‘This Is A Tragedy’ Dambulla Residents
Muslims in Dambulla are still reeling from last week’s events, which could mean the demolition and relocation of a 65 year old mosque.
‘We were there until the last minute… people were throwing rocks and stones, so we had to leave at around 1:30 pm,” said Hariff M Yasir, a trustee to the mosque, describing the chaotic scene.
‘We left without our slippers, like beggars. We were afraid they would do something to hurt us,’ he said.
Having missed Friday prayers, many of the worshippers had then returned to the mosque- only to find their way barred. Police assured the Muslims that the mosque was intact, but had been sealed. They were only allowed in the next day, after visits from the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishard Bathiudeen and Minister A. H. M. Fowzie. Yasir said that the place had been re-arranged with care by the police, such that it was cleaner than normal. Even the stones that had been pelted onto the roof were removed.
The Qurans in the mosque had been arranged with care, but around half of them were missing, as were several other items, probably damaged by the ransacking.
But though this sensitivity was appreciated by the Muslims, it did not appease them. ‘Everyone should have the freedom to practice their religion. This is a tragedy,’ Yasir said emotionally. But the real question is, why did this happen now? And how did a demonstration lead to an order to relocate a mosque that is 65 years old? The answer differs, according to who you ask.
‘This is not an unauthorised construction, there was a deed for this land,’ Yasir claims. The land was gifted to his grandfather by a Tamil, (whose son still survives, although he is sickly, according to Yasir). His grandfather had then donated it to the Muslim religious committee. ‘It has been registered as a religious site for Muslims,’ he insists. In fact, a Sunday school was regularly held at the mosque as well, he said.
However, he added that the Government had taken over the land in 1982. Trustee Hariff. M. Mohommed claimed that the mosque trustees had deeds going back to the 19th century, before the land was taken over by the state.
He also said that the Sinhalese had joined together in protest once upon a time, to ask the Government to name Dambulla a sacred site.
Now, in a twist of fate, the Buddhist monks have turned against them. ‘This is unjust,’ Mohommed said, ‘we have been here for generations.’
Yasir too said that Muslims had been settled in the area since the days of his grandfather; arriving in Dambulla during the British colonial period to do business. A place of worship was built, and as the town grew, it became a known fact that there was a mosque in the area.
The Sunday Leader received a copy of the deeds to the mosque, which date back to 1967.
However, the head of the Rangiri Dambulu Chapter Inamaluwe Sumangala Thero has a different story to tell. Speaking to a correspondent from our sister paper Iruresa, he said that the temple had owned 12,000 acres of land from colonial times. However, he claimed that according to a legal Act, land deeds were not given to temples, and so they had no legal documentation to show they owned the land.
In 1982, during former Prime Minister R Premadasa’s era, the temple had agreed to provide 300 acres of their land to the Government, so that they could begin to create a sacred area as part of a project which was eventually gazetted in 1992.
The Survey Department had then examined the 300 acres- but for some reason, they had not marked the location of the mosque, which was found in Blocks 51 and 52. Yet a small Buddhist shrine had been marked on the map. If such a small shrine was marked, it was strange that the mosque had not been mentioned at all, the Sumangala Thero said.
He contended that the mosque had in fact been built after 1982, a fact hotly contested by the Muslim trustees, and even, surprisingly, by Buddhists in the area. A resident who requested anonymity said that the mosque had been there even in 1948, before Independence. ‘Back then, it was small, only three families worshipped there,’ the resident said. After the gradual development of Dambulla, more Muslims began to settle, until there were about 500-600 Muslims regularly attending the mosque.
As to the Survey Department map, the Muslim trustees said that as they had only registered the mosque with the Muslim religious affairs committee, it was possible the Survey Department had not known of the mosque’s existence, as it was a small outfit at the time.
In the meantime, the Sumangala Thero says that the mosque falls within a 1 kilometre sacred area earmarked for the temple. It is for this reason that it must be relocated, he insisted. Further, he said the mosque would have to be moved beyond the 12,000 acre stretch owned by the temple, a distance of several miles.
The chief monk also complained that every Friday, 300 to 400 vehicles belonging to the Muslims blocked the road and caused a disturbance. He even alleged that the mosque had been built secretly, at night, and was therefore probably not a legal building.
There is a small shrine to Kali nearby which is also to be razed, much to the distress of the residents. The people in this area are the poorest of the poor, and consist of both Sinhalese and Tamils, who have peacefully coexisted for generations. Many of them are labourers at the Dambulla market. Sinhalese, Tamils, Buddhists and Christians alike visit the statue of Kali, which is located in a simple cement block building with no roof. Minister of Lands and Land Development Janaka Bandara Tennekone has supported this structure, residents in the area told our Iruresa correspondent.
