ECONOMYNEXT – Opposition lawmaker Anura Kumara Dissanayake has expressed fears of a scheme to whip up communal disharmony in Sri Lanka using seasonal extremist elements to distract the public from multiple crises the country is facing.
The harbingers (‘kasa kaarayo’, or the whip crackers that herald the arrival of a Buddhist perahera pageant) who had taken centre stage in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election are back in the limelight after a prolonged silence, said Dissanayake.
“The kasa kaarayo who had been in hiding are back to the fore. Remember, before the presidential polls, it was these kasa kaarayo that carried wanda (forced sterilisation) doctors, wanda food and wanda clothes on their back. These people were nowhere to be seen lately. But suddenly they’re back? Why?”
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader was referring to unsubstantiated, racially charged allegations that had targeted the country’s Muslim minority in the years that followed the war with the separatist Tamil Tigers. Hardliner groups, some led by prominent monks, were at the forefront of spreading fears of an Islamic expansionism, if not total takeover of the Sinhala Buddhist state. Stories spread, particularly on social media, of alleged halalification, of fast food laced with substances that selectively render Sinhalese patrons at Muslim-owned restaurants infertile. In 2019, in the months leading up to the presidential election, a Muslim doctor at the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital was controversially accused of performing surgical sterilisations of women without their consent.
To date, no credible evidence has been presented to prove these claims, though an increasingly visible incidence of Arabization of the country’s Muslim population, particularly in the island’s east, has lent an air of legitimacy to some of these fears.
Recent anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka has also occasionally led to incidents of violence against the community, the latest being in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter bombings that were carried out by Islamist terrorists.
“There was an attack in this country that contributed to bringing the present administration to power. Suspicion is rising in society even to the point of wondering if the attack was a conspiracy for them to come into power,” claimed Dissanayake.
The Easter bombings, which killed 269 people and injured over 500, primarily targeted Sri Lanka’s minority Catholics and Christians, with whom the majority Buddhist population has maintained largely cordial relations with, barring occasionally heated differences over what has been termed unethical conversions. Relations between the two communities further warmed in the wake of the April 2019 tragedy, with Buddhists rallying behind Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s repeated calls for justice for the victims.
Dissanayake said the pain of the Catholic community over the absence of this justice is reflected in Cardinal Ranjith’s pronouncements of late, which have taken an anti-establishment flavour. Ranjith has been increasingly critical of what he has claimed is the government’s inability to find the alleged “masterminds” of the attack, though the authorities maintain that investigations have been and continue to be thorough.
“Certain groups are now being used to create a violent, charged, conflict situation targeting Catholic priests, particularly the cardinal, and Catholics in general,” the National People’s Power (NPP) parliamentarian claimed.
“We can see that the failed leader is attempting to create another such conflict. So there is reasonable suspicion on whether this government is engaged in a bloody conspiracy,” he added.
The Catholic church recently called for an investigation into a claim attributed to a controversial Buddhist monk of an impending terrorist attack, while also denying a claim by the same monk that he had warned the head of the church in 2017 of an imminent attack.
The Archdiocese of Colombo in a statement released on September 16 said the claims, made by Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) general secretary Galgoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero on a television interview, were serious enough to warrant an inquiry.
According to the statement, the monk had claimed he had information on a terror plot similar to the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings that killed 269 and injured over 500. The monk had also said he knew who is behind the planned attack and where they’re located, and that he had already written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa about his findings.
However, the Archdiocese said, it is unclear whether any action has been taken by the authorities based on this information. The statement said the inspector general of police (IGP) is obligated to arrest anyone linked to the alleged plot.
“We request the IGP to to take note of Ven Gnanasara Thero’s revelation about an impending terrorist attack and to take immediate action to prevent it,” the statement said.
The Archdiocese then denied a claim by Gnanasara Thero that he had warned the Cardinal of an impending attack on the Catholic community as far back as 2017.
The monk had only spoken to the cardinal about “Islamic expansionism”, it said.
“We state categorically that, until after the Easter attack, the defence authorities, intelligence, the police, Ven Gnansara Thro or anyone else had warned His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith of an impending attack against the Catholic community.”
Earlier this week, a group of Buddhist monks also warned against attempts to bring about disharmony among communities, particularly targeting the Catholics.
Dissanaayake, meanwhile, wonders if a conspiracy is being hatched to divert attention from the various crises that have engulfed the country, from COVID-19 to a crippling forex shortage.
“People are wondering if they’re trying something again as the economy is collapsing, when they don’t have solutions to problems. The people must be on alert. We must not allow this country to be a victim once again of such a bloody conspiracy,” he said. (Colombo/Sep30/2021)
Video courtesy NewsFirst