By Kath Noble –
Last week, I discussed the campaign of a tiny fraction of the majority community against Muslims, and the way in which the Government is creating space for them by neglecting sensitive issues like the allegations of interference in the Law College Entrance Exam.
Some people claim that groups like the Bodu Bala Sena and the Sinhala Ravaya are only defending the interests of Sinhalese. If not for their ‘activism’, we are asked to believe, Buddhists would soon have to meditate in secret or risk having their heads chopped off on Galle Face Green (while being force-fed slightly overpriced meat products through the slit in the uncomfortably warm piece of black cloth that they would be compelled to don over their sarees or sarongs!).
This is obviously unbelievably foolish. Not only can they not see that at the moment in Sri Lanka their community is not in any danger whatsoever, they also fail to think ahead to what would happen if the hatred that they are encouraging boiled over into a riot. Saying that they would not participate is not enough. Their arguments may persuade others to take the law into their own hands, and they have a responsibility to take an equally strong stand against that. Violence is clearly inherently bad, but it also has an impact on how people understand the situation in the country. Sinhalese would feel responsible as a community if any such thing were to happen – and others would hold them responsible too – so that raising even legitimate grievances would be virtually impossible thereafter.
If they thought that garnering support to defeat the LTTE was difficult, let them imagine how hard it would have been if there had been a repeat of Black July. Also, let them remember how Black July led to increased support for the LTTE (including actual foreign conspiracies, not just the ones that the Government now routinely invents to divert attention from criticism of its actions!).
Even the perception of a threat can be enough to encourage young people to turn to militancy.
This has to be avoided at all costs. Even members of the 75% of the population of Sri Lanka that are Sinhalese who for some mysterious reason think that Muslims are on the verge of taking over should understand the implications of violence between communities.
Let those who speak up in support of monks who lead mobs think again. Let them look at the way in which such people behave and ask themselves whether this is really how we should go about resolving disputes.
Meanwhile, the rest of us can mull over another important question.
I said that the Government is encouraging communal violence by neglecting sensitive issues, but we have come to a point where it is no longer clear that this is an oversight.
Many ‘oversights’ are actually deliberate.
Consider Mervyn Silva.
Literally hundreds of articles have been written by people from across the political spectrum condemning the actions of this man. There is virtual consensus. Even ardent supporters of the Government have called for his removal, on the grounds that he is a thug.
The latest incident is the shooting of Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha member Hasitha Madawela on January 5th.
On January 8th, one of Silva’s organisers from Kelaniya was arrested at the airport as he was attempting to leave the country. The Police also charged several other people and recovered from them a number of guns, including what is suspected to be the murder weapon. They say that it was provided by Silva’s coordinating secretary, who is also the main suspect’s uncle. The following day, a raid on the SLFP office in Kelaniya discovered swords and a hand grenade.
Madawela’s colleagues in the Pradeshiya Sabha have since accused Silva of masterminding the killing.
On January 11th, he resigned from his position as the SLFP’s organiser for Kelaniya, but we know from past experience that this doesn’t mean anything.
After the infamous case of the Samurdhi officer who was tied to a tree as a punishment for not attending a dengue eradication programme in Kelaniya, Silva was sacked from his post as Deputy Minister of Highways and suspended from the SLFP. Trade unions protested and this was an easy way to get them to stop. The SLFP then conducted an ‘inquiry’, which found that it was all a misunderstanding and the Samurdhi officer had actually volunteered to be humiliated, despite video evidence to the contrary (never mind common sense!). Within a month, Silva had returned to the Cabinet with a promotion as Minister of Public Relations and Public Affairs.
Given that he has not yet been relieved of that position, we must assume that the Government believes that crimes involving trees are more serious than those in which bullets have been used.
We had already understood the Government’s position on knife crimes, since nothing much was done about the various stabbings of staff of the Rupavahini Corporation after they took Silva hostage for assaulting the News Director.
