A Thirteen hour curfew was re-imposed from Sunday (11th) 6 pm to Monday(12th)7 am as clashes erupted between Sinhala Buddhists and Muslims in the Grandpass and Maligawatte areas of Colombo.
The fragile peace that prevailed overnight during the previous curfew from Saturday 10pm to Sunday 7 am was shattered after it was lifted. When Mobs describing themselves as Sinhala Buddhists attempted to attack Mosques in Grandpass and Maligawatte, a large number of Muslims defended their places of worship and residence by engaging in counter violence.Several persons sustained minor injuries.Over 30 houses and ten vehicles were damaged in the clashes.
Members of both the Sinhala and Muslim communities residing in the Grandpass(Paalathurai in Tamil and Thotalanga in Sinhala) area began going to the Masjid Deenul Islam Mosque at 158 Swarnachaitiya road , Colombo 14. Although the Mosque was kept out of bounds under Police guard ,people were curious to see the place again from outside.
As crowds increased verbal arguments began taking place between the Buddhists and Muslims at the spot.This led to the Police dispersing both groups from the spot and restricting entry to the road to outsiders. The situation however was tense.
Around noon some Muslims tried to go to the Mosque to attend “Luhar” prayers at 12. 30 pm. None had tried to go earlier for dawn prayers as the curfew was in progress. Those trying to go for Luhar prayers were debarred by Police who said the Mosque was closed and that prayers would not take place.
As this news spread many Muslims got angered as the Police had on the previous day assured community leaders that the Mosque would be open for worship on Sunday. This led to widespread resentment that the Police were trying to prevent “Thozhugai” (prayer) at the “Pallivaasal” (Mosque).
Muslims now began gathering in groups to discuss the situation. Many resolved to go in procession to the Mosque for “Assar” prayers at 3. 30 pm and demand that the Police allow them in. News now began spreading that Muslims were going to march to the Mosque after 3 pm and take control of the Mosque. This information reached the Police also.
The time was about 2.30 pm when a contingent of thuggish individuals suddenly appeared in the area. They were all outsiders who did not reside in Grandpass. It was a “mystery” as to how these elements were able to come into the area in the form of a large mob when the Police and Special Task Force were maintaining security in the area.
This group shouted out that they were “Sinhala Buddhist warriors” and commenced a “blizkreig” type attack. They started stoning and smashing Muslim houses and businesses. Vehicles were damaged. Muslim individuals in sight were attacked.The Police seemed either helpless or inactive.
Muslims in the area promptly reacted. Many youths from Awwal Zavia road in Grandpass arrived at the scene determined to resist. Meanwhile several Sinhala residents of the area also gathered and expressed support to the “outside elements”.
Interestingly these outside elements made it a point to emphasise that they were Sinhala Buddhist patriots and did not belong to the Bodhu Bala Sena,Sihala Ravaya or Ravana Balakaya. This up front denial was rather unusual and provided much food for thought.It was as if the group comprised members of all three “Ethno Religious Fascist”pretending not to be affiliated to them for tactical reasons.
The spree of attacks by the self-styled Sinhala Buddhist patriots came to an abrupt end when the Muslim youths began resisting. Muslims too engaged in violence as a defensive response to the blatant aggression by the majoritarian elements.Both sides started clashing.
Before the fighting could escalate the Police and STF arrived in large numbers. They restrained both sides and got in between both groups acting as a buffer. The crowd divided on ethno religious lines and exchanged abuse,threats and insults.With the STF maintaining an effective “buffer” neither group could attack each other physically.
The stand –off situation prevailed for a long time. Finally the Police persuaded the “Sinhala Buddhist Patriots” and their fellow ethnics to disperse. Thereafter the Muslims too dispersed. No arrests were made at that point of time.Several houses, shops and vehicles were damaged in the fracas.
Even as this confrontation was underway in Grandpass, troubles of a similar nature began in the adjoining Kettarama and Maligawatte areas. Akin to what happened in Grandpass a large group of unknown “Sinhala Buddhist Patriots” from outside areas arrived in the vicinity of the Maligawatte mosque in the afternoon. The gang targeted three wheelers belonging to Muslims and started smashing them. At least half a dozen three-wheelers were damaged.
The Sinhala Buddhist extremists also began issuing threats against the Mosque. They said that Muslims did not need a Mosque in Maligawatte as they could go to the one in Grandpass. Since permission had been given for the Grandpass mosque to function the Maligawatte mosque had to be shut down they shouted.The mob now started moving close to the Mosque menacingly.
By now the news of the attack in Maligawatte spread like wildfire. Muslims in the area were perturbed that their mosque was going to be destroyed. There was a spontaneous rush by Muslim males of all ages towards the Mosque. “We took hold of whatever available thing that could be used as a weapon and rushed to defend our Mosque” said a Maligawatte Muslim resident.
The outsider mob was soon outnumbered by Muslims of the area.But before things got really ugly the Police appeared from nowhere and protected the aggressors. They restrained the Muslims and began escorting the mob members out safely. The Special Task Force too arrived. The STF began dispersing the large Muslim crowd.
This pattern of events has now become rather predictable. Police are nowhere in sight as Sinhala Buddhist extremists from outside infiltrate and attack Muslims. But when Muslims retaliate or defend themselves the Police suddenly appear and protect the aggressors. They are then escorted out.Thereafter the Muslims rallying in self –defence are made to disperse.
pic courtesy of: facebook.com/BBCSinhala
When Muslims were asked to disperse in Maligawatte some got information through telephone about the incidents in Grandpass.Upon hearing news of the confrontation going on in Grandpass, the Maligawatte Muslims now in a defiant mood started moving towards that area. The STF however acted fast and prevented Muslims from going to Grandpass. After prolonged arguments and entreaties by Muslim elders the Maligawatte Muslims too returned to their homes.
Against this backdrop of events, the authorities had to re-impose a curfew on the Grandpass, Kettarama and Maligawatte areas. The curfew came into force from 6 pm Aug 11th and will be on till 7 am Aug 12th. Power too was cut off in certain areas of Grandpass. An uneasy calm prevails but the future remains unpredictable.
Meanwhile it is announced that a decision has been reached on the question of the Masjid Deenul Islam Mosque functioning on Swarnachaitiya road ,Grandpass. Apparently the new and larger three-storeyed Mosque at No 158 that was under attack will not be permitted to function in the future. Instead the old and smaller Mosque at No 166 will be allowed to function on the road.
It has also been promised that the Urban Development Authority will provide land to extend the current area from 1. 5 perches to 6 perches. The acquisition order of the Mosque property for the canal expansion project will be cancelled. Also the Pipal Tree or Bodhi tree adjoining Mosque premises would be cut down.
So it appears that the problem created by Ethno Religious Fascists is now resolved. But then has it been actually resolved amicably or a solution been imposed by the powers that be? I sincerely hope that the issue has been genuinely settled however I am reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s famous saying “Nothing is Ever Settled until it’s settled right”
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at ~ firstname.lastname@example.org