We commemorate this International Women’s Day with a heavy heart. We have fought for the setting up of the Office on Missing Persons, for 25% reservation for women in local government elections, among myriad other struggles. While these struggles continue with hope and caution, we are witnessing a rise in communal violence erupting in our neighborhoods.
On the 6th of March 2018, Sri Lanka came under a state of emergency for the first time since it was removed in 2011 when 28 years of emergency was finally ended.
On 30th November 2017, as tensions were rising among Muslim and Tamil communities in the East, and online hate speech was rampant and sexualized, we as women of Batticaloa issued a strong public statement condemning the communal violence. As Muslim and Tamil women we stood together in the sites where tensions had erupted and called for an end to the violence and hate speech.
Now, in March 2018, the communal tensions are spreading like wildfire.
In Ampara, On the 26th and 27th of February four shops and a Mosque and other properties were damaged and at least three persons injured. The violence is said to have erupted after a group of Sinhala youth, alleged that sterilization pills were added to a meal served by a Muslim-owned restaurant to a Sinhala customer.
On 3rd March 2018, M.G. Kumarasinghe from Moragahamulla, succumbed to his injuries at the Kandy hospital after being beaten allegedly by a gang of Muslim men in Theldeniya on the 22nd of February. It is widely believed that the violence resulted from conflict over a traffic incident. Four suspects were remanded by the Police until 7th March. Following his death, on the 5th of March, hundreds of Sinhala persons stormed Moragahamulla village and burned down several Muslim shops. A Buddhist monk from a temple in Batticaloa town was seen in photographs with the mobs in Theldeniyai.
Abdul Fazith, from Digana, Kandy, died when his house/shop was set on fire on the 6th of March 2018ii.
We stand in sorrow with the families of both M.G. Kumarasinghe and Abdul Fazith.
We, as women of Sri Lanka, of diverse ethnic and religious identities, call for our government and opposition parties to respond in a responsible and urgent manner.
We urge them to maintain law and order without further curtailing democratic rights of citizens. We have learnt many a lesson that to curtail peaceful democratic voices only further deepens social rifts and escalate violence leading to tragic loss.
We call on our brothers and sisters, to reach out across these divisions with love and trust. We call on them to make public symbolic acts of solidarity and support, and to speak out against hate speech online and in everyday life.
This International Women’s Day, we want no more violence, no more grief, no more tears. We are Sri Lankan and this violence is not in our name.
• Suriya Women’s Development Centre – Batticaloa
• Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management (Network of 13 Women’s organisations and 15 individuals)– Eastern Province
• Tamil, Muslim, Sinhala Sisters’ group – Eastern Province
• Red Flag Movement – Domestic Workers Union – Eastern & Central Province
• Women’s Action Network (Network of 8 Women’s organisations)- Eastern, North Western & Northern Provinces