The Sunday Leader

The Burning Fires Of Aluthgama

By Megara Tegal in Aluthgama and Beruwala

Pictures by Asoka Fernando and Lalith Perera

 

Last week the entire country was shaken following an outburst of riots, shootings, and long hours of police imposed curfews in the Kalutara district, and hartals across the island. Muslim shop owners in the East, Central and Western provinces closed their shops on Thursday as a show of passive protest against attacks on the Muslims in Dargha Town and Beruwela. The total number of victims is said to be close to 10,000 – of both Muslim and Sinhalese; all of whom have lost their homes and livelihoods, and are temporarily sheltered in mosques and schools in the area.

Post-riots

Yesterday, at around 2am, Muslim owned clothing store in Panadura, No Limit, burned to the ground. While suspicion is rife that it was a malicious act, police spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana explained that the police were yet to determine if it was an arson attack or an accident caused by a short-circuit. Acts of violence continued into the latter part of the week as Watareka Vijitha Thera of Mahiyangana, who has been a vocal critic of the hardline Buddhist monks known as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) was kidnapped, disrobed and assaulted. BBS was the organisation largely believed to have provoked the riots in Dargha Town. The BBS has distanced itself from the abhorrent act, stating that they were not involved. However Watareka Vijitha Thera has been threatened and attacked on previous occasions after having spoken against the BBS for spreading hate and inciting communal disharmony. Following the latest attack on Wednesday (18), police say that investigations are underway to arrest the perpetrators.

The ‘No Limit’ store after the fire

In the meantime, Muslim shop owners in the Eastern town of Kathankudy, Kandy in the Central Province, and Western province areas of Slave Island, Pettah and Maligawatte, closed their shops in silent protest against the violence directed against the Muslims, inaction by the government to prevent it, and the continued suffering of the Muslim IDPs in the Kalutara district. Pettah is a focal area of trade and business in Sri Lanka and a hartal has the potential to put a dent in the economy.

Displaced and neglected

While hartals and protests against the BBS are held in Colombo, 59km away in the coastal town of Beruwela, mosques and schools are teeming with internally displaced persons (IDPs). The initial attack took place on Sunday in Althugama close to Beruwela and lasted up to 7 hours. A fresh assault broke out not too far from Dargha Town, in Wellipenna on Monday, adding to the total number of casualties. The Sunday Leader visited the Al Humaisara National School in China Fort, Beruwela that currently shelters 999 victims. There are a total of 486 men and 513 women currently within the security of the school. 56 of them are breastfeeding mothers, 17 are pregnant, 154 are mothers with children who need milk powder, and 27 constitute the elderly—over 60 years. While 50 of the IDPs are injured and require medical care.

A van attacked during the violence and Property damaged in Aluthgama

Caged up in the school, the IDPs—following the harrowing experience—are afraid to venture out of the safety of its high parapet walls. When an almost 24 hour curfew was imposed in the area by the police, the 999 IDPs had no access to food and other immediate needs. The next day they received two sacks of rice that was barely enough to feed all the inmates. In the days that followed the curfew was lifted for a few hours in order to give relief to the IDPs, food supplies, medicines and other essentials trickled in. However, a week after the incident the IDPs remain traumatised, grief-stricken, and enraged.

“We are not racists. We respect all religions. There is a temple close to this village and we used to visit the monk for Ayurvedic treatments. We maintained a very good relationship with everybody”, said Safwa on how life was before she and her family were attacked at their home.

“The Muslim politicians who visited this area did not quite understand our fear. When they visit the area they come with a STF squad. They may be able to freely go about the town because of the security they have but we are still terrified to go anywhere”.

She further said “We had no clue as to what was happening. A mob came breaking and burning shops and houses. We informed the police but they arrived late. The delay gave them enough time to assault us and to destroy our property. The police who arrived also looked around the location and told us that they could  do nothing and said if the mob came back to attack them or run. The police did not give us any protection. One of my friends got injured during the attack and later we took him to the Nagoda General hospital but the staff did not welcome us. He was admitted to the hospital but they did not treat him, and so he got himself discharged”, he added expressing his loss in faith in law enforcement in Sri Lanka. The law enforcement have failed to stop the riots and protect the IDPs, has left them with little reassurance of their safety outside of the Al Humaisara National School.

