Lessons from Digana | Daily News

Lessons from Digana

The government should be commended for moving swiftly to bring under control the racial violence that had once again threatened to raise its ugly head, following the unfortunate death of a lorry driver in an incident in Digana, Kandy. The incident itself occurred last week in which four inmates of a tri-shaw had assaulted the lorry driver with clubs when the latter kept on obstructing the path of the three wheeler preventing it from moving ahead of the lorry. The lorry driver, on Saturday, succumbed to his injuries in hospital and the death sparked an outbreak of violence in Digana, Teldeniya and the neighbouring areas, with several shops belonging to a minority community and a place of religious worship attacked by the rampaging mobs.

The violence continued on Sunday too with the rioters burning tyres on the roads, obstructing traffic and creating mayhem, forcing the police and the STF, which until then were making a desperate bid to control the situation, to call in the Army. A curfew was clamped (it is being extended further as this is being written) and all schools in the administrative district of Kandy were ordered closed by the Minister of Education until further notice as the violence threatened to spillover to other areas in Kandy, following the funeral of the lorry driver.

President Maithripala Sirisena promptly ordered the security divisions and the IGP to conduct an impartial and independent investigation into the incidents and directed the police and army to implement a special programme in the area to ensure the security of all residents.

The Government, meanwhile, unequivocally condemned the hate and mischievous misinformation campaign carried out by some, especially via social media, targeting the Muslim community, in particular, and others as well, with the clear objective of creating disharmony among communities and inciting violence."The Government urges every citizen of Sri Lanka to desist from falling prey to such hate and misinformation campaigns. As a country that had suffered by acts of violence for nearly three decades, we should desist from repetition of such", a statement from the President's office said.

It is clear that this isolated incident was made use by mischievous elements to incite violence and create a state of anarchy, not just in Kandy, but in other parts of the country as well. A disturbing trend is emerging where minor incidents involving minority communities are allowed to snowball leading to major communal clashes. The recent incident in Ampara where some pills found in a meal consumed by some members of the majority community at a Muslim hotel, leading to a conflagration of major proportions is evidence that the machinations of a hidden hand with political agendas could not be entirely discounted. Even in the Digana incident, reports have now emerged that the violence was the work of outsiders who had swarmed into the area in hired vehicles.

While the government should be praised for taking all measures to prevent an escalation of the situation, it should also equally take steps to inquire if there were organised attempts to create mayhem, making use of the incendiary situation. It should also take all measures to ensure the tense situation does not spread to other areas where there is mix of different communities. Another Aluthgama should be averted at all costs.

Here too, it was the inaction, and, also, delayed action, that caused the situation to aggravate. Among the mob at Digana were also a number of Buddhist monks who were clearly seen adding fuel to the fire by demanding the release of the 24 rioters who were taken into custody. It is this type of conduct that contributes to inflamed passions, resulting in anarchy. The IGP should lay down clear instructions that any individual who incites violence not be spared, clergy or otherwise. This country has gone through enough without starting all over again. All politicians, both government and opposition, should ensure no room is allowed for communalism to take root in this country once again.

In this context it is gratifying to note the sentiments expressed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Speaking to journalists after paying his last respects to the late Ven. Daranagama Kusaladhamma Thera, outside the Sri Sambodhi Viharaya, in Colombo, Rajapaksa said that it was important that everyone act with responsibility to maintain law and order in Digana, adding that both, the President and Prime Minister, should take action in this regard. If only he had taken prompt action to defuse the situation when Muslim businesses were attacked, under his watch, by mobs led by the saffron brigade, he would have, perhaps, been spared the ignominy he eventually suffered on January 8. Regrettably though, he is still seen in the company of the very elements who are known for their virulent anti minority sentiments and xenophobia.

Be that as it may, it is incumbent that the President and Prime minister act in unison to demonstrate a feeling stability in the government, among the public, lest the anarchic elements seek to take advantage of any perceived sense of drift, to unleash their mayhem.

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