Communal clashes in Digana are the latest in a disturbingly expanding number of violent incidents that have rocked Sri Lanka and deepened ethnic fault lines across the country. As a nation which has seen an uptick in ethnic tensions in recent years more has to be done by all stakeholders to mitigate such incidents and hold those responsible accountable.
Whether it is Aluthgama, Ampara or Digana, the chain of incidents has disturbing elements in common. An incident will take place which provides a flashpoint between communities, in the case of Ampara it was the alleged spiking of dishes with sterilisation medications, while in Digana it was a road accident. This incident then gets an extraordinary amount of attention from extremist organisations that result in an escalation, which law enforcement authorities struggle to control.
In Ampara, authorities stepped in to assure the public no such drug is even in existence but this did little to bring the standoff under control. In the case of Digana concerned people in the area had appealed to police to be vigilant on the day of the funeral as an extremist organisation was planning a rally but it would appear that such counsel fell on deaf ears. Both Buddhist and Muslim property was damaged with one man being burnt to death after his home was set alight.
The police were finally forced to cordon off the town with the help of the army and STF after it became evident that people from outside the area had instigated the clashes. This clearly shows the power of orchestration these organisations command and a much more proactive effort has to be made by the Government to stop this repetition of tragedies.
Clearly a huge amount of responsibility lies with the police as they are the first point of protection for citizens. However, as before, police are being accused of standing by as shops and houses were burned in both Muslim and Buddhist neighbourhoods. Much anger is directed at them as people try to make sense of the senseless attempt to return to their normal lives.
Both responsibility and accountability lie with the police as citizens depend on them to prevent crimes as well as catch the perpetrators. The danger of people losing faith in the police and by extension the entire law and order system of the country is a serious one and should be dealt with by the Government through actions to reinforce credibility and swift action.
Another danger of this loss of faith is tensions spreading to other parts of the country. Reports of Muslim areas in the East holding hartal are indicative of how deeply these clashes are felt by the entirety of the minority group.
Parliament was also the venue for a heated debate on the clashes where minority politicians took their Government counterparts to task for not implementing laws against hate speech and taking proactive measures to quell rising extremist organisations.
TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran in a stirring speech faulted the Government for pandering to extremist elements and backpeddling on key legislation and policies that would give equal rights and protection to minorities because they feared a nationalist backlash.
Sri Lanka ended a 27-year war less than a decade ago, yet the stakes for peace and reconciliation have never been higher. It is time for all stakeholders, led by a moderate and progressive Government, to bring together all communities and create the environment for them to live in peace.