By Hilmy Ahamed –
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as leaders of the common opposition promised a land that would see rule of law, democracy, good governance and justice. The majority of Sri Lankans elected them against all odds, hoping that they would make this country a place where all communities could live in peace and harmony with each other in a tranquil environment.
The preceding four years of the hate campaign on the minorities by Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and other extremist Buddhist groups saw the exit of probably the most charismatic and popular Sri Lankan political leader since independence, President Mahinda Rajapaksa. His crime was that he natured and let the wounds of racism fester amongst the Sri Lankan society. This made the minority-deciding voters to vote against his tyranny.
The war victory in 2009 and the results of the Presidential election of 2010 gave him the illusion that he could win any election only with the support of majority Buddhist votes, hence his tryst with the extremists. His attitude alienated the minority voters, who in-fact, had begun to move towards supporting the Rajapaksa administration, after the end of the war and the expected stability in the country. He failed to realize that a large number, from the minority communities had voted for him in 2010 in appreciation and gratitude for bringing peace to the country. He had the opportunity to go beyond Southern extremism and offer magnanimous concessions to the Tamil population and build a nation, where all communities could have lived as one. His arrogance, pride and prejudice made him lose that opportunity for reconciliation. It also cost him, his attempt of a third term Presidency.
The rejection of President Rajapaksa and the causes for his defeat would be very clear if one looks at the voting pattern of the minority communities, especially the Muslim and Christian population that came under unprecedented attacks due to the protection given by the Rajapaksa administration to these extremists in saffron robes. Their form of hate and violence goes against the teachings of lord Buddha and is rejected by the majority of the peace-loving Buddhists of this country. It would appropriate to remind ourselves of quote from one of the most respected Theravada Buddhist leaders of our times, the Dalai Lama X1V “Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity.”
The country was made to believe by these extremists that former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa provided protection to these racist elements; hence the law enforcement authorities would not take any action. This misconception provided the space for these extremists to propagate hate with impunity.
A few days after the election of the new government, the Police media spokesman, SSP Ajith Rohana declared that the Police would take stern action against anyone creating hate and religious violence. To this day, his words have not been translated in to action.
Soon after this announcement, the Bodu Bala Sena and Ven. Gnansara were back in action, threatening the Muslim community almost on a daily basis through their press conferences and other media tamasha’s. No action has been taken against the Bodu Bala Sena’s threat to march and destroy Dafar Jailani, a place of religious significance and importance to Muslims. The media continues to provide wide exposure to this threat. Dafar Jailani is Sufi Shrine of the Muslims that dates back to over a thousand years and is well documented in history.
Dafar Jailani or the Kurugala caves is situated about 60 km from Ratnapura, with its nearest town being Balangoda. Darfar Jalani is an ancient Sufi shrine, sacred to Muslims and historical evidence point to a greatly revered Islamic saint; Sheikh Muhiyadeen Abdul Qadir meditated and lived in the rock caves, over a thousand years ago.
The Bodu Bala Sena now wants to march to this ancient place of historical significance to Muslims, destroy its artifacts, monuments and wipe out all historical evidence. Tensions have erupted between the Muslims and Buddhist over counter claims to this shrine and its tranquility has been destroyed. The extremist Buddhists claim that the site has archeological value to them and the rock cave is an ancient Buddhist monastic site. They continue to demand the removal of all Islamic inscriptions that dates back to over a thousand years. This has led to the escalation of tensions between the Muslims and Buddhist in the region.
The Muslims, had remained calm against all provocations during the regime of the Rajapaksa Presidency because they feared the hidden hand of Gotabaya Rajapaksa behind the BBS and Gnanasara Thero. With the newfound freedom and peace, their tolerance levels would be put to test as the Muslims feel that they would have recourse to justice under an independent judiciary and police. This may provoke them to defend their shrine if the BBS attempts to destroy it as claimed. This could lead to major violence.
The promise of good governance, rule of law and justice would be put to the biggest test on how the administration responds to this latest threat by the Bodu Bala Sena to destroy Dafar Jailani at Kurugala.
The President and the Prime Minister must take immediate action to halt this hate campaign that threatens the Muslims. Failure to nip the re-emergence of this extremist threat would be disastrous to the ethnic and social harmony that was promised under their leadership, for which the minorities overwhelmingly voted