Beware of the “Ides of March” (March 15th) was the warning given to Julius Caesar who was assassinated on that day by a Roman cabal including Cassius and dear Friend Brutus.To the Muslim population of Historic Kandy the D-day is March 17 2013!Tension mounts amidst the Muslim people of Kandy as the day draws near. Feelings of insecurity rise as the Bodhu Bala Sena has organized a rally in Kandy on Sunday March 17th.
When I spoke on the telephone to some Muslim friends in Kandy I was informed that the community was indeed worried and concerned. Although the Muslims in Kandy feel that nothing untoward would happen on Sunday, there is indeed anxiety over the impending Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) rally. Preparatory moves undertaken for the rally aggravate this feeling of insecurity further. Many BBS ”top guns” are expected to Boom in Kandy on Sunday.
According to the 2012 Census Kandy district has 191,199 Sri Lankan Moors or Muslims amounting to 14% of the district population. The Sri Lankan Malays in the district are 2,062 or 0.2% of the population.Of these, more than 20,000 adherents of the Islamic faith comprising both Moors and Malays reside within the municipal limits of Kandy.
The BBS president Ven.Kirama Vimalajothy Thera has already stated that the Bodhu Bala Sena will announce in Kandy the commencement of a fresh campaign against the long garment covering the body worn by many Muslim women known as “Abaya” in Arabic, “Burqa” in Urdu and”Purdah” in Farsi(Persian).The BBS however describes this as “Hijab” which actually denotes scarf or veil covering the head rather than the whole body.
The BBS has also announced that it would declare publicly in Kandy that the organization would continue its campaign against “Halal”certification until the process is totally abolished in Sri Lanka before the deadline of March 31st 2013. The Bodhu Bala Sena has rejected the compromise arrived at by the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama(ACJU) in discussions with Buddhist prelates and representatives of the mercantile and Industrial sector on the Halal issue where it was agreed that the Halal label would not be affixed on products sold locally while the ACJU would issue Halal logos for products catering to the Export market without charge on a voluntary basis. The BBS has been engaged in an Anti-Muslim campaign under the pretext of opposing “Halal”.
Muslim friends in Kandy told me that the president of the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama(ACJU) Al Shaikh Rizvi Mufti had come to Kandy on Friday March 15th. A meeting organized by the Kandy City ACJU was held at the Katugala Jumma Mosque after “Maghrib”(evening prayers after Sunset) in the evening. The latest situation regarding the “halal”issue and the scheduled BBS rally in Kandy had ben discussed in detail.
Taking note of the current situation with concern the ACJU has “advised” Muslims residing within Kandy city limits to remain inside their houses on Sunday March 17th and to clearly avoid the vicinity of the BBS rally.Muslims have been requested to be very careful in their conduct and not give room for people to make claims that they were provoked by Muslims.
Muslims in Kandy district and elsewhere have been advised to keep away from Kandy city as far as possible on Sunday. Mulim women in particular have been asked to refrain from going outside their homes in Kandy unless it was absolutely necessary.Muslim girls have been expressly instructed to not attend tuition classes in Kandy city as they normally do on Sundays. All Muslims were requested if possible to fast on Sundays and engage in special prayers.
Initially the Kandy Municipal council declined to grant a permit or venue for the BBS to stage its rally in Kandy. In a surprising development the Jathika Hela Urumaya(JHU)obtained permission from Kandy MC under its own name and enabled the BBS to hold the rally legally. The JHU acting on behalf of the BBS has upset earlier beliefs that both organizations were rivals in vying to be champions of Sinhala Buddism. Apparently there is co-operaton between both on the Anti-Muslim issue.
