Attacks on Communities and Rising Levels of Insecurity among all Citizens
We, members of CSSL, who represent a cross section of the community are deeply disturbed, saddened and ashamed of the current happenings in our beloved country in the form of attacks on places of worship, Campaigns of Hate and Misinformation as well as demands for boycotting of trading establishments owned by one ethnic group. A recent study describes 65 such attacks on places of worship mostly mosques, followed by churches and a few temples, during the past 3 years.
CSSL wishes to draw the attention of the Sri Lankan public, to the fact that an environment of fear, mistrust and lack of safety is increasing in the country, not only among the Muslim community, but among all other communities as well. The fear that is created, leads to Division and this Division to ultimate and irreparable polarization and the possibility of a debilitating lack of communication and harmony. This in turn is strengthening those who wish to accelerate social violence among the citizens of this country. This hate campaign is also targeting young minds in pre schools, regular schools and the Daham Pasala. Young children are being encouraged to look with fear and suspicion at children and adults of ethnic communities, not their own.
The corrosion of hatred started by BBS has reached every nook and corner of Sri Lanka and has taken various forms
Our Muslim bretheren who have lived peacefully for generations, side by side with all other ethnic and religious groups have become the main target this time, through a campaign of hate speech and extreme actions by the group Bodu Bala Sena(BBS) and other similar organizations which are mushrooming. These other groups are the Sinhala Ravaya (SR) and Ravana Balaya (RB). This hate campaign is carried out under the guise of protecting Buddhism, the greatest and most peaceful philosophy in the world. Christians too have been attacked, though to a lesser extent and the Buddhists the least.
This insidious campaign is also being used to extract financial gain through intimidation and/or violence against Muslim traders around the country.. Besides the violence, the misinformation campaign against Muslim Trading establishments is unfair, baseless and extremely short sighted. If a business establishment belonging to any Sri Lankan is forced to shut its doors in this manner through wicked intent of boycott and stigmatising, the impact on the economy of the country is likely to be manifold. Not only does this reduce levels of revenues and taxes to the state, but also wreaks havoc in the lives of those who are employed at such establishments.
These extreme organisations also spread rumors that Sri Lanka would be an Islamic republic, But senior census and statistics official disputed a claim being propagated in the country that the Muslim population is likely exceed that of the majority community. In fact the proportionate increase of the Muslim population is negligible.
Sri Lanka can ill afford another era of violence after the blood bath of the past 30 years
We also have to remember, that such attacks impact particularly on women and children of all communities, be it physical, emotional or economic. Already there are instances of violence against Muslim women on account of their dress.
If sensitivities of Buddhists or any other ethnic community have been disturbed by actions of of another, there are civilized and democratic means and processes to deal with such problems. Some of the remedies that communities have at their disposal are dialogue, consultation with learned individuals, placing the grievance before a Conciliation Board such as the Samatha Mandalaya, complaining to the Police and if all else fails using the judicial process.
While it is not yet clear what the real and specific grievances committed by the Muslims are, BBS and other extremists reportedly point to Muslim terrorist groups operating in the country. A state that has beaten supposedly the world’s most powerful terrorist organization could easily crush the so called Muslim groups if any. By making such unfounded statements, it creates a fear among the Sinhalese and it is fear that begets violence.
The Sri Lankan State has the responsibility to ensure the protection of its citizens against verifiable threats, of any kind. There should be no room for any group to make such unfounded statements that are clearly intended to create antagonism between ethnic communities in the country.
The State’s dereliction of duty has been obvious, however, with regard to the attacks on Muslims and Christians . In many instances the Police have stood by, while attacks continued and CSSL has noted several accounts of the Police not entertaining complaints. This is not acceptable by any means. This amounts to a persecution of communities and are illustrative of forms of institutional violence. It is most unfortunate that up to now, the State response has been lukewarm at best, taking the form of occasional media statements about unity. There has not been any public demonstration of action to stem the tide of instigated ethnic disharmony. Rather, by its inaction there is much room to speculate as to where these aforementioned groups are obtaining support to carry out such activities.
The role played by some electronic and print media institutions also needs to be scrutinized and condemned, especially where time and space is provided only for extremist groups to indulge in one sided and inflammatory proclamations . A case in point is that of a popular television channel which allowed the BBS the opportunity to utter false statements to the effect that the Buddhist priests was beaten up in Chennai by a Sri Lankan ‘Thowheed’ group. The same channel, however, did not afford the opportunity to provide a denial to this gross untruth.
While financial and other losses may be temporary, it would take strong and consistent efforts on the part of the state, the private sector, religious organisations, schools and the media to unite the communities.
CSSL demands that the Government immediately commence a Campaign of Zero Tolerance against this unacceptable and injurious conduct of groups such as the BBS, SR. JHU and RB and/or any other pseudo Buddhist groups. Such a campaign should be led by the President and the Secretary of Defense with the participation of all political leaders, communities and the media. A Tribunal comprising of learned individuals who can entertain such complaints and arrive at a decision acceptable to all, would also be a creative approach in resolving conflicts.
It is our fervent hope that Sri Lanka will never witness another black July! Let us have a truly joyful and peaceful New Year 2013 and beyond.
*Citizens for a Secure Sri Lanka (CSSL) – a network of concerned individuals of all ethnicities and religions