Since the horror of the Easter Sunday attacks, Sri Lankans have lived in fear of communal violence. The uneasy calm that existed since Easter Sunday was brutally shattered, first in Negombo, then Chilaw, and in the last two days, spread like wildfire to Kurunegala and Gampaha. The attacks targeting the Muslim population have deepened cracks in Sri Lanka’s communal foundation, and heightened fears of a permanent rift.
Dozens of Muslim shops and houses were attacked by roving mobs that appeared well-organised. The mobs rampaged through towns including Bingiriya, Hettipola, Kuliyapitiya, and Panduwasnuwara, leaving gutted shops and houses in their wake. The level of violence is terrifying, with mobs of over a thousand people being reported from some areas. In Minuwangoda, attackers came in waves, and a mob of over 200 attacked a pasta factory, leaving it gutted, and employees barely escaping with their lives. They set fire to entire lines of shops, with the occasional Sinhala shop also going up in flames. Damages are estimated in the hundreds of millions, and what has been lost can never truly be replaced.
Eyewitnesses have described the mobs as being well-equipped and well-organised. They converged at different villages, wreaking much damage in the space of an hour or two, before melting away to another location. Large crowds had also gathered in Hettipola town, where they were dispersed by the police, but were later reported to have re-grouped and carried out attacks on multiple towns. At many as 40 Muslim-owned shops were also gutted in Panduwasnuwara, and much damage was caused to the Muslim villagers in the Kottampitiya area.
All these details paint a picture of well-oiled organisation behind the attacks. People of different communities have grieved over the Easter Sunday attacks together, and while inter-communal relations have plummeted, it is difficult to believe that the average person would behave in this manner. It is entirely possible they were assisted by some area residents, who fed them details of where to find Muslim shops and homes.
Details that have emerged since the Easter Sunday attacks have shown a clear picture of well-organised and richly-funded perpetrators. They spent months planning the attacks and fine-tuning their operation. The attacks were then carried out against innocent people. It is difficult not to see a similarity between the actions of the Easter Sunday attackers, and the way communal violence is being carried out. Terror organisations are adept at finding and exploiting the vulnerabilities of countries, their security systems, their messed-up politicians, and faultlines between different communities living together.
Organisations such as the Bodu Bala Sena and Mahason Balakaya have been in existence for years. Many other underground entities have also been spreading communal hatred in Sri Lanka, and it is clear that these shadowy figures need to be dragged into the lime light. Police on Tuesday arrested Namal Kumara, who is another deeply suspicious figure that has been spotted in areas where violence has flared. It is absolutely essential that these people be exposed, and their networks completely shut down.
Anyone or any organisation harming innocent people and working to destroy the peace of a country are placing themselves at best dangerously close to terrorism, if not outright embracing its traits. As Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said, “The future of Sri Lanka will be decided by the way people behave in the next few days. If communal violence cannot be prevented, the terrorists will be able to legitimise their crime as did once in 1983.” It is time to learn from the past and step up to build a better future.