For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Another incident of anti-Muslim violence has occurred in the Southern province of Sri Lanka during the course of the protest march being conducted by the Sinhala Ravaya from Kataragama/Kathirkaamam to Colombo.
Preliminary reports indicate that a Muslim photographer authorised by the Police to record the Sinhala March had been assaulted with the Police doing nothing to stop it.
The Sinhala Ravaya march is expected to conclude in Colombo where a petition calling for a ban on cattle slaughter and sale of beef is to be submitted to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Sinhala Ravaya that began its protest march against cattle slaughter and the sale of beef on June 15th 2013 from the Kirivehare in the sacred area of Kathirkaamam/Kataragama under the leadership of Venerable Magalkanda Sughaththa Thero passed through Tangalle in the Hambantota district on Tuesday June 18th.
A Muslim owned beef stall in the town was attacked and set on fire by some elements in the Sinhala Ravaya in the presence of Police personnel under an Inspector of Police.
The procession continued to march further after the incident and reached the outskirts of Matara district later in the day on Tuesday.
After resting for the night ,the Sinhala Ravaya continued their march again on the morning of Wednesday June 19th 2013 from Talalla in the Matara district of Southern Province.Talalla is about 180 Km from Colombo.
The procession reached Gandara in Matara later in the day. Gandara is about 168 km from Colombo. Gandara an ancient village linked to the historic Ruhunu kingdom has a Sinhala and Muslim population co existing peacefully. The mosque in Gandara was originally built in 1840 and underwent renovation later.
A team of Police personnel was assigned the duty of extending protection and maintaining peace when the Sinhala Ravaya was in the vicinity of Gandara.A police official verbally asked a Muslim photographer to cover the march when it proceeded through Gandara and supply photos of the event to the Police.He was assured of full payment and complete protection by the Police.
Confident of Police protection the photographer began taking pictures of the march from various angles. Irritated by this , some of the Buddhist monks at the forefront of the march summoned him and inquired the reason for his photographing the march.
The man had said that he had been assigned by the Police to cover the march in Gandara and take photographs. He was then asked to show his national identity card.The man obliged.
Upon finding that the photographer was of Muslim ethnicity the Sinhala Ravaya processionists got perturbed. The Buddhist monks questioned the Police whether they had authorised the man to take pictures of their march and why.They also berated the Police for assigning a Muslim to take photographs.
The Police who had assigned the photographer to cover the march got intimidated by the Sinhala Ravaya questions and remained silent in a sheepish manner. They did not take responsibility for authorising the photographer to take pictures.
Meanwhile some others in the procession got angry over the matter and turned hostile towards the photographer. Uttering racist epithets like “Thambiya” and “Marakkalaya” they surrounded the photographer and began manhandling him. His camera was snatched away. The ID card was also”confiscated”.
The photographer was dealt some blows.He kept appealing to the Police to stop the attack but the cops did nothing.After a while the man extricated himself and fled from the spot. When a few wanted to chase him the Police intervened and stopped it.
It is learnt that the Muslim photographer lodged a complaint with the Police that he had been assaulted and that his camera and ID card had been taken away by the Sinhala Ravaya. Apparently he was discouraged from complaining that he had been authorised by the Police to cover the event.
The behaviour of the Police in this incident is rather baffling. It is not known whether the Police were intimidated into inaction by the Sinhala Ravaya or whether the cops had played a nasty prank on the Muslim photographer and thrown him to the Saffron led wolf pack.
Three ethno religious fascist organizations namely the Bodhu Bala Sena,Sinhala Ravaya and Ravana Balaya are spearheading a hate campaign against Sri Lankan muslims and Christians in the name of Sinhala Buddhism with tacit support from the political party the Jathika Hela Urumaya. These activities reportedly have the support of the upper echelons of the Rajapaksa regime
The Sinhala Ravaya conducting the march is led by Venerable Akmeemana Dayaratne Thero.Dayaratne Thero is a former Parliamentarian of the Jathika Hela Urumaya who was allegedly involved in the illegal sale of the vehicle permit allocated to him as an MP for 6.5 million rupees.
The campaign against Muslims in the beef trade has been gathering momentum in recent times. The slaughter and transport of attle from Polonnaruwa district has been suspended. Several local authorities including the Anuradhapura and Kandy municipalities have prohibited the killing of cattle within urban limits.
The on going campaign against cattle slaughter is likely to inflict a crippling blow to Muslims engaged in the beef trade. The racist nature of the anti-beef campaign is demonstrated by the fact that the targets are those selling the meat and not those consuming it.
A very large number of Buddhists also eat beef but the ethno religious fascists do not ask them to refrain from eating beef.Instead they demand that Beef not be sold or cattle killed .
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org