After so many incidents, this cannot be an ‘oversight’.
We can only conclude that the Government needs Mervyn Silva.
Indeed, the man demonstrated his utility during the impeachment of the Chief Justice, since it was reported that the crowds who gathered in support of the Parliamentary Select Committee were also from Kelaniya. They roamed the streets with iron rods and sticks, intimidating people who came to join the march organised by Shirani Bandaranayake‘s lawyers.
Kelaniya has become the place to go for thugs.
Of course the interconnection of violence and politics is hardly new, but that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done about it.
In the case of Mervyn Silva, the country may eventually get lucky. The Sunday Leader alleges that Hasitha Madawela’s killing was the result of a kind of falling out among thieves. It says that a group from the Pradeshiya Sabha got into a dispute with Silva last month after another of Silva’s aides was abducted and told the authorities about a whole range of illegal activities going on in Kelaniya. They felt that Silva was going to abandon them.
Let us hope so, and let us hope that the Government in turn decides to abandon Mervyn Silva.
This may be a systemic problem, but targeting an individual can still be useful in sending a signal that change is coming.
We must also hope that change doesn’t come in the same form as it did for Hasitha Madawela. The Sunday Leader claims that he was one of the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha members who was involved in the attack on the Sirasa media network, for which he was arrested but later released without charge. If the legal process had been allowed to run its course, he might still be alive.
While it is extremely tempting not to worry about the deaths of people who attack journalists, we should remember that lawlessness doesn’t tend to be so discriminating.
Contempt for the rule of law is at the bottom of many of the problems that Sri Lanka is facing today.
Since the Government is constantly strengthening its grip on the institutions that are supposed to tackle lawlessness, it is easy to become disheartened.
I must say that when I saw yet another posse of monks laying siege to a clothing store in Maharagama at the weekend, I didn’t feel very optimistic. This time it was not the Bodu Bala Sena or the Sinhala Ravaya but a group calling itself the Budhu Hiru (most likely the same handful of very foolish people under a different banner!).
We await with bated breath their explanation of what appalling national calamity they have averted.
Waiting for the Government to intervene in such matters may be almost equally as foolish, so Buddhists who don’t like to see their religious leaders shouting and running amok in the streets must get together with representatives of the minority communities to resolve contentious issues like the allegations of interference in the Law College Entrance Exam before they can be misappropriated by such people.
*Kath Noble’s column may be accessed online at http://kathnoble.wordpress.com/. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JULAAMPITYE AMARAYA / January 23, 2013
Miss Cath Noble’
it very irresponsible way of insulting to a one of my bosom friends,[I HAVE MANY many VVIP FRIENDS],Honaarobla Doctoor Vermin Silava as a thug.
he is a saint like gentleman,
and every POYA DAY OBSERVE SIL AND ATTEND TO DHAMMA CONFERENCE, LIKE MY OTHER BOSSES.
SO PLEASE DO NOT LISTEN TO TRAITOR CONSPIRATORS AND MOST ARE FOREIGN CONSPIRACIES OF JEALOUS COUNTRIES.
AS /LIKE my collegue Hival Modawahanse says.
K.A Sumanasekera / January 23, 2013
Kat Boble’s PM is flying French Legionnaires in Royal Airforce Planes to kill poor bush Malians calling them Jihadis.and Alqeda.
If our Muslim brothers take up arms, your PM will be sending SAS ,even without our invitation.
You may try as hard as you can to stir shit, but our 75% Sinhala Buddhist population ain’t going the swallow the bait.
Felix Joseph Fernando / January 27, 2013
Buddhism was a good religion once upon a time before it got into the hands of the Sinhalese. Unfortunately, today the Sinhalese have converted Buddhism into Barbarism and renamed it as SinhalaBuddhism.
Safa / January 23, 2013
PTA has provision for arresting people who act to arouse racial hatred.
