Meanwhile in a special statement issued on Saturday 17 November 2017, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka said “the tense situation that developed in Gintota on Friday night has been brought under control and law and order restored.
He said that additional Police battalions, the Police Special Task Force, the Anti-riot Squad and the military were called in to bring the situation under control. A police curfew was imposed on the area until 9.00 am on Saturday. The curfew was reimposed yesterday from 6.00 pm to 6.00 am Sunday in the Gintota East and West, Maha Hapugala, Welipitimodara, Ukwatte, Piyadigama and Kurunduwatte areas.
Minister Ratnayaka said “I am aware that some political groups are now on a desperate mission to turn this minor brawl into a Sinhala-Muslim clash. I urge the public not to be misled by their false propaganda. The same elements are now in the process of disseminating false videos and news on social media platform to stir up communal sentiments. I reiterate that stern action will be taken against everyone, irrespective of their positions and political affiliations, who attempt to resort to racist propaganda. “The same will apply to the rumor-mongers trying to capitalize on the opportunity to achieve petty political gains”.
Countering this statement parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa told the Parliament that communal violence is being aroused in Galle and surrounding areas by the government to divert public attention from the Treasury bond scam probe.
He added that: “a very insignificant incident had been snowballed into violence among Sinhala and Muslim communities. We call upon the Sinhalese and Muslims not to fall prey to these tactics. Do not give into emotions. These clashes are not natural incidents. They seemed to be well planned events staged by some groups at the behest of very powerful people.
“Their target is to grab public attention from the topics being discussed in the public discourse. Such events could change the news headlines from the current situation where all newspapers talk of the Treasury bond scam and its footnote gang. They want to create different headlines. No person could kill another or set another’s property on fire. The people do so only when they are assured of the backing of some powerful persons. There is a very strong hand behind these ugly incidents. The people should understand whose hand that is.”
UNP parliamentarian Mujibur Rahuman said: “Communal violence erupted in the Gintota area and nearly houses of Muslims have been set on fire. Their properties have been damaged. Vehicles had been set on fire. We are talking of human rights and war crimes today. We have been able to win the confidence of the international community in that regard with some positive actions. But unfortunately we failed to stop yesterday’s violence.
“Please do not let the country slide back. We call upon the President and the Prime Minister to implement the law immediately. We call on the IGP to implement the law and take action against anyone irrespective of their positions. We changed the government to avoid such incidents. Muslims live in fear”.
Leader of the House Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella: “We assure that the law would be implemented and that it would be done immediately. We give that assurance to this House”.
On Saturday morning, Minister of Home Affairs Vajira Abeywareana visited the scene and, among the others, met Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thera at the temple to explain the situation. The question is what and who is Gnanasara Thera, a man of violence known for his hostility towards Muslims and the one who instigated violence against Muslims in Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dharga Town, doing in Gintota especially at a time when tension began to rise between two communities. Whom does he represent? There are numerous court cases against him accusing him of violence against Muslims. Under such circumstance why should the government pamper him by a government minister meeting him?
Prior to the meeting, the Minister Abeywardena met several religious leaders and officials at the District Secretariat office and urged them to be aware of the situation because unscrupulous elements trying to trigger communal disharmony in the country.
The Minister noted that some political groups are now on a desperate mission to turn this minor brawl into a Sinhala-Muslim clash and he urged the public not to be misled by their false propaganda. “The same elements are now in the process of disseminating false videos and news on social media platforms to stir up communal sentiments. I reiterate that stern action will be taken against everyone, irrespective of their positions and political affiliations, attempting to resort to racist propaganda. The same will apply to the rumor-mongers trying to capitalize on this opportunity to achieve petty political gains,” the Minister asserted. According to Police media unit, the late Friday mob attack was due to nasty social media notices, comments and fake messages posted.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visited the area on Sunday 19 morning and inspected the houses and properties that were damaged due to Friday night’s attacks. He has called for an official report, from the Inspector General of Police, on the violence that erupted in Gintota and its surrounding areas over the weekend.
The Premier too assured that stern action will be taken against those who cause violence and unrest. He noted that even though curfew has been lifted the area will remain under tight security. The Premier instructed Police officers to visit affected homes and record statements. He noted that a separate team will be deployed to assess the damage. Additional Police teams and STF personnel have been deployed in Gintota and the surrounding areas.
The situation is that former president Mahinda Rajapaksa has to his credit Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dharga Town pogrom, and now, Maithri –Ranil team have to their credit Gintota pogrom. The need of the hour is not to entertain racist elements but to deal firm with them to prevent such disgusting incidents.
Muslims, disgusted with the Rajapaksa government, now begins to feel that Yahapalanaya is no better in view of its indifference on many important issues of Muslims. Unless racist mercenaries are curtailed all talks of reconciliation become fruitless.