Shameful riots

Tuesday, 17 June 2014 01:22 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Communal clashes in Aluthgama and Beruwala have brought the whole country to a new low. The tensions that were sparked by intolerance and deliberately escalated by a specific organisation has shown just how tenuous race relations in Sri Lanka really are. It cannot be denied that with the advent of the Bodu Bala Sena and other hardline organisations in Sri Lanka, the intensity of bigoted actions has increased. The number of derogatory racist remarks and tokenisation of religions and individuals, the warping of the diverse history inherited by Sri Lanka and spread of virulent and often inaccurate information to whip up racial hatred are on the rise. It was much the same situation in Beruwala and Aluthgama. Tensions had been simmering for months and finally brought to the fore by the BBS, which used an isolated event, that of an argument between the driver of a Buddhist monk in the area and a three-wheeler driver. The priest in question was not injured and the situation would likely have died down in due course were it not for the involvement of the BBS. Clashes that have reportedly killed at least three and injured about 80, burned shops and gutted houses, widespread looting and violence have now created a festering sore that may never be healed. It has also caused deep worry for fair-minded citizens who are seeing the hope at the end of a three-decade war vanish much too fast. The Government has disappointingly failed to arrest these trends. Instead it has attempted to frame the situation in a misguiding way by establishing a separate Police Unit to deal with religious tensions. This is insinuating the Buddhist and Muslim communities have problems with each other when the reality is that unchecked extremist organisations are behind most tensions. What is even more worrying is that the legitimate and once-tolerant hierarchy organisations within the Maha Sanga themselves are increasingly seen to be giving legitimacy to these hardliners.In Myanmar, where a similar situation exists, hardline monks are lobbying for legislation demanding Buddhist women be prohibited by law from marrying non-Buddhist men. In a country with over 100 minorities this would be deeply divisive, but these extreme organisations insist such men, once they have converted, be registered and banned from changing religions ever again. A disturbing sign of how wrong things can go once a country has started down this path. The BBS, Ravana Balaya and others lobbied for a ban on casinos, but there are early hints this was ineffectual, with Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella insisting existing casino licenses could be transferred to new establishments. In a country where rule of law and common decency is under threat every single day, one would think the considerable resources these organisations have can be spent on things that actually matter. Making the sacrifice to maintain peace, the Muslim community already ended the Halal certification process for local companies and agreed to give it free of charge for exporters. Events came to such a pass due to the increase in hardline factions and the inability or reluctance by the Government to quell them. Aluthgama takes on even more poignancy in this backdrop. The last two days have proven all Sri Lankans must make an effort to return to the true Dhamma preached by Lord Buddha, to end hatred, foster peace and forge understanding. If this ultimate message is lost, then peace will only be too fleeting.