Yet last Friday the monk had given the order that this statue was to be broken too. The distressed residents refused to destroy an object of worship, but in deference to the Chief monk said that he could destroy it if he wanted. 66 year old Rasa Anna said ‘We have no choice. But if we can continue to worship this statue, it would be enough. The residents said they were deeply hurt by the monk’s actions. Several of the Dambulla residents also spoke of how dominant the monk was in the area and of his lack of respect to Muslims.
The Muslims of the area were also resentful of the fact that none of the trustees to the mosque were invited to the meeting on Monday (23) to decide what was to become of it.
Chairman of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council, N. M. Ameen said that it had been decided to take 6 months before coming to a final decision on whether to relocate the mosque. In the meantime, at a meeting on April (25), Muslim MPs had expressed their confidence that the President would find a solution to the issue. Ameen said relocating the mosque would mean a commute of at least 15 kilometres for people in the area.
It is clear that tensions are high, and the Muslims feel slighted. A police guard remained stationed outside the mosque, a mosque-goer said, even several days after the incident.
‘We have never felt like a minority. But now we do,’ one resident said. All eyes are now on the authorities, to see what steps will be taken to alleviate the situation. The President has called for an amicable solution to be reached, but has remained silent on what, exactly, that solution should be. And so, the waiting continues.
(with contributions by Niranjala Ariyawansha reporting from Dambulla)
Kattankudy Mosque Office ‘Fire Bombed’
Muslim-dominated areas in the East shut down many of their businesses on Thursday. Schools, buses and the public market stopped operating on orders from the mosque. In Kattankudy, a silent hartal was held, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council, N M Ameen told The Sunday Leader. The school was closed, due to this. In the meantime an unidentified person had thrown a fire bomb at the door of an office attached to the mosque, causing some damage. Below are pictures of the mosque door after the attack.
Hevapathirana Dodging Press
While Dambulla Divisional Secretary Lakshmi Hevapathirana was vocal shortly after the Dambulla demonstration, having been quoted as saying that the mosque was unauthorised and would be removed, she has since been refusing to speak to the media. Continued attempts to reach Hevapathirana by telephone proved unsuccessful. Meanwhile, our Iruresa correspondent visited the Divisional Secretariat in Dambulla and waited several hours to meet Hevapathirana, but she would not grant them an audience.
Concerned Citizens’ Statement Against Religious Intolerance
Members of civil society also protested the announcements to relocate the Dambulla mosque. Below is reproduced a petition calling on the President to take appropriate action, signed by over 200 people.
It is with great concern that we the undersigned protest against the growing trend of increasing religious intolerance in Sri Lanka with regard to minority religions. We specifically condemn the recent violent attack on the Mosque in Dambulla by a group of anti social actors. The Hindu community has also been asked to move their temple from the vicinity. The Dambulla Khairya Jummah Mosque had been in existence for over 60 yearsand the mosque trustees have legal documents regarding its construction. On Friday April 20, 2012 a tense situation arose as regular Friday prayer at the Mosque was prevented by a gang led by Buddhist monks who claimed that it was an illegal construction. The group stated that both the Mosque and the Hindu shrine were built on sacred Buddhist ground. It is further regrettable that law enforcement authorities could not take appropriate action to stop the forceful entry into the mosque and the intimidation of the community.
On the 23rd after a discussion with the Buddhist monks deputy minister Hizbullah made a public announcement to the media that the monks have agreed to give three months to identify alternative land and relocate the Mosque. However, the very affected members of the community have not been part of this discussion and are still unable to express their opinion freely. While we are in support of reaching a solution through negotiations with the Muslim community, we would like to stress that any decision taken on this issue should not be unjust towards the minority communities in the context of post-war Sri Lanka.
