The latest challenge on the reconciliation front for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who has taken on the additional Ministry portfolio of Law and Order is an anti-Muslim sentiment that is rearing its ugly head in the Eastern Sri Lankan district of Ampara.
A mosque, a tea kiosk, vehicles and other property belonging to Muslims location were vandalized mid this week by some Sinhala Buddhist vigilante groups.
The basis for the violence is the bizarre claim by a few Buddhist extremists that Muslims are introducing contraceptive tablets in food sold in restaurants that would make Sinhala men and women barren. Their claim, which is a repetition of similar claims that were doing the rounds when the infamous extremist group, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) was whipping up racism, is that the Muslims are mixing these tablets to prevent Sinhalese procreation to ensure that the Sinhala population dwindlesand Muslims emerge as the majority community in the island.
Muslim activists point out that the violence in Ampara district cannot be the spontaneous reaction of an usual brawl in a teashop but rather that it had the semblance of an organized riot.
Hundreds had gathered within minutes in the middle of the night indicating that this was a planned incident, a Muslim activist said.As a result, a mosque 150 meters away from the tea kiosk was destroyed. Muslim business establishments were also targeted. The public focus is directly on Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who took charge of the law and order portfolio in a recent cabinet reshuffle.
Police had arrived at the spot where buildings and vehicles were vandalized but had failed to arrest any of the culprits. Especially noteworthy is the fact that thedestruction had taken place within less than 100 metersof the local Police Station. In the first phase of the cabinet reshuffle that took place last Sunday Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took over the Law and Order Ministry. But according to senior government Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senarathne, the portfolio would be given to Sri Lankaâ€™s war winning General, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. The explanation was that Fonseka was not in the country at the time of the cabinet reshuffle and that it was taken over by the Prime Minister on a temporary basis.
Meanwhile there are reports that senior officials of the police have protested against the planned appointment of Fonseka as Law and Order Minister.
Critics point out that the government has failed to take action on the use of cyber space for spreading racism by alleging the use of â€œinfertility pills,â€ in the food served the Sinhalese.
The social media rumors about the â€˜infertility pillâ€™ spread though gynaecologists and health experts confirmed that no oral pill can make a person barren or impotent.
Hate mongering against the Muslim population of Sri Lanka, which is 10% of the total 21 million,is due to the fact thattrade and business are largely in the hands of the Muslims.The canard thatMuslims are attempting to control the population growth of Sinhala Buddhists was first circulated around five years ago as an excuse to target the textile retail chains owned by Muslim businessmen. The Alutgama riots of 2014 that saw the destruction of Muslim homes and business establishments were engineered in the backdrop of such rumors.
Over the years there have been intermittent calls to boycott Muslim shops and eateries in a bit to create a communal mindset in the business sector. In this backdrop, given that this regime was fully backed by the religious and ethnic minorities of Sri Lanka at the 2015 Presidential election, the litmus test for it would be how it plans to combat such sentiments in action and not words.