It is also learnt that several Sinhala businessmen in Kandy are backing the Bodhu Bala Sena. The entire cost of staging the BBS Kandy rally is being subsidised by a prominent Sinhala Buddhist businessman from the Southern Province now domiciled in Kandy. In addition some Sinhala traders(not all) have collected nearly two million rupees to be donated to the BBS for further activity in Kandy
The BBS has been already campaigning throughout the country that Sinhala Buddhists should boycott shops and Businesses run or owned by Muslims. The BBS has claimed that Muslim businesses have suffered 50% drop due to their campaign(This BBS claim has not been substantiated). It is expected that the BBS will publicly demand that the Sinhala Buddhists of “MahaNuwara”demonstrate their patriotism by not patronising Muslim mercantile establishments.
There is also anxiety that the BBS will demand that Kandy be declared a specific “Buddhist Holy City” (it is already a UNESCO recognized heritage city)due to the “Dalada Maligawa” and Esala Perahera.As such demands could b be made that non – Buddhists should not own property or run business establishments in certain areas of Kandy city. This demand if made is likely to target Muslims owning Businesses and residences mainly.
Preparations for the BBS rally have been going on steadily on a lavish scale. The city and its environs have been saturated with posters announcing the BBS rally. Even tiny by-lanes and nooks and corners have not been spared.Leaflets have also been distributed at Sinhala owned business establishments and Buddhist Places of worship and schools.House to house distribution of leaflets has also been done on certain roads and streets. Letters have been sent by post.Sinhala Buddhists have been asked to dress in pure white and make Kandy a “white sea”on Sunday.What is disturbing is the presence of blunt anti-Muslim posters inclusive of those asking people not to patronise Muslim businesses. There is also obscene graffiti in some places abusive of “Allah,Islam,Muslims,Ulamas and Halal”.
Apart from posters related to the Bodhu Bala Sena rally many other posters have appeared praising Kandy mayor Mahendra Ratwatte for closing down the Abattoir at Suduhumpola in Kandy. The abattoir which has been in existence for 148 years was closed as a result of a motion submitted at the Municipal council by former Dalada Maligawa Diyawadane Nilame Neranjan Wijeratne. Although the abattoir was shut, beef and mutton continue to be sold in Kandy.It is anticipated that a demand to stop selling of meat in “Holy Kandy”may be raised at the BBS rally.
Another matter worrying Muslims in Kandy is the recurrence of tarring the signboard of Siddi Lebbe Mawatte. Some weeks ago miscreants tarred the Siddi Lebbe mawatte letters and “renamed”the road as “Vidyartha veediya”.The Mosque lane board was also tarred on the same night and the letters “Kumarihamy” written. Apparently the miscreants had not been able to scribble the “new name” fully.
The Kandy municipal council restored the tarred name boards to their original appearance. But a few days ago some well-built men in a jeep had again tarred the Siddi Lebbe street nameboard. Incidently, Mohammed Cassim Siddi Lebbe a native of Kandy is recognized as a “national hero” of Sri Lanka and has had a stamp issued in his honour.
MC Siddi Lebbe was a Proctor and regarded as a pioneer of Muslim revival in Sri Lanka in the late 19th and early 20th century. He is to Islam what Anagarika Dharmapala is to Buddhism and Arumuga Navalar to Hinduism.It is feared that a demand to rename Siddi Lebbe Mawatte may be made at the BBS rally.
Against this backdrop there seem to be valid grounds for Muslims in Kandy to be anxious and concerned about the scheduled Bodhu Bala Sena rally in Kandy city on Sunday. It is indeed a sad indictment on Muslim political leaders of Kandy that this gloomy mood prevails among Kandy Muslims despite Three Kandy District Muslim MP’s(Rauff Hakeem,Abdul Cader&Faizer Mustapha) being Ministers and deputy ministers in the Government of President Rajapaksa.
It is to be hoped however that no adverse incidents would take place and that the fears would become liars.The safety and security of all communities in Kandy including Muslims should be guaranteed and ensured by the Rajapaksa regime even if it does not rein in or curb the rise of Ethno-religious fascism in Sri Lanka.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org