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Sri Lanka: Has history repeated itself? Riots in Aluthgama

Muslim victims protest
One would wonder whether history repeats itself, exactly in the same manner, observing the riots against Muslims in Aluthgama a few days ago. In 1915, the first communal riots against Muslims broke out when a Buddhist procession was interrupted by Muslims, when it was proceeding through an area where the Muslims lived in the hill capital Kandy.   The riots spread to other areas such as North Western, Western, Southern and Sabragamuwa Provinces. Death toll in the 1915 riots was 25 and more than 150 people were injured.

Assets of Muslims were set on fire. The British Governor of then Ceylon, Sir Robert Chalmers, had ordered to shoot at sight to put an end to the communal unrest.
Several prominent Sinhalese leaders including F.R. Senanayake, A.E. Goonasinghe and D.S. Senanayake, who later became the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka were arrested following the orders of Governor Sir Robert Chalmers for instigating the violence against Muslims in 1915. It was when the British were adamant not to release those leaders and planning to take stringent legal measures, leading even to execution, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan came to the rescue of the Sinhalese leaders. He sailed to London defying the dangers of the submarines of World War-I and pleaded with the British rulers successfully and paved the way for the release of D.S. Senanayake and others.
Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan
On his return to the island, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan was given a rousing welcome by the people led by D.S. Senanayake. They even went to the extent of removing the horses from the carriage of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and pulled it with their hands to express their gratitude to the Tamil leader.
The portrait of the reception given to Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan still adorn the main hall of the University of Jaffna building , which was first built by him as a school for boys, called Parameswara College.
So with the Jaffna University community staging a mass protest against the Aluthgama riots, several areas of the North and the East, for the past few days, staged protest rallies and hartals against the communal unrest in Aluthgama irrespective of racial and religious differences.
Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran who belonged to the clan of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan had even appealed to the government to punish those who were behind the scene of the Aluthgama riots.
A mass protest was staged by the Tamil National Alliance in the heart of Jaffna yesterday (20).
So it is interesting to note that in the similar manner the Aluthgama unrest had occurred, like in 1915 in Kandy where the clashes broke out when a Buddhist procession was in progress.
At the Cabinet meeting on Thursday chaired by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Muslim Ministers Rishad Bathiudeen and Rauff Hakeem were furious over the Aluthgama incident. Minister Rishard Bathiudeen, at the meeting, had sensibly said instead of nabbing the person who pelted the stones at a Buddhist procession, according to Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), which had led to the mayhem, why was a mob allowed to destroy the lives and assets of the innocent Muslims in Aluthgama and the adjoining areas where the community has been living in harmony with Sinhalese for decades.
Riots in 1915
Aluthgama riots could be considered as the second worst attack on Muslims since 1915 and the first ruthless one to take place after the ‘Black July’ riots against Tamils in 1983.
Though the communal riots remained part and parcel of the Lankan political history, the Althgama unrest was the first to occur since the three decades of separatist war in the North and the East came to an end in 2009.
The Muslim community had even suffered terribly in the hands of the LTTE at the early stages of the North and East war.
Minister Rishard Bathiudeen had also been an Internally Displaced Person from Mannar when the LTTE evicted the Muslims from the North in the early 90s.
More than 100 Muslims were massacred at the Kaththankudy Mosque by the LTTE in the early 90s.
In recent weeks at the sittings of the Presidential Commission on Disappearances in the Eastern Province, several Muslim families gave chilling evidence on how their relatives were abducted and killed by the LTTE.
The Aluthgama incident had taken place when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was honoured with a special award as guardian of peace and democracy by the Bolivian Government when he was there to attend the G-77 summit last week.
President Rajapaksa was also honoured by the Palestinian Government for his strong support of the Palestinians and for being the Chairperson of the Sri Lanka-Palestine Friendship Association in the island from the time of late PLO Leader Yasser Arafat. Therefore, the latest attack on the Muslims had occurred in the backdrop of UNHRC preparing itself to investigate the alleged war crimes and human rights violations during the last phase of the civil war in the island.
Prince Zeid Al Hussein
The new UNHRC Chairperson to succeed Navanethem Pillay is Prince Zeid Al Hussein, a member of the Jordanian Royal family, and who is supposed to be a firm believer in protecting human rights.
So, as the government is striving hard to protect itself from the international community against the alleged war crimes and human rights violations, the mob on the guidance of Bodu Bala Sena stalwart Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera had acted brutally against the Muslims in Aluthgama.
Since the inception of Bodu Bala Sena Galagodaaaththe Gnanasara Thera and his followers have been targeting Muslims and they have openly criticised Muslims with regard to their religious and social activities in the past.
During a rally at the height of the Aluthgama incidents Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera had hurt the feelings of the Muslims in a disgraceful manner.
The arrogance and the anger reflected in the speech made by the monk will make others think whether is he a true follower of the Buddha.
Soon after the end of the separatist war in 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his address in Parliament said that there are only two categories of people in the country. They are patriots and non- patriots.
Therefore, it is the need of the hour for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to confirm Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera belongs to which category.

Ceylon Today

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