By Malinda Seneviratne –
These are days of frayed tempers, perceived grievances, real threats and real fears that can cloud and blow away reason. This is the hour or the rumor-monger. This is the hour of the extremist. This is the hour of the passionate and irresponsible.
The word on the street is ‘Aluthgama’. Indeed it is the word on every street where matters of yesterday, today and tomorrow, matters of the nation and its destiny, matters of unrest and fear and other related matters are discussed. Aluthgama moved from the Kalutara district to Colombo and Badulla. ‘This is 83-July all over again,’ some said. Not true, but we could get there.
There were arguments over who threw the first stone, as though it justified throw-return and more. After all it is hard to pin it down to first stone cast when there were only a handful of STF men to ‘protect the (BBS) procession’ in Dharga Town. STF personnel were clearly confused because their orders were specific. One source explained thus: ‘The Muslims keep saying that the STF sided with the mob. We didn’t. We were acting on our orders which were specific and were about protecting the procession.’
It was not, let us repeat, not a peaceful procession. There were anti-Muslim slogans, there was whipping of hysteria, there was undisguised inciting of violence against Muslims in a Muslim majority area by people who had petrol cans and carried weapons. Literally minutes after that ‘first stone’ Muslims and Muslim-owned premises were attacked and torched in Adhikarigoda, Aluthgama and the interior of Dharga Town.
Most of all, it is hard to pin it down on first stone when Buddhist monks torched a shopping complex in Aluthgama more than a month ago over an alleged molestation of a Buddhist child by a Muslim, the relative of the shop owner, when in fact CCTV evidence disproved the allegation. The shop was torched only several days later.
Blaming first-stone-thrower is therefore a joke.
There are questions which are not funny, though. If Azath Salley was arrested for ‘hate speech’, why is Rev Galagodaaththe Gnanasaara still free? Why did the Police not prevent the BBS rally despite many pleas to do so from many quarters (a planned ‘BBS’ rally in Mawanella was stopped, after all)? Why was the STF not ordered to maintain peace but instructed only to ‘protect the procession’? Why didn’t the police stop armed mobs scurrying around with clubs and violent intent (not just in Aluthgama on Sunday but elsewhere too thereafter)?
Most importantly, why did the Inspector General of Police N.K. Ilangakoon state that a Buddhist monk had been assaulted when he had no evidence to support the claim? The Judicial Medical Officer’s report which would have either proven or refuted the said monk’s claim (as of Friday) has not been issued. Highly placed sources at the Attorney General’s Office could not confirm that the monk had indeed been assaulted.
If there was convoluted justification of last Sunday’s violence and if justification spurred further violence the blame falls squarely on the IGP for making the following (irresponsible) statement: ‘Three Muslims in a trishaw assaulted the driver and the Buddhist monk. The Buddhist monk was in hospital receiving treatment for two days and then discharged. He was to be taken to the temple in a procession when the incident occurred.’
The IGP offered speculation as fact. That’s incompetent and irresponsible. Yesterday the Muslim-owned ‘No Limit’ outlet in Panadura was torched. While it is not clear how it all happened, it is clear that the sequence of events prompt people to connect dots and reach conclusion, wrong though they may be. Tinkering with the truth and lying outright causes friction, throw out sparks and cause infernos that are hard to put out.
It is wrong to blame it all on one person, but it is equally wrong not to point out those who provided fuel and matchstick, tossed in extra firewood and refused to douse it even though they had all the water necessary to do the job. We have to take issue with the IGP. He must resign forthwith.