The mosque has been in existence for over 60 years and the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim persons in the region had been living together in a spirit of amity for decades, if not centuries. Yet, today we see that that religious intolerance is on the rise and the state has done little to check this. The incident in Dambulla is not an isolated one. Last year a Muslim shrine (Dargha) was destroyed in Anuradhapura. In Ashraf Nagar the military has taken over land that belongs to 69 Muslim families, including land that was allotted for a Muslim burial ground. In Illangaithurai Muhathuwaram (now renamed Lanka Patuna) a Shivan shrine was removed and a Buddhist statue was built in its place. A group of Buddhist monks and people attacked the four Square Gospel Church in Kalutara North last year. The Police have prevented the church from functioning claiming that it would lead to a breach of peace. In Ambalangoda the Assembly of God church was attacked in February this year. A pastor in Kalutara was attacked and a house belonging to a Christian was vandalised by Buddhist monks alleging that the church was engaged in conversions. The police failed to frame charges against Buddhist monks. Recently the government has also tried to pass the Town and Country Planning bill which allows for religious land to also be acquired in municipal and urban areas for economic, social, historical, environmental or religious purposes. Even though the bill has been challenged in court and withdrawn there is a move to bring the bill back as law through other avenues. Such acts increase the sense of insecurity that minorities in general feel in this as regards the practice of worship and co existence.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community in which religious acceptance and protection of religious and cultural rights and the freedom to practice their religion anywhere in the country is a basic tenet of the Constitution and a protection assured to all citizens.
We appeal to the President, state institutions and officials, and those in the executive to take appropriate action on the incident in Dambulla that serves to build confidence among minority communities in the state structure and mechanisms. We strongly believe that the people of this country, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Christian and Burgher wish to live in harmony with each other. We also strongly believe that it is a marginal amount of people who take to violence in riding rough shod over the rights of others. We strongly urge the state to take measures to curb the growing trend of intolerance and to do its utmost to make minorities feel in every way people of this country. In the post war context this is of the utmost importance for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence. We also appeal to religious and community leaders to initiate dialogue at all possible levels so that minority communities feel secure. We pledge our support for a pluralist Sri Lankan society.
1. Affected Women’s Forum (Akkaraippattu)
2. Association of War-Affected Women
3. Centre for Human Resource Development (Viluthu)
4. Centre for Human Rights and Development
5. Centre for Mass Communication and Media (Mannar)
6. Centre for Policy Alternatives
7. Equal Ground
8. Families of the Disappeared
9. Human Rights office Kandy
10. IMADR- Asia
12. Jaffna Civil Society for Equality
13. Lawyers for Democracy
14. Mannar Women’s Development Federation
15. Mothers and Daughters of Lanka
16. Mullaitheevu Women Development and Rehabilitation Trust
17. Muslim Women’s Trust – Puttlam
18. Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum
19. National Peace Council
20. Red Flag Movement
21. Right to Life Human Rights Center
22. Rights Now Collective for Democracy
23. Sakhi Collaboration
24. Stand Up Movement
25. Voluntary Service Development Organization
26. Women’s Action Network
27. Women and Media Collective
28. A.L.M Bashir- NESAM, Nindavaur
31. A.S.Mohamed Rayees
32. Ashila Dandeniya
33. A.W.A. Jihad (Muthur People’s Forum)
34. Aliyar Hazarat (Sammanthurai)
35. Ameena Hussein
36. Anberiya Hanifa
37. Ann Jabbar
38. B. Skanthakumar
40. B.F. A. Basnayake
41. Beryl Perera
42. Bhavani Fonseka (Attorney-at-Law)
43. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
44. Brito Fernando
45. C.De Silva
46. Cayathri Divakalala
47. Chandragupta Thenuwera
48. Chathurika Senanayake
49. Chulani Kodikara
50. Damaris Wickremesekera
51. Darshana Liyanage
52. Dayapala Thiranagama
