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When Hate and Violence Invaded the Central Highlands

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by Maneshka Borham

The recent unrest in Kandy was not only sudden and unexpected but it also brought the whole district to a standstill for over a week as violence ensued in various areas. The unrest which eventually took a communal turn however all began with a mere personal dispute between a lorry driver and several youth travelling in a three wheeler in Teldeniya.

According to the family members of H.D Kumarasinghe, a father of two, the event that led to all the destruction happened on February 22. A lorry driver by profession Kumarasinghe had just arrived at the Sinha fuel station in Teldeniya owned by his employer around 12.30 am with a truckload of milk powder when a group of men in a trishaw had attacked him. As narrated by the victim to his cousin, Kumarasinghe had claimed the dispute had arisen as he did not allow them to overtake the lorry. While he had refused treatment after the beating, he was later found unconscious and sprawled near the lorry. The injuries led to his eventual death on March 2.

His wife Thilaka Padmakumari says she is unable to fathom the fate that has now befallen her family. “He was the only breadwinner of our family” she says adding that they were also taking care of Kumarasinghe’s elderly parents. “I am unable to work as my 10 year old son is autistic” she said claiming he needs constant care.

According to the family Kumarasinghe was loved by all with his best friends from school even being a Muslim. “He did not have any enemies and was a hard worker” she said. However his family also says they feel guilty about those who have been arrested for inciting violence following Kumarasinghe’s death. As one family member put it those arrested were standing up for them and therefore should not be penalized for it.

“Some individuals tried to convince us to take my son’s body to the Digana town but we did not agree to it” Kumarasinghe’s father H.D Gunasena said adding that he did not personally know any of these individuals, he now believes were outsiders to the village.

However remarkably none of the family members or villagers took part in any violent incident within the village. According to the villagers any such acts were prevented by the village’s Buddhist temple priest, Keenapalassa Gnanissara Thera.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, the Thera said he dissuaded the villagers from such actions as he wanted to prevent them from landing themselves in trouble with the law as a result. “However now I am being attacked as a Muslim sympathiser” he said adding that his only aim now is to financially stabilize Kumarasinghe’s family. “Various organizations visited them but no one has so far provided them with any financial help other than the Karaliyadde Trade Association” he said.

Despite no incidents of violence erupting in Kumarasinghe’s village however charged by this event, violence erupted in Teldeniya when two shops were set on fire two days later which further spread during the following days which led to the death of yet another innocent.

When the mobs rampaged through Digana village, on March 6 Abdul Basith had placed a call to his Uncle, Mohamed Malik to inform him of the ongoing situation. “He said the house was on fire but the Police prevented us from entering the area and therefore we could not help them” he said. It was only the next day that his ailing and aged father Mohamed Fayaz discovered his body inside the charred house.

According to the Police, Basith had died of smoke inhalation.

“My son had big dreams and had just joined an FM channel as a provincial reporter” Fayaz said adding that despite the objection of his parents, this was Fayaz’s dream. “I told him it was no good but he wanted to become a reporter” he said claiming Basith had recently even attended a training camp in Mawanella. A young boy who loved his town and had many Sinhala friends including Buddhist monks, Fayaz is yet to come to terms with the manner of his son’s death.

But the trail of destruction by the random mobs could be seen throughout Kandy district in many areas such as Wattegama, Katugastota, Menikhinna, Teldeniya, Karangalla, Digana, Madawala and the list only goes on.

In Madawala while Mohamed Malik, owner of a vehicle spare part shop completely lost his business when it was burnt down with an estimated damage of over Rupees 15 million, 36-year old Fathima from Wattegama now hides out every night in a neighbours house with her three young children.

“I built this business over the last 15 years and now I only have goods worth Rupees 100,000 left” he said. But determined to re-establish business he is unable to understand why he was targeted.

As for Fathima, tears well up as she expresses her constant fears regarding the lives of her three young children. “Our house was petrol bombed twice and we hide out another house every night” she said. While they have not slept in days Fathima shows us the damage done to her house. “This house is not secure” she says as she points out how they have barricaded the windows for more protection. While these are just two stories from the recent mayhem however hundreds of similar stories have emerged during the last week.

As curfew was declared and schools closed, security reinforcements were called in to control the situation while all these incidents brought daily life of the Kandy district to a standstill. But the question that has been asked mainly since then was as to who exactly was behind these attacks as many witnesses have alleged that the groups seem extremely organized.

Strings and strings of white flags to mourn Kumarasinghe’s death spanned the area between his house in Teldeniya and all over Digana, a good 20 kilometers apart. Some shops and houses had a white flag and an orange flag side by side, which eyewitnesses said was odd, because orange flags were usually used to mark the passing of a Buddhist monk. “It was like a state funeral,” remarked Minister Rauff Hakeem, after touring the region affected by the violence. Busloads of people attended the lorry driver’s funeral in Teldeniya on Monday, and controversial Bodu Bala Sena Chief monk Galagoda Aththe Gnansara Thero visited the funeral house for three hours on Sunday (4) evening, shortly before the attacks began. The controversial Mangalaramaya Chief Monk from Batticaloa, Sumana Thero was also present in Teldeniya on Tuesday, leading the agitation against the police station in the area, and demanding the release of 24 suspects arrested in connection with the previous night’s violence. Once Mahason Balakaya leader Amith Weerasinghe was thrown into the mix, it was the perfect storm ofethno-religious hatred and fear-mongering converging on the District.

Digana mastermind nabbed

The question as to who was behind these organized attacks were somewhat answered this week when Amith Weerasinghe, known as the leader of a hardline group who call themselves ‘Mahason Balakaya’ was arrested with nine others. According to the Police many of those arrested appeared to be from areas outside Kandy which only goes on to prove the premise these attacks were organized and orchestrated by an invisible arm. While the Terrorism Investigation Division of the Police made these arrests this week, Police Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said evidence of social media videos of the suspect which shows him inciting these attacks were used as evidence to nab him.

But with Weerasinghe being known for hate speech and similar acts through widely spread videos on social media when questioned as to why he was not previously noticed by the Police, SP Gunasekara merely said the TID is however now investigating these claims.

But however there are now calls for the Police to reveal the real faces of those behind this group believed to have incited these incidents that eventually spiralled out of control till Weerasinghe was arrested by the Police. Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka in particular has said those behind this organization must be revealed. “Their intentions must be found out” he stressed.

According to Minister Ranawaka the real individuals behind these attacks have blood on their hands and are trying to gain power in this manner. He also pointed out that certain Rajapaksa loyalists tried to create chaos in the country by claiming that the recent explosion in a bus travelling in Diyatalawa was orchestrated by LTTE sympathisers. “They put great effort to mislead the people by attempting to show that terrorism is alive in the country” he said. He also attributed the recent Ampara incident to the same groups.

With the situation in Kandy now returning to normal the Police has promised to reveal this information once investigations conclude. “All those who controlled this group and even those who financially supported them will eventually will be revealed” SP Gunasekara said adding that the TID will continue to investigate and bring everyone who is responsible before the law soon.

Courtesy:Sunday Observer

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