‘(h) by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representationsor otherwise causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different
communities or racial or religious groups; or’
However the govt applies PTA in Jaffna to arrest innocent students whereas those in saffron robes openly inciting racial hatred are provided police protection and allowed to continue with their unholy activities.
Vermin Koparage could be dispensed with by the govt but is indispensable to MR as he is the keeper of many secrets including attacks on MTV and attacks and murder of media personnel. Perhaps if worse comes to worse he will be packed off abroad on a diplomatic mission like some of the war heroes.
justice / January 23, 2013
That will be the day when we see Buddhist Monks being arrested under the PTA.
This has never happened – even monks who led mobs which demolished ‘fundamentalist churches’, assaulted congregations and pastors,- monks who ‘flashed’ themselves at mosques etc. are “immune”.
Mervyn is indispensable to the Rajapakse Regime.
He will continue to prosper.
Jaffna students were ‘sentenced’ to Extra Judicial Imprisonment under the guise of “rehabilitation”. The Army now has unwritten Judicial Power.
Lasantha Pethiyagoda / January 23, 2013
I see a subtle process of change and evolution in Noble’s writings on this forum. Perhaps sheintends to apply for honorary citizenship of Sri Lanka as her concern and goodwill towards Sri Lankans has taken a rather poitive turn…
Don Quixote / January 24, 2013
So what is this piece about ?
If it is supposed to be a “reality check” (I deliberately don’t use the word attack) on those misguided fools who are trying to turn buddhism into a jihad, it is not strong enough !
Maybe the Author was worried about the abuse that would follow a stronger article ?
If so don’t bother to write Kath Noble.
Patta Pal / January 24, 2013
The Inaction by the GOSL is a clear indication of their tacit approval. Only direct and forceful action WILL PREVENT this cancer from spreading.
When will people of this country understand that the whole regime’s credibility is built on thuggery and racism? There are no ifs and buts. It is this card that will be played at the next general and presidential elections, when all their other projects at deception fail them.
Until the people realize that the current administration DOES NOT have their long term interests at heart of a country where people improve their quality of life, the sooner we can operate to remove this before malignancy steps in. Unfortunately many believe malignancy has set in, but I give our citizenry a little more credit to be able to see the wood from the trees and make up their own minds as to right and wrong and good and bad.
After all it is our children’s future we are talking about, not someone else’s.
Felix Joseph Fernando / January 26, 2013
A protest demonstration was staged by a group of around 150 persons (mostly Buddhist monks)at Kuliyapitiya by another outfit calling itself the Hela Sihila Hiru . The Helasihilahiru is suspected of being affiliated to the Bodu Bala Sena. The demonstration was ostensibly organized to protest Halal labelled foods being sold at commercial outlets in Kuliyapitiya. It was however a blatant show of anti-Muslim sentiment as in the case of similiar demonstrations in other parts of the country. In a provocative deviation from anti-Muslim demonstrations elsewhere the Kuliyapitiya protesters carried an effigy with the name board saying Allah in Arabic letters. In an equally abrasive gesture a few of placards carried by the demonstrators had drawings of pigs with Arabic letters saying Allah. The demonstrators who went in procession with these offensive placards and effigy attempted to taunt and provoke the Muslims of the town who witnessed the scene with anger and sadness. The Helasihilahiru demonstrators then burnt the effigy with the Arabic name board Allah on the road near the bus stand. Thereafter they dispersed after chanting anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic slogans.
Policemen were seen observing the procession but refused to take any action when Muslim citizens appealed to them saying they had no orders to do so. Then prominent Muslims from the town tried to lodge a complaint at the Police station they were told that nothing could be done as orders had come from the top to let the demonstration happen. Some Policemen said their duty was to afford protection to the demonstrators and not to take action against it.
This clearly shows that the government is behind all these. People believe that Gotabaya Rajapakshe has given orders to the police to protect these demonstrators and do not accept any complaints by the Muslims.
This is going to be the fate of other religions as well in Sri Lanka. The next target will be the Christians.