It’s three weeks since the episode of race violence in Aluthgama, and the issues arising from it still seem to fester. The most glaring reality is that the Government is yet to condemn the actions of the Bodu Bala Sena whose belligerent chief Gnanasara’s speech at a rally incited mobs to attack Muslims, sparking off [...]


Who benefits from Govt’s state of denial over Aluthgama?


It’s three weeks since the episode of race violence in Aluthgama, and the issues arising from it still seem to fester. The most glaring reality is that the Government is yet to condemn the actions of the Bodu Bala Sena whose belligerent chief Gnanasara’s speech at a rally incited mobs to attack Muslims, sparking off a conflagration which left lives lost, property destroyed, livelihoods ruined and sectarian tensions ratcheted up to a new level. It took almost three weeks for the CID to record a statement from BBS.

The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella organisation of Muslim civil society groups, has sent three letters dated June 27 to External Affairs Minister G L Peiris, the Inspector General of Police and Technology and Research Minister Champika Ranawaka. They make some revelations that would demand convincing responses from the Government if it wants to restore its credibility in the eyes of the public.

In its letter to the IGP, the MCSL alleges that the Buddhist monk whose driver and a Muslim got into a brawl over a traffic incident a few days before the riots of Sunday June 15 suffered no serious injury that warranted his hospitalisation. “It was only due to some mysterious forces that he was admitted to the Nagoda Hospital even though he did not have any injuries,” the letter says. It accuses the IGP of bias in his statement to the media alleging that the “focus of blame has been turned on the victims rather than the perpetrators of the violence.”

The charge that there was no serious injury to the monk in the first place, is repeated in the letter to Ranawaka. MCSL says Ranawaka in one of his speeches on the Aluthgama violence claimed that the monk “was beaten on the head with a large pole.” But, MCSL points out, “The monk appears everywhere with no sign of any injury on his head or any other part of his body, with not even a plaster. We would like to remind you, he appears two days after the supposed attack on the monk with ‘a huge pole’.” The Council challenges Ranawaka to share the JMO’s report with it if, as he claims, the monk suffered injury.

Who pelted the first stone
The Council also refutes the insinuations that it was the Muslims gathered at the mosque who ‘pelted the first stone’ thereby sparking the riot. A video clip in the possession of the MCSL appears to show three youths with backpacks who are part of the procession suddenly starting to throw stones, at which point, it appears, chaos breaks out. MCSL refers to an inflammatory online poster about the meeting, bearing BBS and ‘Sinhala Ravaya’ logos, and asks why police intelligence could not pick up on these clues that pointed to trouble ahead.

The third letter to the external affairs minister refers to the statement made by Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Rep Manisha Gunasekera at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This official too focuses on the assault of the monk. “She, like the Inspector General of Police, is implying that the Muslims were the cause of the violence as they have cast the first stone when the procession was allowed to go through a Muslim village.” The MCSL ends this letter by saying it does not understand the reasons for “accusing the Muslim community for the incidents in an international forum when what one would have expected is an assurance that such ugly incidents would be prevented and action taken to hold the offenders accountable…”

Gunasekera’s statement referring to “the violence which was triggered by the assault of a Buddhist monk” is available on the website of the Ministry of External Affairs. Nowhere does it mention the BBS speech.

Needless to say the MCSL’s allegations raise very serious questions, over and above the outrage of the race riot that took place. They suggest that: 1) the incident relating to the monk may have been ‘set up’ to start with, and the events that followed, culminating in mob violence, were played out ‘on cue’ and 2) the entire narrative has been inverted by officialdom so as to portray the victims of the riot, the Muslims, as the perpetrators.

Shifting loyalties
If this is the case, it could be asked what the Government gains by its collective denial of the reality– which is, that it was the Muslims who got killed, and whose property and livelihoods were mainly destroyed. Is it likely that Sri Lanka’s friends in the UN would believe the Government’s version of the story — in this age of instant communications and multiple information sources? Already opposition parties, mainly the hitherto lame-duck UNP, seem to have gained in stature for attempting to tell the truth. The challenge to the ‘official line’ has been strengthened by the interventions of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. The chances are it’s not only the minorities that have seen through this deceit, but the majority Sinhalese as well.

Against this backdrop, if there is a shift in loyalties among Sinhala Buddhists who form the bedrock of the regime’s vote base, who but the opposition would benefit from it? There is no parallel here with the situation relating to the Tamil question. In this case the Government cannot expect to ride on sympathy at home generated by an external threat. There is nothing comparable to a revenge-oriented Tamil diaspora bent on undermining the state, no organisations abroad fronting for terrorists, no propaganda distorting western public opinion. In other words, there is no external circumstance that would make the local constituency ‘circle the wagons’ to defend the regime.

The Defence Secretary himself has stated in a recent interview that there is no merit in the claims about ‘Muslim terrorists’ in the country as alleged in Indian intelligence reports, and as Ranawaka would like to believe. The Government would need to ask itself whether it’s peculiar ambivalence in relation to the attacks on Muslims, and its apparent reluctance to rein in racist elements, might backfire.

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