by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
Several Muslim Members of Parliament have demanded legal action against the General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara after he continued to make statements disrespecting Islam.
State Minister M. L. A. M. Hizbullah told The Sunday Leader that Muslim MPs were to meet yesterday to discuss the steps to be taken if no action is taken on Gnanasara. He said that 21 Muslim MPs had written to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe raising their concerns over the actions of the monk. The President had assured that he will address the issue but Hizbullah said the monk continued to make statements disrespectful to Islam. “We will discuss and decide the next course of action,” he said.
The issue was also part of a heated debate in Parliament on Thursday. Minister Rishad Bathiudeen told Parliament that a police complaint was filed against the monk and yet no action had been taken. He said the monk also continues to be part of discussions being held by the government with no legal action being taken against him. Hizbullah warned in Parliament that Muslim leaders will not be able to control Muslim youth if Islam continues to be disrespected in the country.
Buddha Sasana Affairs and Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that the government is looking to resolve the recent issues through dialogue. He said that President Maithripala Sirisena had a discussion with religious leaders last week in an attempt to ensure religious unity. Rajapakshe said that when an attempt is being made to resolve the issue, representatives of the public must support such attempts. He accused some Muslim Ministers of attempting to incite more racial hatred instead of attempting to resolve the issue.
Expressing his views on the matter, MP Mujibar Rahman said that a recent incident in Batticaloa is an example of where attempts are being made to trigger racial violence. “Once again the racist factions have started to wage war against the peace and harmony in the country. These are things that were there during the previous regime. Although the government came into power to eradicate racism it has become problematic as to why it is following a neutral stance on this matter. This was one of its core election promises. If the government allows these tensions to escalate without taking appropriate measures I believe it is going to lead the country to a disastrous situation . It might even threaten the foundations of the government,” he said.
Distorted Sri Lankan flags were raised by a mob led by the Bodu Bala Sena which was on its way to Batticaloa last Saturday. The flags did not have the two green and orange colour stripes that represent the minorities in Sri Lanka. A large number of people had attempted to enter Batticaloa but were prevented from doing so by the Police on a court order. The mob which called itself the ‘Shasanarakshka Sabha’ included members of the Sihala Ravaya. When queried about its involvement in the incident, the Venerable Gnanasara thera said that he would only request those who accuse the BBS of race based violence to wash their own brains. Gnanasara thera said the move taken by the police to block the rally is a violation of their right of free movement to any part of the country. Pointing out that they had only visited Batticaloa to take part in a religious ceremony, the situation had turned into an unnecessary incident due to the conduct of the police. The monk also said that this is a clear example of the oppression of Buddhists in the country. Former Minister and joint opposition MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara said there seems to be a political hand behind some of the recent incidents. “These are schemes that are driven by political agendas. In such cases, instead of looking at the act we must focus on the result it has created. For instance the incident in Batticaloa only widened the gap between the Sinhalese and Muslim communities in the country. As always we are being accused of extremism close to another election to disturb our voter base. So it is clear who is behind these acts.”
Expressing his opinion on the matter, Minister for National Dialogue Mano Ganeshan said that the protesters in Batticaloa had no religious motives, but political agendas. He also said that the government is planning to take strict action against those who trigger these acts to fulfill their political agendas. Speaking about the situation which arose in Batticaloa, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksha said that there were rumours about a possible riot that could break out after a group of protesters had reached a Buddhist temple in Batticaloa. Therefore, as the minister responsible for ensuring public peace he instructed the security forces to take necessary action to prevent an unfortunate event from taking place.
“Accordingly in some places the police had obtained court orders to preserve public peace. Therefore the police were able to prevent the issue from escalating into a serious one . Investigations have commenced to find out who is behind these incidents. The law shall be enforced against the culprits.” Rajapaksha said that all the parties should get together to form a programme that would ensure harmony among ethnic and religious groups in the country.
“During the war there was neither time nor the capability for the betterment of Buddha Sasana or building Buddhist temples. But due to the peaceful environment that exists in the North East at present the reconstruction of damaged religious shrines have once again started. We have already discussed these issues with the other three subject ministers who are involved in this matter. We have already held discussions with the religious leaders who have been involved in these issues.As a government, we believe that since these are sensitive matters we should opt for solving our problems through discussion. We also intend to get the President involved in this issue as well,” he said.
Meanwhile sources at the Presidential Secretariat’s Office said that the intelligence units have uncovered a lot of important details about how these extremist organisations such as the BBS and Thawheed Jamath had been functioned by an official of the Defence Ministry during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. Accordingly the Secretary of the Thawuhid Jamad organisation Abudul Rasik Raffaidin had been identified as a military intelligence spy, sources further said. In 2008, he had revealed information about a group of foreign Islamic priests who had been staying at a Mosque in Maradana.
When we queried from the Joint Opposition regarding these allegations, MP Udaya Gammanpila said “We have never stood at the rear of any struggle. We have always been at the vanguard. If someone is claiming that are we had been behind struggles then that is an insult to our efforts”.
The continuous tensions between the ethnic groups is going to be nothing but a bad sign for the future of the country. After suffering over three decades of war that had been triggered by similar events in the past, the people of Sri Lanka also have a right not to go through such traumatic experiences once again. Thus the government has a responsibility to preserve the ethnic and religious harmony of the country as it had promised during the elections.