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Sunday June 23rd, 2024

Building Race Relations in Uneasy Batticaloa

ECONOMYNEXT – The Eastern city of Batticaloa in Sri Lanka is one of the most multicultural and multi-lingual in the country, but is riven with communal differences and is finding that building bridges is not easy.

The communities in the Batticaloa district range from Arab, East Asian and Indian traders who came by sailboat, to the Portuguese and Dutch who came to the island as invaders.

The majority community is Tamil speaking, split between Hindus, Christians and Muslims and the Sinhala speakers, who are a minority. Portuguese is still spoken here and there are half a dozen Tamil dialects you can hear as well. The ethnic Tamils, are, by far the larger community and consider this region as part of their homeland.

Batticaloa also was the epicentre of the conflict between the state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the East of Sri Lanka from the early 1980s for nearly three decades. The fighting, particularly during the 1980s was intense and was often in urban areas of the district which was held mostly by government troops.

Although the fighting was between the Tamil separatists and the government forces, as in any war ordinary civilians from all communities were the victims.

In the early days of the conflict, there were some Muslims who supported the struggle for the separate state of Tamil Eelam, says former Vice-Chancellor of the Eastern University Prof. T Jeyasingham. “Nineteen-ninety was the year when the Muslims turned over, meaning they began welcoming the Army and became government supporters,” he told EconomyNext in an interview.

The Shia Mosque in Kattankudi where in 1990 the LTTE killed 147 worshippers/Pathum Dhananjana EconomyNext

That was also the time when LTTE cadres attacked a mosque in Kattankudy, a Batticaloa suburb which is exclusively Muslim, killing 147 worshippers. There were also instances when the Tigers looted shops in the area. By then the Tamils and the Muslims had become enemies.

Social Worker N Manoharan said, that the Muslims, by forming their own political parties won the support of the Sinhala-dominated government and then used that advantage to better their lot.

Because of the security situation, Tamil traders found it difficult to ply their trade to Colombo and other Sinhala majority areas.

Professor T Jeyasingham of the Eastern University thinks this is the best time for Tamils to negotiate with the Muslims/Pathum Dhananjana EconomyNext

“This helped the Muslims to take over the trade entirely. I think we made a few billionaires during that time,” Jeyasingham said.

The Easter Sunday attacks by an extremist group that had its roots in Kattankudy changed all that, the Professor says. “After the Easter (attacks) I think there were lots of changes in the dynamics. All the advantages they, the Muslims had, came to a standstill, so this may be the best time to negotiate with them where they can speak without all the flanks and this and that.”

Father Rajan Rohaan, Chair of the Inter-Religious Forum of Batticoloa says it isn’t easy to reconcile the communities/Pathum Dhananjana EconomyNext

One of the three churches hit by the suicide bombers on April 21, 2019 is the Zion Church in Batticaloa.

Fr. Rajan Rohaan of the American Mission in Batticaloa says soon after the attack Muslim Civil Society leaders contacted him as he is the current Chair of the Batticaloa Inter-religious Forum.

“They wanted to come to condole with the families and offer aid,” he said.

However, after discussing the offer with his fellow Pastors, Rohaan turned down the overture for the moment.

Rohaan says that the Tamils in Batticaloa saw the attack on the Zion Church as an “attack on the entire Tamil community, not just the Tamil Christians.”

As a result, the simmering anti-Muslim sentiments in the city and its surrounding area came to the surface. Groups of young Tamil men began distributing leaflets in the city urging their community to boycott Muslim shops and also forced Tamils working in Muslim establishments to stop.

This hugely disrupted the economy of the district. Many eateries are Muslim-owned in Batticaloa and Tamils are their customers. Trade is dominated by the Muslims as they have done over the centuries. The boycotts “robbed many vulnerable people of their livelihoods,” Selvarajah Ariyamalai, a Field Coordinator of the Suriya Womens’ Centre Batticaloa told EconomyNext in an interview.

