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Friday, June 14, 2024

SRI LANKA: A monk leads mob violence at Maligawatta with the connivance of the police

Swarnavahini reported a raid on a house maintained at a high rise building in Maligawatta by a mob led by a Buddhist monk, Galabodathe Yanasiri, the secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (The Buddhist Power Army). Galabodathe Yanasiri claimed that a person residing there was keeping false deeds, fake ticket books and passing himself off as a Buddhist monk. A large crowd entered and searched the premises, allowed themselves to be videographed and then took the person into their custody. While this was going on the monk in charge spoke to the cameras saying that they will work towards exposing other similar incidents.
Another person took the man impersonating a monk to apologise to the Buddhist people in Sri Lanka about the wrongs he had done, all of which he denied. Then another person was made to say that he was subjected to sexual harassment.

This crowd was accompanied by some officers of the Maligawatta police and the presence of the police could be seen in the video. The report further stated that the accused culprit was later produced before a magistrate.

The whole incident demonstrates how far mob violence is taking place in Sri Lanka. In this instance the monk who led the mob claimed that there are many more incidents happening in the country and that they intend to intervene in similar manner.

Whatever the truth or otherwise about this man alleged to be impersonating a monk, if there was any enquiry to be done it should have been done by the police and not by the mob. The very fact that the police accompanied the mob shockingly indicates the connivance of the police in the mob violence. If this group calling themselves the Bodu Bala Sena had, in fact, received some complaints against this individual it was their duty, under the law, to refer such complaints to the police and request them to take the appropriate action under the law.

However, when the Bodu Bala Sena act as a mob and engages in raids they are themselves violating the law and they should be charged under the law for trespass, illegal interference with the privacy of the tenant and mob violence. No monk or civilian has the power of arrest and therefore that too is a criminal offense. The monk who led the mob was also violating the law of the land.

It is the duty of the police to arrest all the persons who participated in this mob violence and to charge them before a court of law. As there is video footage of everything that happened during this raid there should be no difficulty in identifying the persons involved and also confirming the illegal acts that they committed. The video which was shown to the public by Swarnavahini itself may be used as evidence against those who participated in these illegal activities.

The Officer-in-Charge of the Maligawatta Police Station should be held responsible for allowing these illegal activities to take place. The Assistant Superintendent of Police and the Superintendent of Police in the area should take appropriate action to investigate the matter and take action against the police officers concerned.

However, although this might be the position relating to the law, most likely nothing will happen as the Bodu Bala Sena is acting so boldly before cameras only because they are assured of political patronage. Thus, the allowing of mob violence happened in this instance does not seem to happen without the direct or indirect involvement of the government. What is most likely is that such activities are done with the knowledge of the Ministry of Defence.

Civilian policing has virtually collapsed with the promulgation of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. With that the police can no longer be relied on to maintain law enforcement. This situation allows the mobs to take the law into their own hands. It is this situation that the Bodu Bala Sena is exploiting knowing that they will enjoy impunity. Many attacks on civilians by the Bodu Bala Sena have been reported, including attacks on the places of worship belonging to other religions.

The Bodu Bala Sena has become the expression of the widespread lawlessness in the country. The failure of the government to take appropriate legal action against such activities demonstrates the government’s connivance in creating a situation of lawlessness.

It is quite likely that in the future, such mobs may attack those who are considered opponents of the government. Thus, trade unions, NGOs and individuals holding independent opinions such as journalists and the members of the press establishments can be targets of mob violence. Such mob violence could be directed towards various factions within Buddhism such as against those who claim adherence to Mahayana Buddhism.

As the sole authority that controls the country is the executive president the failure to stop such violence should be directly placed before the president as a failure of his responsibility.


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