By Latheef Farook –
Calculated Move to Prevent Muslim Refugees from returning to their lands?
On Friday 24 March 2017 President Maithripala Sirisena signed a gazette notification, during his official visit to Russia, declaring around 100,000 acre lands adjacent to Wilpattu National Park as “forest conserves”.
The inevitable question is why it was signed in Russia in such mighty hurry as if the whole world was coming to an end. Why didn’t he sign it in Sri Lanka. This controversial gazette, signed without taking into consideration the rights of Muslims refugees from the area, has caused serious concern among Muslim and triggered an unwanted controversy at a time when the country faces several acute political, economic and social crises.
Muslims now suspect this as a carefully planned and executed conspiracy to deprive them of their lands. They believe that racist elements have exploited the state machinery and misled President Sirisena to issue this gazette notification. They consider so called discussions with Muslim delegations planned by officials on the issue are only to hoodwink Muslims.
It is known that Sinhala racist elements were trying to block Muslims who, lived for ages in some of these villages and kicked out by LTTE fascists during the ethnic war, from returning to their lands from refugee camps and rebuild their shattered life.
Racists who persecuted Muslims during Rajapaksa regime, began a vicious campaign, distorting facts and misleading the nation, accusing Muslims of illegally clearing forests adjoining Wilpattu National Park and settling down there. Muslim refugees were only trying to return to their lands.
This controversy prevented Muslims from returning to their lands.
Already a comprehensive report prepared after extensive research by a six member team of academics led by Professor Shahul Hasbullah of Peradeniya University on the issue was submitted to President Sirisena. The report explained that the contested area in question was not located in Wilpattu. Returnees of the refugees remains the crux of the matter, but the ongoing controversy labelled returnees as ‘criminals’.
Under such circumstance one would expect President Sirisena, elected with the complete support of the Muslim community, to be fair by the Muslim refugees who neither asked nor encroached government lands. All what they wanted was to return to their own lands. They expected President Sirisena to conduct an impartial inquiry and understand the facts before issuing such gazette.
It was not done. As a result Muslims’ legitimate rights were dismissed. Frustrated and angry Muslims expected Muslim parliamentarians to jointly meet President Sirisena, explain the injustice and persuade him to withdraw the gazette.
Unfortunately Muslim parliamentarians who are keen on positions than the interests of the community failed to respond. They , especially those from Sri Lankan Muslim Congress which has ended up as Munafiq’s ( hypocrites) Congress, are busy accusing each other of corruption, adultery, fraud and other such evil deeds displaying their moral bankruptcy disgracing the helpless community.
Instead of joining hands with Minister Rishard Bathiudeen to help ensure the rights of Muslim refugees Minister Rauf Hakeem and his team of sell outs started a vicious campaign against Minister Bathiudeen forcing Senior Minister A.H.M. Fawzie to caution them.
Even former President Chandrika Kumaratunga said recently that Muslim politicians do not raise issues faced by the community unlike Tamil politicians who always raise issues of concern to Tamils. Even SLMC’s ousted general secretary Hassan Ali said recently the SLMC failed to raise Muslim issues. Perhaps he waited until he was removed from his post to make this statement.
However tension began to rise among Muslims accusing the government of abandoning them and pampering the very racists whom Maithri-Ranil team pledged during elections to contain.
With Muslim parliamentarians failing to respond, the Muslim civil society took the initiative to take up the issue and held a meeting at All Ceylon Jamiathul Ulema, ACJU, office in Maradana on Thursday 31 March 2017.
One of the participants told me that they met ACJU to try to use Friday Juma sermons to explain the crisis to Muslims. The need to use Juma sermons to educate Muslims of the challenges faced by the community has been a long felt one. Knowledgeable Muslims make repeated appeals urging ACJU to use Juma sermons to address serious issues threatening the community. However this fell on the deaf ears of ACJU. Most Friday sermons were confined to subjects often irrelevant to the time.
ACJU has so far miserably failed in this respect and it cannot make any contributions to political issue. Under such circumstance involving ACJU is nothing but politicizing an organization which refuses to come out of its medieval mindset.
Meanwhile a Muslim delegation met President’s Secretary Palitha Abeykoon following day on 1 April 2017 to put forward their views to be passed on to President Sirisena.
During the meeting Minister Bathurdeen pointed out the unjust nature of the gazette while parliamentarian Mujibur Rahman said before signing this gazette President Sirisena should have spoken to Muslims. He said even now it is not late. The President could appoint a commission or a committee to verify facts and take a decision instead of simply throwing Muslims who suffered for more than three decades due to a racist war which is not of their making.
In the midst during a television discussion Minister Feizar Mustapha who owes his ministerial portfolio to Sinhala political leadership defended the gazette notification saying Muslims were not affected by the gazette notification. This is not strange as he also defended former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he demolished Muslim owned house in Slave Island and threw them with their families on the road.
Instead of displaying his ignorance trying please Sinhala leadership Minister Mustapha should have attended the special National Shoora Council meeting during which Professor Hasbulla explained in detail the calculated damage done to the Muslims of the area.
National Shoora Council NSC, umbrella organisation of 18 national Muslim organizations, which formed a committee to explore measures to ensure the rights of Muslims refugees, held a special meeting on 5 April 2017.Chaired by NSC chairman Tariq Mahmud the meeting was attended by several Muslim parliamentarians, lawyers, prominent journalists and other intellectuals.
Professor Hasbulla made a comprehensive presentation explaining how the gazette notification deprived Muslims of their land and confining them to a Gaza type enclave. He said only 40 percent of the Muslim refugees have returned so far and around 60 percent of them are awaiting to return. The question is where to settle the refugees awaiting to come as, under this gazette notification, they cannot claim their own lands.
Meanwhile in a press statement Muslim civil society said President Sirisena was misled to believe that the IDPs were encroaching the Wilpattu National Reserve, which he later withdrew and declared that “Not an Inch of Wilpattu Land” has been encroached.
Unfortunately, once again, anti Muslim forces have managed to convince the President to declare large extents of private and permit lands of Muslim IDPs as a forest conserve. This is total violation of the “Right of Return” of these patriotic citizens whose only crime was opposing the division of the country by the LTTE.
They called upon President Sirisena to withdraw the Gazette notification.
Muslims also begin to suspect that the anti-Muslim campaign carried out with violence under Rajapaksa government has been carried out invisibly by racist elements in the administration now. Thus Muslims in general they begin to think that for them so called yahapalanaya government is no different from Rajapaksa regime.