Rohaan who is the Pastor of St John’s Church, observes that there is the rise of Nationalism in Batticaloa. “There is the rise of Tamil Nationalism and Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism. Then there is the Arabianisation of the Muslim community. So the people of Batticaloa are living with this extremism; that is the real challenge.”  

Ven Katugastota Mahindalankara Thero is hoping to build a program that will bring peace among the communities/Pathum Dhananjana EconomyNext

An hour’s bus ride from Batticaloa city lies the rural community of Oddamavadi and there resides Katugastota Mahindalankara Thero, the only Buddhist Monk involved in the inter-religious peace-building efforts.

His temple is in an area which once was a Sinhala-majority area, but now has more Tamils and mixed-race families. At the time of our visit, there were some local volunteers cleaning the temple grounds, and they were all Tamil speakers.

Mahindalankara Thero says the volunteers, mostly women, are children of Sinhala and Tamil parents. “Here we are trying to build a program that will bring peace among the communities,” he told EconomyNext in an interview.

Abdul Latif Sabeel Secretary of the Kattankudy Mosques Federation says relations with the Tamil community is good after the Easter bomb attacks/Pathum Dhananjana EconomyNext

For the Muslims, they have seized the opportunity to reach out to the other communities Abdul Latif Sabeel, Secretary of the Kattankudy Mosques Federation told EconomyNext.

“After this incident (4/21) the bonds between the Tamil and Muslim communities have strengthened,” he claimed. “We are working with Hindu temple Gurus and the Christian churches,” he said.

He went on to say that the Muslims cannot live in Sri Lanka as a separate group. “We have to build this feeling among all communities,” he added.

“At the same time we have to respect the other religious groups,” he said.

Kattankudy on a Friday afternoon in this exclusive Muslim suburb of Batticaloa all is quiet as the faithfull pray/Pathum Dhananjana EconomyNext

But, says Rohaan, it is not as easy as it sounds to build bridges to bring these communities together. The underlying tensions still remain, he believes.

He says, however, that there has to be a realization that all the communities have a single purpose.

He points out that as a “Civil Society actor I would like to work for democratic rights. As a Tamil, I cannot work for only the rights of Tamils. I have to work for the rights of the Muslims, Sinhalese and others.” (Colombo February 08, 2020)

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  1. F. Careem says:

    Not a Shia mosque! Kindly corect, this is a Sunni mosque!!

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  1. F. Careem says:

    Not a Shia mosque! Kindly corect, this is a Sunni mosque!!

India supports Sri Lanka Coast Guard to boost maritime security

ECONOMYNEXT – India has given 1.2 million US dollars’ worth spare parts to Sri Lanka’s Coast Guard to be used in a vessel also gifted to the Indian Ocean Island on an earlier occasion, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.

“Handing over of the large consignment of spares symbolizes India’s commitment to support capability building towards addressing the shared challenges of Maritime Security in the region,” the Indian High Commission said

The spare parts were brought to Sri Lanka on the Indian Coast Guard Ship Sachet, an offshore patrol vessel that was on a two-day visit to the island.

The spares were formally handed over to the Sri Lanka Coast Guard Ship Suraksha which was gifted to Sri Lanka in October 2017 by India.

India has gifted spare parts for the ship in June 2021 and April 2022 and also provided assistance in refilling of Halon cylinders in January 2024. (Colombo/June23/2024)

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Sri Lanka Water Board makes profits, tax-payers inject Rs28bn

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state-run National Water Supply and Drainage Board has made a profit of 5.2 billion rupees in the year to December 2023, after a tariff increase despite not getting money for 25 percent of its water it pumps out.

Total revenues went up to 61.8 billion rupees in 2023 from 35.4 billion rupees, a Finance Ministry report said.

Water revenue surged to 58.5 billion rupees from 33.1 billion rupees, cost of sales also went up to 32.8 billion rupees from 23.14 billion rupees, helping boost gross profits from 12.3 billion rupees to 29.0 billion rupees.