The Sunday Leader went on to visit a second IDP shelter—a mosque in Muttugama ,  where women and children are living in the  first floor of the mosque. Many of them had fled their homes with only the clothes they were wearing and have no change of clothing as their homes were torched during the riots. On the few mats that are laid on the floor, infants and children sleep unaware of how uncertain their future has become over night.

An elderly lady Kareema, was overcome with emotion when she related her plight. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she explained that her late husband was the vice principal. After he passed away she and her now 22 year old daughter survived on his meager pension. Their home has been reduced to ashes; she is at a loss as to how she can rebuild her home or to find a place for her daughter and herself to live once they have to leave the shelter of the mosque.

Great loss

A few victims continue to stay at their homes even though it has been damaged considerably. Rishdi, a father of two young girls and a business man, gestured to his smashed windows, broken doors and damaged ceiling, saying that a great deal of damage has been done and since his livelihood has been destroyed he cannot afford to set about repairing his property.

“I had two vehicles, one was parked outside my house and the other in the house opposite ours—which is my sister’s place. Both vehicles were completely burned. My business is to rent out the two vans for tours. Tourists hire the vans usually for full day trips to Yala and back. The van that was parked in front of my house was still on lease, I have yet to pay 50 installments for it. I have called the insurance company but they said they are scared to come to this area right now, so I still don’t know if the insurance company will compensate me. He goes on to say that apart from renting out his vans, he owned a shop that was looted and burnt to the ground.

“Curfew was imposed and we could not leave our houses. The mob roamed freely and when they set my vehicles on fire the police merely looked on. At times the policemen would grab some of them but they would just toss them back into the mob” he said. Rishdi estimates his losses to be around 70 to 80 laks. “As I watched my van burn and my home being stoned, I felt completely lost. At that moment I just wanted to run into the crowd and sacrifice myself to the mob. But the police wouldn’t let us out”. He added that he is not in a right frame of mind at the moment.

In Aluthgama

The Sunday Leader next visited Althugama, where the BBS held their rally on Sunday (15) following a dispute between a Sinhalese three wheeler driver and some Muslims. Two young men in the area, one with dreadlocks up to his hips and another with tinted short hair, said that they work in Hikkaduwa and they were at the BBS rally and BBS had attempted to placate the people in Aluthgama who were enraged by the rumours that a monk has been assaulted by four Muslims. However, their statement is contradictory to video footage of the vitriolic, provocative speech by Galdoga Gnanasara Thero at the rally, which has been aired on TV and shares aggressively on social media sites.

Over the past few days Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, several foreign embassies, and local organisations such as Women and Media Collective, have condemned the acts of violence and urged the government to carry out an investigation. Concerned citizens have held protests in Colombo, and petitions have been circulated to ban the BBS.

Back in the southern coastal area, anger and hate sentiments soar in Sinhalese towns surrounding Dargha Town. Similarly, the Muslims remain inflamed with indignation, and a volatile situation prevails. Swift action by the government is crucial at this time to ensure that this anger does not erupt into more riots, and what many fear could lead to a second ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Dehiwala pharmacy attack

By Binoy Suriyaarachchi

The police investigating teams, have not got any clues leading to the identification of the individuals who attacked Harcourts pharmacy in Dehiwala on May 15. The attack was carried out few hours after the tense situation had erupted in Dharga town.

A mob consisting of six people with their faces covered with white coloured masks wearing full-face helmets attacked the pharmacy with poles, swords and petrol bombs. Four people have been hospitalised following the incident and their out of danger, sources from the hospital said.

An employee who witnessed the scene giving an explanation on the unpleasant incident told The Sunday Leader that the attack was carried out by the mob in less than in 45 seconds.

“The attack was executed in lightning speed. The gang entered the outlet, chased away the customers, and then started to attack the employees and damage the properties using clubs and swords. One individual lit-up two petrol bombs and threw it inside the pharmacy. They fled the area in no time,” said the employee.

An executive attached to the Harcourts (Pvt) Ltd said that the CCTV footage of the mob attacking the pharmacy outlet has been handed over to the Dehiwala police for further inquiries. “We suspect the attack on our outlet is linked with the Aluthgama incident,” the officer added. The officer said that in spite of nationality and race, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims work together in harmony in the company. Prominent businessman Ahamed Rheyas, owns the company.

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HRCSL commences inquiries

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has commenced a separate investigation on the tense situation in Beruwala and Aluthgama.

