After the Government’s attempts to control the tense situation that erupted in Digana and the suburbs, Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment, Welfare and Kandyan Heritage, Ranjan Ramanayake says, immediate steps have to be taken to stop promoting religious extremism, communal unrest and hate speech. Deputy Minister Ramanayake in an interview with the Sunday Observer said, some politicians are behind these riots to fulfil their narrow political objectives and spend a huge amount of money to instigate such violence. Everybody should be well aware about the prevailing situation in the country. Religious leaders and other intellectuals should commit themselves to promote peace and reconciliation among communities.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. Do you think there is an unseen hand behind the anti-Muslim violence in Ampara and Digana?
A. There are no drugs called sterilization pills in the world. That was an absolute lie spread throughout the country leading to an unnecessary confrontation between Sinhala and Muslim communities in Ampara. Some politicians are behind these riots to fulfil their narrow political objectives. They spend a huge amount of money to instigate such communal violence. Otherwise, how can the same extremist gangs go to Ampara and Teldeniya areas?
The unruly behaviour of three drunken Muslim youth led to a tense situation in Digana. According to Muslim religion, the consumption of liquor is completely prohibited for Muslims. However, the three drunken Muslim youth had assaulted and killed a Sinhala youth. Sometimes, incidents of this nature take place in the country. A couple of days ago, a nine year old child had been killed in the Iranawila area. The again, a schoolgirl was raped and killed at Kotadeniyawa. The criminals who committed those crimes were Sinhala Buddhists, but no clashes erupted and no religious places or other properties were damaged due to these incidents. However, the tense situation in Digana occurred as the three drunken youth were Muslims and the victim was a Sinhala Buddhist. Therefore, this incident became a blessing in disguise for the extremists to promote racism and hatred among communities. Controversial Batticaloa Sri Mangalaramaya monk Ven. Ampitiye Sumanaratna thera and Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara thera had visited the affected areas in Teldeniya. A lot of accidents and other incidents take place daily, but these Buddhist monks don’t look into such incidents or attend the funerals of those killed in such accidents. Therefore, we have to see why some of these Buddhist monks visited only these areas. It is obvious that some politicians are behind these incidents.
Q. Do you think there were any shortcomings on the part of the Police and other law enforcement agencies in controlling the situation?
A. The loss incurred by the country due to these communal clashes amounts to billions of rupees. At present, the bookings of hotels in Kandy have been cancelled while Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp have been blocked. The clashes have destabilized the lives of the people. It is the Sinhala community who have sold and rented out their shops to Muslims. If the Sinhalese wish, they can stop patronizing the shops owned by Muslims, but it doesn’t make sense to destroy their business establishments.
During our history, the country was invaded by colonial rulers due to the lack of unity among us. Today, certain sections are attempting to create confrontations based on Buddhism, Christianity and Islam religions introduced by the Buddha, Jesus and Prophet Muhammad, respectively. We have not even seen those religious leaders. If some are fighting for King Ravana, it is somewhat acceptable as there is historical evidence that he was in Sri Lanka.
Therefore, immediate steps have to be taken to stop promoting religious extremism and communal clashes. Some powerful and affluent people are behind this conspiracy. It is obvious who are behind these violent incidents. We could see the hate speech by Ven.Gnanasarathera at Dharga Town during the violence that took place in Beruwala. At present, the Government has faced three kinds of fears, i e. from war heroes, public servants and religious leaders. A lot of issues crop up when attempts are made to arrest or take legal action against anybody belonging to these segments even if they have committed any wrongdoing.
Q. How do you think the social media contributed to this unrest, was the Government right in temporarily banning social media and messaging sites?
A. I think a lot of working hours of the people were saved as a result of blocking some social media. Some people don’t do their jobs in offices as they are addicted to Facebook and other social media. People to people contacts have decreased due to social media. There are some negative aspects too, e.g. those who misuse the social media can use it to promote hatred, violence, hate speech and communalism among the people.
Children may also learn to misuse social media. These negative aspects would pave the way to create an uncivilized society. Therefore, we should always take the positive aspects of the social media.
Q. Extremist elements like BBS were seen operating freely in the Kandy area prior to the incidents. Do you think the Government should have done more to control these elements?
A. We should not dance according to the whims and fancies of some foreign countries. At present, a lot of Sri Lankans work in the Middle East countries. It has been recognized the BBS is an extremist group. Some Buddhist monks have entered into politics. It is alright if they promote peace and reconciliation among the people. But organizations like the BBS attempt to promote tension and unrest among the people.
Q. There is a chance that constant attacks against the Muslim community might lead to the radicalization of Muslim youth in certain areas. How can we avoid such a situation?
A. The wives of some of these extremist youths work in Middle East countries. If any communal clash occurred in Sri Lanka, those innocent women in Middle East would be victimized. If some Muslim fundamentalist organizations like Hamas, ISIS and Hezbollah would make any threatening call, we would have to face the consequences. Still we have not identified the real enemy. Actually, the genuine threat doesn’t come from the Muslims or Tamils. At present we have got into a huge Chinese debt trap and over 500,000 Chinese workers are in Sri Lanka. As a sovereign state, we have the biggest threat from China.
Q. How can the Government help foster better dialog and understanding among religious leaders from all religions in order to avoid further incidents of this nature?
A. Everybody should be well aware about the prevailing situation in the country. Steps should be taken to prevent communal unrest and hate speech. All communities in America and India introduce themselves as Americans and Indians, respectively. Similarly, we should all be united and move forward as one Sri Lankan nation. Steps should also be taken to equally treat all communities irrespective of their caste or creed. Religious leaders and other intellectuals should commit themselves to promote peace and harmony among communities.