The tense situation prevailing in the Kalutara district of Sri Lanka’s Western Province after the occurrence of anti-muslim vioence last week took a sharp turn for the worse in the early hours of the morning on Saturday June 21st when a large,well-known Muslim owned apparel store cum showroom in the Panadura town was gutted extensively.
Just passed #Nolimit #Pandadura and it’s such a sad sight!-pic via: twitter.com/sumaiyarizvi
The “No Limit” apparel store cum showroom in Panadura which is said to be the largest of its kind in the clothing store chain owned by a well known Muslim businessman was burnt down in a “mysterious” fire that blazed for over three hours.
Panadura is a coastal town situated 27 km to the south of Colombo city in the Kalutara district of Sri Lanka’s Western province.Kalutara district has been plagued by many incidents of anti –Muslim violence instigated by the Buddhist extremist organization called the Bodhu Bala Sena(BBS). The BBS was responsible for the recent anti-Muslim violence in areas like Aluthgama and Beruwela in the Kalutara district.
According to residents of Panadura town, reports of explosions were heard around 2. 30 am in the early hours of the morning on Saturday June 21st.One resident a retired police official told reporters that he counted 10 reports sounding like explosions. By 3 am there was a raging fire in the premises of “No Limit” store. When people saw the blaze and rushed to the store they saw some persons running away from the scene. A motor cycle parked behind the store was also on fire.
There were seven persons connected to the store on the “No Limit” premises when the fire broke out. Three were security guards and four were store employees who were sleeping in a part of the store building that served as staff quarters. None of them were reported hurt.
When the fire began spreading the Police and Fire brigade were called in. At least five fire engines from Kalutara. Horana and Colombo rushed to the scene and battled the fire from 3.45 am to 5 am.The fire fighters however could not douse the flames as the water ran out and adequate supply of water could not be procured. It is learnt that two of the fire engines that rushed to the spot had very low levels of water in the tank.The fire raged till 5.30 am and gradually began petering out after gutting the building extensively.
Fire fighters battling to control the flames-pic via: twitter.com/DinoukC
Currently there are two theories about the fire. One is that there was a electricity leak or short circuit and that the fire had begun accidentally inside the premises. This theory of an internal accident causing the fire is being told to the media by Police officials. It is basically a speculative theory and as of now has no concrete evidence to substantiate it.
This motorcycle was burnt outside the store, GM of store asks how could internal electrical fire cause this #lka-pic by Dinouk Colombage
The second theory is that the fire was a result of a pre-dawn arson attack by miscreants belonging to a Buddhist extremist organization.It is suspected that fire bombs were thrown into the store premises.Some media personnel citing on the spot sources have reported that six fire boms were thrown into the premises. Another point contradicting the short circuit theory is the fact that a motor cycle parked behind the store was burnt.
The “No Limit”chain of apparel stores is owned by the well-known Muslim entrepreneur Nuhu Lebbe Mubarak Hadjiar hailing from the Eastern province town of Kattankudi.The “No Limit” is said to be the largest clothing store chain in Sri Lanka.The Panadura store is reportedky the biggest one in the chain and had a warehouse too. Preliminary estimates of the destroyed property including building.merchandise,equipment and stocks amount to 500 million Rupees.
Buddhist extremist organizations like the Bodhu Bala Sena and Sihala Ravaya have regularly made venomous references to the Muslim owned “No Limits” apparel chain. Allegations have been made that Sinhala girls employed by the firm have been abused by Muslim males. It was also alleged that “No Limits” management distributes contraceptive pills in the form of sweets to Sinhala woman customers in a diabolic conspiracy to restrict the births of children in Sinhala families. Even the BBS general secretary Galagado Aththe Gnanasara Thero made derogatory references to “No Limit” in his recent rabble rousing speech at Aluthgama on June 15th.
STF keeping agitated crowd yelling police 2 arrest those responsible over burning of No Limit store #lka-pic via: twitter.com/NavamaniLK
A large crowd began gathering in the vicinity of the store in flames. People hooted and jeered at the Police urging the cops to prevent attacks and catch the culprits. Subsequently the Special Task Force was called in to control the crowds.The STF even used an armoured vehicle to push back the crowds.Armed STF personnel are now stationed at the spot.
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader and Justice minister Rauff Hakeem went to the scene and spke to the Police and persons linked to the affected “No Limits” store.
Senior Deputy Inspector of Police Anura Senanayake is at the scene of the fire directing inquiries into the incident.
It remains to be seen as to whether a free and fair investigation is undertaken to ascertain how the fire occurred or whether it would become one more “unsolved” incident of arson in Sri Lanka’s history
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org