We look at the present situation, a violent history unforgotten and what the people have to say
Kandy The curfew imposed in Kandy has been temporarily lifted on Thursday following days of violence against Muslim minorities in the tourist town.
About 50 people broke into Mohammad Ramzeen’s small restaurant in the town of Pilimathalawa on Wednesday night while the curfew was in effect, destroying nearly everything they found.
Buddhist mobs are still sweeping through Muslim neighborhoods in Sri Lanka’s central hills, destroying stores and restaurants despite a curfew, a state of emergency and heavy deployment of security forces, residents said Thursday.
“The security in town is inadequate,” Ramzeen said. “We fear for our lives.” Others in the area around Kandy, the main hill town, have described similar attacks since the violence began early this week.
The streets of most towns were all-but empty Thursday except for police and soldiers. The Sri Lankan government has reportedly deployed more troops to maintain peace in the area.
Social media blocked for three days
The government ordered a state of emergency Tuesday, and has also shut down a handful of popular social media networks, saying they were being used to spread false rumors that led to mob attacks.
“Technology created to bring people together, is being used to pull people apart,’ technology minister Harin Fernando was quoted as saying by the Sri Lanka Mirror.
“Social media websites such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Viber – which were created to bring us closer to our friends and family and make communication free and convenient, have been used to destroy families, lives and private property.”
Sri Lankan residents speak
As mobs continue to sweep through Muslim neighbourhoods in Sri Lanka’s central hills, destroying stores and restaurants despite the state of emergency and heavy deployment of security forces, many Sri Lankan residents voice their concerns to Gulf News.
Many Sri Lankan residents are concerned and disappointed with the current situation in Sri Lanka.
Hashan Gunasekara, a Buddhist living in Kandy said “I was born a Sinhalese Buddhist. By the time these riots were taking place, my roommate’s Muslim parents and younger sister were trapped in the town of Digana hiding in a different home and they were scared for their lives. There was substantial damages to property. Two of my work colleagues had their families trapped in the other towns where the riots escalated. My father’s work place was near the riots and when I called to check on him, he said they closed his office and he was leaving. I could not get in touch with him for many hours after he left. The people who were behind these attacks should stop for a moment and think: What if it was their parents? Brothers or sisters? Wives? How would they feel? Despite our peaceful religion, strong actions should be taken by the government to punish the people who have caused this incident.”
Arshad Booso, a young Muslim from Wattala expressed his disappointment at how the warm and friendly Sri Lankans are partaking in violence. He said “The excuse used, to start all these riots, was the death of a “Sinhalese” truck driver killed by four “Muslim” youth. If only these people saw it as a truck driver dying as a result of four youth without the racial tags being attached. I would have thought that after going through a war lasting over 25 years, people would have learnt their lesson by now. Not a single religion practised in Sri Lanka promotes violence. Not Islam and definitely not Buddhism either. Sri Lankans need to know that they will not get anywhere with all this racial division and corrupt leaders.”
Lisanthi Jayawardana, a young woman from Sri Lanka, believes that Sri Lankans have learned to deal with issues like these over the years. “Is there racism in Sri Lanka? Yes. But it’s a lot less compared to how it is shown in the media. We have too many roots instilled in different ethnicities, backgrounds and religions, to allow another ‘war’ to happen. A small group of power hungry people should not and will not be allowed to stop all the love, friendships and understanding we built up through all these years. This situation will be controlled, because people are much smarter than they were 30 to 40 years back. We have learnt our lesson. We know what to avoid and when to fight for our rights.”
A former Navy Admiral, who wished to remain anonymous, said “All the communities here, have existed as brothers and sisters for many years. The violence is a very unfortunate issue. However, even after the incidents, the people of Sri Lanka are continuing their day-to-day life together.
Other residents, living in in the capital aren’t feeling the twinge of violence and say that life is going on quite normally in the areas further away from Kandy.
Ryan Cornelio, a resident of Colombo, said “The recent situation in Sri Lanka is limited to a small part of the country, and is unlike what international media are making it to be. While this incident is unfortunate, the security forces have done a great job in ensuring the safety of people, limiting rumours and ensuring calm in the rest of the country. As an expatriate living here, I’ve always felt safe. The people here are peace-loving and tourist friendly.”