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An essential probe

A few political entities in Sri Lanka depend solely on communalism as their political oxygen. They somehow want to stir up communal passions and create clashes between the various communities. This has been their modus operandi for decades. They seize upon even the most trivial incident to set up attacks against the minority ethnic communities and religious groups.

People voted overwhelmingly against such communal politics at both elections held in 2015. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have risen above communal politics and proven that they are the leaders of all Sri Lankans regardless of ethnicity and religion. Many initiatives have been taken to foster reconciliation among different communities, as per the recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and other experts.

In such a context, suspicions will naturally arise when an incident of a communal nature occurs in any part of the country. The Ampara incident has shocked all right thinking citizens and the Government, which is striving to achieve reconciliation. The suggestion has already been made that an unseen hand is behind the ethnic violence in Ampara. This claim should be probed thoroughly, because we can remember how certain politicians orchestrated the attacks against Muslims and their business establishments in Aluthgama in 2014. These elements are still active in Sri Lankan politics and they will leave no stone unturned to create communal disharmony.

But there is an even more disturbing aspect to the Ampara violence against Muslim-owned shops and religious places. There are credible reports of police inaction in the face of the marauding mobs. It is indeed a very serious matter if Police just stood by as the attacks took place. Complaints have been made that the B Report submitted to the Court on the incident by the Police is also incomplete.

Now Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the new Law and Order Minister has ordered another inquiry into the recent attacks on Muslim establishments in Ampara, following these complaints of Police inaction. Earlier, the Law and Order Ministry instructed the Batticaloa DIG to conduct a complete investigation into the incident. The Ministry states the Government will take measures to conduct an impartial, comprehensive and fair inquiry and also to build up public trust. Measures have been taken to compensate the affected parties whose properties were damaged during the attacks. Plans have been made to pay compensation soon to renovate shops and mosques damaged in the incident.

It is essential to probe this entire sordid episode and nab not only those who physically attacked property, but also any others who may have instigated the rioters from behind the stage. The maximum possible punishment should be given to these perpetrators regardless of their stature. Any Police personnel who failed to discharge their duties must also be dealt with after an impartial investigation.

This must be the last time that Sri Lankans have heard of ethnic clashes. We have emerged from 30 years of darkness and no political or other force can be allowed to take the country back to those dark days. Reconciliation cannot be achieved overnight after decades of strife, but this kind of incident can stifle progress in that direction. The authorities must nip any such attempts in the bud.

Fortunately, the Government was able to contain the Ampara violence before it spiralled out of control. The credit should also go to the majority of peace-loving residents of Ampara who did not fall prey to the tactics of the perpetrators. We should also be grateful to the Bhikkus and the Muslim Clergy who acted with responsibility to ensure peace during the period of tension. It is heartening to note that a good rapport exists among the clergy of various religions which augurs well for the future. The media, especially the provincial correspondents, also acted with responsibility.

The Government should not allow any room for a repetition of an incident of this nature. Ethnic and religious discord brings in its wake severe consequences for any country. For example, no investor will want to invest in a country where ethnic clashes are common. Tourists too will evade a country that is not peaceful. The onus is on religious leaders to get together and reassure the public that there is no room in modern Sri Lankan society for racism and religious bigotry. The public should also “boycott” any politician in their areas who harbour religious and ethnic bias.

In the long run, the best answer for achieving reconciliation is creating a truly Sri Lankan identity that transcends all ethnic and religious barriers. Many multi-ethnic countries such as Singapore have already done this, whilst preserving the languages, traditions and traits of each community. Any Singaporean, whether Malay, Chinese or Indian will tell you he/she is a Singaporean. Students now learn all three languages in school and in 25-30 years there will be only a few people left who still cling on to communalism. There will be a new generation of youth bereft of such archaic ideas and concepts that will take Sri Lanka to new heights. 


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