By Latheef Farook –
Special Police Unit to handle religious disputes; Ploy to hoodwink Muslims and the country
Muslims as a whole dismissed the Special Police Unit set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 28 April 2014 to handle religious disputes at the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs as an “eyewash”.
They believe that this new unit is yet another ploy to hoodwink them and the country by the government which remained indifferent to all calls to prosecute the extremists Sinhalese monks who violated, and continue to violate, laws and remain hell bent on setting the Sinhalese against Muslims.
Now the unanswered question is why set up a special police unit while already there is a police force and laws in force to deal with these lawless monks who have become law unto themselves and behave as if they are a government within the government threatening the very existence of the island’s Muslim community.
There were hundreds of incidents of blatant violations of law under the watchful eyes of police. In most of these cases police remained spectators stating that they were under orders not to interfere.
To cite some incidents these attacks include on mosques and religious schools, Muslims’ dress code and food, on their businesses, calls to boycott Muslims businesses, mocking their god, Allah, and numerous other acts of hooliganism.
Video clippings of almost all these attacks, often led by Buddhist monks, have been in circulation in e mails, face books, twitter and even widely published in the mainstream media. However the government refuses to prosecute the perpetrators, inevitably, exposing government involvement in the ongoing persecution of Muslims.
Under the circumstance the question is why a new religious police unit and that too why under the Buddha Sasana Ministry which is widely believed to have been behind these attacks on mosques, Islamic religious schools and churches.
In a statement issued in this regard the National Shoora Council (NSC), an umbrella body of Muslim organizations and community activists had this to state.
The NSC views with concern the establishment of a religious police unit in the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs as a retrograde step that would lead to the country’s police becoming subservient to monks and religious orders instead of the rule of law.
It is a known fact that the Police under successive regimes are already under intense political pressure struggling to perform their duties according to law. Creation of a religious police unit under the illegal jurisdiction of another ministry will frustrate the police from acting according to law. The police department is controlled by the Inspector General and his deputies. They are subject to orders of Courts and the Attorney-General. They are accountable to Parliament in the discharge of duties as statutorily laid down by Parliament. The new unit will result in monks and religious orders running and ruining the police.
Today’s major law and order problem the country is facing is the impunity of a few monks, being allowed to act in violation of a number of criminal law provisions and the police being pressurized from prosecuting the offenders even in cases where death threats had been hurled at others. The National Shoora Council is concerned that the religious police and so called dispute resolution mechanisms are aimed at subverting the law as a part of the immunity already enjoyed by these offenders.
The country’s President had reportedly said at a conference with heads of media, that religious harmony prevails in the country. While this is true notwithstanding the violent and extremist acts of a few, the creation of a religious police unit may signal the world that there is something seriously wrong going on in the country in the religious front. What is urgently required is a few criminal prosecutions to prevent anyone including monks and religious extremists “taking the law into their own hands”, as pledged by the President. Otherwise this country will ‘fall from the frying pan into the fire.
Even government ministers described the Special Police unit as a futile exercise. For example Patali Champika Ranawaka, JHU General Secretary and Minister of Technology and Research, known for his nationalistic views, had this to state in Ceylon Today;
“A special police unit for religious disputes is not necessary. Instead of setting up new police units the law should be properly implemented against all those who create religious disputes. However, at present, laws are not being properly implemented against those responsible for creating religious disputes .This ‘unnecessary’ action might result in the creation of a religious police in future, like that found in Saudi Arabia. He added that the law should be applied equally to all religious activists and stressed that the implementation of laws should not differ from religion to religion.
“There cannot be one law for Buddhists and another one for Christians. It should be the same for both the robe and the cassock,” he said.
Ridiculing it Justice Minister and Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Rauff Hakeem said that there was no use in setting up special police units to handle religious related violence. The police already had enough powers vested in them to tackle such problems, but the government must do its utmost to control religious extremists like the BBS urgently.
Dismissing this as a joke Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Propaganda Secretary, Vijitha Herath, said “”The government is setting up a police unit to resolve religious disputes while supporting certain groups to create religious disputes. This is a joke”.
Earlier Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen warned that the country would have to pay a very heavy price for the failure on the part of the authorities concerned to rein in Bodu Bala Sena (BBS).Setting up of a new police unit alone wouldn’t be enough to restore confidence among the Muslim community as well as others at the receiving end of BBS harassment.
He asserted that the police wouldn’t find it easy to control the situation unless the government threw its full weight behind law enforcement authorities. He said that the police, too, were obviously in a dilemma due to high handed actions of BBS members. As BBS members had humiliated the police on many occasions.
The minister insisted that the government would have to take tangible action to prevent BBS from targeting not only the Muslim community but those taking a different view. Nothing could be as humiliating as Mahiyangana Pradeshiya Sabha member, Ven. Watareka Vijitha being forced to run into Pradeshiya Sabha building under police protection due to the intimidating presence of BBS members.