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Striking the Match

Striking the Match

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Published by Thavam

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Published by: Thavam on Jun 26, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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June 26, 2014
Hardline monks did not riot or burn in Aluthgama and Beruwala last Sunday night. They just struck the match upon their platforms and watched the towns burn
They hold harthals now even for small, small incidents. When the LTTE was killing all communities indiscriminately, nobody held harthals” – President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport on Sunday, 22 June
As the politically-aware citizenry reels from the shock and horror of a 21st century ethno-religious riot, much of the despair stems from the knowledge that the horror of Aluthgama was a long time coming
Inside the Welipitiya mosque premises, the floors and walls of the little scripture learning room are smeared with fresh blood. Benches and
desks are strewn around, chairs upturned, as villagers bore the wounded and bleeding into the small room beside the main mosque, tending to them there until the fighting subsided and they could be taken for medical treatment.Three men – a tile layer, day labourer and shop owner – perished in what residents called face-to-face clashes on the night of 15 June in the Welipitiya village, a tiny, ethnically-mixed settlement off Dharga Town Aluthgama. All three victims were Muslims.Standing between the mosque which was housing the women and children of the village during the Sunday night rioting, Muslim residents of Welipitiya say they fought assailants whose faces they could not see, after a peppering of bullets shortly before the fighting erupted had brought down the power lines in the area.The morning after, the small narrow street is cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape because of the fatalities. The yellow tape ironically forms the divide between the Sinhalese and Muslim sections of the street, with four Policemen on each side stationed to ‘secure’ the two warring outposts.Except that residents on the Sinhalese side of the village are devastated by the deaths of their Muslim neighbours and insist the mobs that bore down on the Welipitiya mosque were people they did not know. Sinhalese homes were not spared in the mob violence that raged on the street that night, making residents on both sides of the crime tape divide curse the ‘outsiders’ for the massive damage from what the entire neighbourhood calls senseless violence.Residents described how a bullet that killed one of the victims had pierced his heart and exited through the spine. A shot to the head had killed another. The third allegedly succumbed to wounds inflicted by a bullet that pierced his stomach or hip. Bullet holes and ricochets are visible on high walls, empty bullet casings lie on roadside, some of them waiting to be marked for evidence.Yet in a sinister twist, the medical reports record all three deaths as fatalities from slash wounds. According to Justice Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem, who has ‘gone rogue’ over the past week, the medical reports of the three gunshot victims have been fabricated. He is also insisting that the gunshots that killed the three Welipitiya residents were not fired by civilians.Hakeem and his ministerial colleague Rishard Bathiudeen have publicly called for the proscription of the hardline Bodu Bala Sena group and legal action against the group’s rabble-rouser-in-chief, Galagoda Aththe Gnansara Thero, the man who threatened to ‘end’ Dharga Town, Aluthgama, in one night a few hours before the riots broke out.After the two Ministers openly criticised the Government and demanded a ban on the
BBS at last week’s heated Cabinet meeting, an angry President Mahinda Rajapaksa retorted that arresting the fierce monk would ‘turn him into a hero’. Action against the BBS and its rampaging monks would worsen religious tensions in the aftermath of Aluthgama, the President countered.But 10 days after the worst communal violence Sri Lanka has seen in decades, things look bad enough.
The destruction
Hundreds of Muslim homes have been destroyed or partially damaged. Four people – the fourth victim a Tamil watchman of a farm raided by mobs in Mathugama on Tuesday (17) night whose name the authorities never revealed – are dead. Eighty-eight people, including 16 Sinhalese and at least two Buddhist monks, were injured in the violence. Hundreds of families have been displaced in the 48-hour riots that reduced some homes and home businesses to ashes that fateful Sunday night.Intermittent clashes between religious or ethnic groups are being reported in several areas, including the capital since Sunday, 15 June. Last weekend, an abaya shop in Dehiwala was pelted with stones and on Tuesday night, a shop in Beruwala was torched by an unknown group.On Saturday (21) morning, news that the Panadura NoLimit showroom had been completely gutted by in a pre-dawn fire shattered an uneasy calm that was settling over southern and western Sri Lanka. The Panadura showroom is the largest in the NoLimit chain. The well-patronised, Muslim-owned clothing chain has been on the hardline groups’ radar for well over a year.Their allegations against the enterprise have bordered on the preposterous: the monks claim devious management schemes to hand out free sweets to make Sinhalese women infertile and convert Sinhalese staff members by marrying them off to Muslim employees. The authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire, but theories currently being floated are an electrical short circuit and an attack motivated by the fact that the NoLimit showroom did not participate in the Harthal to protest the Aluthgama violence that was held in Colombo last Thursday (19).The clear assumption by the Police, even before inquiries are concluded, is that it was either an accident, or the attackers were angry Muslims. This partisan behaviour on the part of the Police has been even more apparent in its treatment of the moderate monk and sworn Bodu Bala Sena rival, Watarekke Vijitha Thero, who was found bound in a ditch in Panadura last week, with slash wounds on his body.

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