Commissioner of the HRCSL Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa told The Sunday Leader that a team compromising of legal officers and senior investigators has been sent to Aluthgama immediately after the clashes in Dharga town on May 15.
“Our scope and the mandate are limited to 1978 constitution Chapter Three from article 10 to 14. Therefore, the key aspects of the inquiring team is to uncover accurate details of fundamental rights violation and to investigate whether there were any lapsas by state officers,” the Commissioner added.

According to the sources, the inquiry team is to obtain records from police stations, senior DIGs, injured and victimised people, state officers, and Government Agents, in connection with the incidents.
The Commissioner said that necessary steps will be taken to ensure such incidents do reoccur in these areas. “Among all religions, there should be good relations. The other main aim of the inquiry is to recommend remedial actions,” said Mahanamahewa.

The Commissioner added that the HRCSL act empowers the commission to probe in to these incidents. That is called Suo Motu. It’s a Latin term. It is used when a government agency acts on its own cognizance. “The HRCSL has authority to commence investigations, even no fundamental rights violation application has been submitted,” he said. The Commissioner said that further actions will be decided after the compilation of the report.
BS
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Police investigations on Aluthgamna incident

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has commenced separate investigations apart from inquiries being carried out by the police stations in Aluthgama and Beruwala.

“A team led by an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) has been sent to Aluthgama to investigate the incidents” police sources said. Police have apprehended 41 individuals so far from both sides who are reported to be members of the Sinhalese and Muslim mobs. All together 25 individuals have been remanded by the Kalutara Magistrate’s Court on May 17.
Police Media Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana tld The Sunday Leader that over 50 individuals involved in the Beruwala and Aluthgama clashes have been identified.
BS

11 Comments for “The Burning Fires Of Aluthgama”

  1. Mudalige

    How come that this country never learns the habit of their governing parities to seek their legitimation by setting up people against people?

  2. Jaya

    The Muslims and the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community have lived side by side in peace and harmony over the last centuries.Why can’t it be the same now? The country is recovering from a three decade war and it can’t afford to bleed anymore.Religious issues are sensitive and it’s best handled with care.Each religious group respecting another is important.

  3. charly

    This is not the way to resolve problems.We must learn to sit and talk and show the world and teach them that the world is a vilage.Sad to see these things when every body knows we are here for very short time.

  4. Time has come now for all of us to sit together and try to reconcile the difference among all the stakeholders namely Tamils and Muslims. Tamils problem is still not resolved and I really don’t think that will be ever resolved. There are so many reasons for it. Muslims problem is a very serious one. Unlike Tamils, Muslims have massive support all over the world. They have support from Middle East and Pakistan. If you upset Middle East then we will face with more problems. There is no point in trying to ignore this issue. If you allow this issue to continue, we will have serious problems. President Rajapakse has to take immediate action sooner rather than later. We are slowly rebuilding our country after 30 years of war with LTTE. Do we want another war with Muslims?

  5. gamarala

    Sacred Cows wearing robes wiil be protected.
    Else,future elections will be lost.

  6. Theva

    Is this part of Mahinda Chintana?

  7. Gihan

    Welcome to Miracle of Asia……………….haa…..lol…….heee

  8. Gaus

    Gota, the great Defence Secretary could have stopped all these racist (BBS, JHU, Hela) Senas within days when they started to incite communal disharmony instead he joined hands with them and patted on their back – good work. Keep going. Now At last, all people suffer.

  9. Colombo Athiest

    The Sinhalese got the best out of the Muslims while fighting the towers. Now the Muslims are not wanted. So attack and eliminate all Muslims and destroy all Muslim economic targets.

    The 67 Muslim countries including the west is watching the situation. Once Muslim states chase all the Sri Lankan Sinhalese from the Middle East Sinhala Budhist will have to eat only mayor katana bathala and strave to death. That is what Rajapakse wants to happen.

    For all these Mahinda and Gothabaya must be paraded before the international criminal court and thereafter should be executed in the electric chair.

  10. SAHAN Musah

    Its not the sinhalese or muslims its the corrupt politicians keeping the traitors in yellow robes roam the streets as and when they can with hate speech and leading the nation towards a degrading human behaviour they have nothing to do except loot and rob the muslims as the politicians being rich by the day and foolish thugs can only loot whoever engages in this world with such cruelty will definetely have hell on earth !

  11. SHAFRAZ

    One Nation, One Country.

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