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Equitable access


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The Human Rights Commission has written to Local Government authorities demanding they stop discriminating against the Muslim community when handing out access to public regulated places of business such as kiosks in weekly village fairs following complaints. In addition to being illegal, this is another dimension to boycotts of Muslim businesses that affect the middle class and poor. Such Government institutions and public officials should be held accountable for such openly racist and unconscionable behaviour.        

Boycotting the businesses of a minority community affects the economic well-being of Sri Lanka. It is not by chance that anti-Muslim attacks, whether it was Aluthgama and Beruwala, or Minuwangoda and Kurunegala, were specifically focused on reducing the economic capacity of the respective Muslim communities in these areas. Livelihoods are central to every individual, family and community. It is their economic strength that in turn gives them prominence, and the ability to be stronger stakeholders of a society. The stronger a community becomes economically, the more their power will grow within the political and social spheres. 

But economic capacity is not just about representation. It is also about integration. The stronger the economic relationship between different communities, the closer they become. This is why in the aftermath of the attacks this week, the Sinhala and Catholic people of Minuwangoda were seen commiserating with their Muslim neighbours. An economy is more than the sum of its parts. Producers, suppliers, transporters, sellers, and buyers make up complex supply chains that plug into every community in Sri Lanka. 

In many communities, professionals, including teachers, drivers, doctors, IT executives, lawyers, accountants, and more, are part of a complex web that is broadly defined as the Sri Lankan economy. In fact, these connections extend beyond Sri Lanka. An estimated one million Sri Lankan migrant workers are sprinkled across the globe; many of them work in the Middle East and send their hard-earned money back home. Remittances by housemaids, usually from poor backgrounds, are still Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earner; nearly half of Ceylon Tea is exported to countries where the majority population is Muslim; and all Sri Lanka’s fuel is imported from the same source. 

So how is it possible for a group of bigots to call for the boycott of Muslim businesses, and say that is not racist? How is it that groups, which unfortunately include even Buddhist priests, encourage these calls, but are not held responsible for what is essentially hate speech? How is it they are allowed to call for the boycott of local Muslim businesses, but can sanctimoniously argue they did not call for anti-communal violence?  If the economic rights of a community are undermined, then how can Sri Lanka credibly move towards inter-communal harmony? These are grave problems that need to be addressed urgently.  How can public officials block access to one community without any fear of repercussions? All Sri Lankans have rights, which includes their economic freedom. Every community has the right to explore their economic potential, as long as it is done legally, and in encouraging their success all of Sri Lanka stands a chance to remove itself from the middle-income trap and prosper. A country that has peace is rich in every sense of the word. 

 


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