Finance costs surged to 14.9 billion rupees from 3.9 billion rupees,

NSWD reported net profits of 5.2 billion rupees for the year, against a loss of 2.7 billion rupees a year earlier.

The Treasury had given 28 billion rupees from tax payer money to settle loans.

During the Rajapaksa administration, macroeconomists who ran the Finance Ministry made state enterprises borrow money from banks through Treasury guarantees listing them as ‘contingent liabilities’, claiming they were ‘off balance sheet’.

The Road Development Authority, which had no revenues to speak of borrowed large amounts of money from banks which were listed as ‘contingent liabilities’ though they were a responsibility of the state from day one, allowing macroeconomists to understate both the budget deficit and national debt, critics say.

The water tariffs were raised by 81 percent after macroeconomists printed money to supress interest rates for flexible inflation targeting/potential output targeting. The currency collapsed after macroeconomists tried to float the rupee with a surrender rule in place.

Non-revenue water for which no money is collected was 25.2 percent. The agency was supposed to reduce non-revenue water. In some districts religious establishments are responsible for non-revenue water, according to an official who said it on condition of anonymity.

The water board is also unable to collect money from some services like common toilets for underserved communities. (Colombo/June23/2024 – Update II)

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Sri Lanka will expedite Indian projects: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will expedite Indian-backed projects in the island, President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Indian business people after a visit by Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar this week.

“I discussed with Prime Minister Modi the need to accelerate the joint program that we have decided, agreed on. So the major ones are identified, and Foreign Minister Jaishankar came down today [20] to have a discussion. Now this will show the new path we are taking,” president Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“It won’t be individual projects. We’ve discussed a fair number of them. First is the grid interconnection between Sri Lanka and India, so that sustainable energy can be transmitted to India.

“We have the Sampur solar power project, which is a Government to Government (G2G) project, and a three island project, which is where we hope the ground breaking can take place in July,” he told Indian business people at the 31st All India Partner’s Meet 2024 (AIPM 2024), held at ICT Ratnadipa in Colombo.

The AIPM 2024 which was organised by KPGM Sri Lanka and India provided a platform for both countries to reaffirm their commitment to collaborative projects that promise to redefine bilateral relations and propel socio-economic growth.

“It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to have you in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, holding this meeting. It shows on one hand the close friendship that our two countries have, and on the other hand, the confidence that you have in Sri Lanka.

“Having now survived two difficult years, I must acknowledge that this was possible because India gave us a loan of $3.5 billion. All that will be repaid.”

Cooperation between the two nations needed to be enhanced, particularly in the energy sector, aiming to foster new development for the Northern region, Wickremesinghe said.

“We are looking at developing Palk Straight for wind energy and solar energy, both countries to get together and have a large farm for solar energy, for renewable energy. It also means that we will have a new economy for the northern province, which was worst affected by the war.”

Several Indian-backed projects in Sri Lanka have stalled due to protests from some parties, with some going to courts.

India is helping expand the Kankesanturai port, and is discussing development of the Palali and Colombo airports.

The National Livestock Development Board of Sri Lanka, in collaboration with India’s Amul Dairy Company, is involved in a project to enhance liquid milk production in the country.

The two nations are also considering establishing land connectivity.

Discussions have also taken place regarding expediting the Trincomalee Development Project, which encompasses industrial investment zones and tourist areas.

“Plans are underway to construct a multi-product oil pipeline from Nagapatnam to Trincomalee, pending the final observation report. Trincomalee is poised to become a hub for oil refining, with the development of ports and investment zones, transforming Trincomalee Port into a significant hub on the Bay of Bengal.

“Today, the entire East Coast is being opened up for tourism, with additional land earmarked for hotels in Galle and southern areas. Moreover, there are plans to establish more investment zones across the country, alongside expanding our professional training programs. In these endeavours, we are collaborating closely with India.” (Colombo/Jun22/2024)

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