53. Dileepa Witharana
54. Dishani Jayaweera (Attorney-at-Law)
55. Divakalala Sundaram
56. Dr. Camena Guneratne
57. Dr. D. H. S. Maithripala
58. Dr. Danesh Karunanayake
59. Dr. Dharmasena Pathiraja
60. Dr. Farzana Haniffa
61. Dr. Harini Amarasuriya
62. Dr. Kumar David
63. Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi
64. Dr. M. Vethannathan (University of Jaffna)
65. Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan (Point Pedro Institute of Development)
66. Dr. Nishan de Mel
67. Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu
68. Dr. Philip Setunga
69. Dr. Philip Setunga
70. Dr. Ranil D. Guneratne
71. Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe
72. Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran
73. Dr. Shamala Kumar
74. Dr. Sumathy Sivamohan
75. Dr. T. Jayasingam
76. Dushi Kanapathipillai
78. Faizun Zackariya
79. Francis Devarani (Ampara)
80. Fr. Nandana Manatunga
81. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos82. Fr. Nandana Manatunga ( Human Rights Office Kandy)
83. Fr. S. Maria Anthony, S. J.84. Fr. T. S. Josuwa (Kavithalaya Kala Mandram)
85. Fr. Terence Fernando
86. Fr. V. Yogeswaran
87. F. Solomantine
88. Gamini Viyangoda
89. Godfrey Yogarajah (General Secretary, National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka)
90. Gowrie Ponniah
91. Harean Hettiarachchi (Programme Manager)
92. Harshana Rambukwella (Senior Lecturer- Open University)
93. Hashintha Jayasinghe
94. Himali Nawalage (Sales Manager)
96. J. C. Weliamuna (Attorney at Law)
97. Jagath Weerasinghe (Artist)
98. Jake Oorloff
99. Jehan Mendis (Teacher)
100. Jehan Perera101. Jensila Majeed
102. Jeyasankar Sivagnanam
103. Jezima Ismail
104. Jovita Arulanantham105. Juweriya Mohideen
106. K.Arulanandarajah (Kalmunai)
107. K.Arumugam Asoka (Mahashakthi Foundation, Akkarappattu)
108. K.E.Tharagowri, Kalmunai, Ampara
109. K. L. Shafi Hatheem ( Kalmunai)
110. K.Nihal Ahamed (Humanitarian Elevation Organisation, Addalaichenai)
111. K.Niroshan (People’s Progressive Development Society, Akkaraippattu
112. K.Praba (Thambiluvil)
113. K. R. M. Wickremesinhe (Attorney at Law)
114. K.S Ratnaval-(Attorney at Law)115. K.Sukirtha (Ampara)
116. Kasun Pathiraja
117. Krishna Velupillai
118. Kumudini Samuel
119. Kusal Perera
120. L. Perinpanayagam
121. Lakshan Dias
122. L. Yaseen Bawa ( Bakary, Oluvil)
123 Lal Wijenayaka (Lawyers for Democracy)
124. M.A.C. Humaid ( Health Education, Social and Sports Organisation, Akkaraippattu)
125. M.A.M. Rifaz (Addalaichchenai)
126. M. Casim Kulanthahi Mararaikar ( Kalmunai)
127. M.I. Haidar (Akkaraipattu)
128. M.I. Rezard (Muthur Youth Social Development Organisation)
129. M. M. Nazeer ( Oluvil)
130. M.R.M Naufil (Mannar Grand Mosque)
131. M. Thiruvarangan
132. Mahaluxumi Kurushanthan (Mannar)
133. Mahesh De Mel (Director, Waves of Hope)
134. Mahinda Hattaka
135. Mahisha Warusavitharana
136. Malcolm Peter (Alliance Development Trust)
137. Manjula Gajanayake
138. Mano Ganesan, (Civil Monitoring Commission)
139. Manzoor A Cader. (Rtd Registrar Sammanthurai)
140. Marisa de Silva
141. Mawlavi Bazeer (Sammanturai)
142. Melani Manel Perera (Christian Women Journalist)
143. Melanie Perera (Alliance Development Trust)
144. Melisha Yapa (Marketer/Banker)
145. Menaha Kandasamy
146. Minna Thaheer
147. Mohammed Mahuruf
148. Mohideen Bawa Parikari Ibralebbai. (Oluvil)
149. Monroe Jayasuriya (National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka)
150. Mujeeb Rahman
151. N. L. Pakeer Ali (Oluvil)
152. N.Shanthi (Akkaraipattu)
153. Nadya Perera
154. Mirak Raheem
155. Nandala Maduranga Kalugampitiya
156. Navin Weeraratne
157. Nicola Perera
158. Nimalka Fernando
159. Niyanthini Kadirgamar
160. Pala Pothupitiya (Artist)
161. P. Thanbirajah
162. P.N. Singham
163. Padmini, Women’s Centre
164. Peter Rezel
165. Priya Thangarajah (Law Student)
166. Prof. Jayantha Seneviratne
167. Prof Maithree Wickramasinghe
168. Prof. Priyan Dias
169. Prof. S.H. Hasbulla
170. R.M.B. Senanayake
171. Raghu Balachandran (Methodist Church of Sri Lanka)
172. Rajani Chandrasegaram
174. Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon (Campaign for Free and Fair Elections)
175. Rajiva Godagedara (Accountant)
176. Ralston Weinman
177. Ramyadarshanie Vithanage
178. Rev. Daisy Aseervatham
179. Rev. Oswald Firth180. Rifana Buhary
181. Rohan Salgadoe
182. Romola Rassool
183. Rukaiya Mohideen
184. Ruki Fernando
185. Rukshani Attygalle Abeyeratne (Attorney at Law)
186. Ruwani Botheju (Alliance Development Trust)
187. S. Mohamed Rayees