According to Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives and co-convener of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, the existence of BBS is intrinsically linked to the Rajapaksa government and in particular to ex-Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former president’s brother.
« They were sponsored by the former defense minister. They were generating an internal conflict to provoke clashes between religious groups, which would mobilize Buddhists around the government, » Saravanamuttu explained to Efe.
The horrible killings and destruction in Aluthgama on Sunday was blacked out by almost all mainstream media in Sri Lanka at the height of the violence and the morning after. However, the violence was in detail and close to real time covered extensively over social media, leading to a documentation many times greater and more detailed than what the Government of Sri Lanka would have liked.
But where, one may ask, was Sri Lanka’s President in the middle of all this violence and what was he doing?
One may also ask, in light of very real fears over the escalation and expansion of violence, what the official response of the President of Sri Lanka was to the worst communal riots to hit the country in years?
Click here to find out.
Overview of coverage
Exactly one month ago, Aluthgama and Beruwela witnessed the worst anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka for many years. Incredibly, for days, there was no official response to the rioting from the Government of Sri Lanka, with the President out of the country getting, ironically, an award for his contributions to peace. To date, not a single official word of regret or condolence over the lives and livelihoods lost, or a single word condemning the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) from the Government, which is unsurprisingly pre-occupied with containing and censoring, if need be, the political fallout of the riots.
From when the violence was taking place and over the past four weeks, Groundviews published security camera video footage, compelling photographs (that have been re-published in mainstream media), long-form journalism, articles, eye-witness accounts, hundreds of tweets and Facebook updates on the unrest and its social, political and economic impact. This content has flagged, inter alia, the Government’s outrageous silence, the delay in any kind of official response, the blatant falsehoods and thinly veiled racism by constituent members of government like the JHU as well as posed hard questions for the Muslims in Sri Lanka, in the aftermath of the violence.
The site has also curated a comprehensive collection of official statements around the violence on the web by domestic and international voices.
More than a month after the events in Aluthgama, many questions remain in terms of justice and accountability regarding these and others developments related to ethnic and religious freedom in Sri Lanka. These questions are even more poignant as we mark 31 years since the deadly pogrom of July 1983.
Although religious freedom is provided for in the present framework in Sri Lanka, concerns are raised as to why threats, intimidation and attacks continue to occur with limited action to prevent such events and to hold to account perpetrators. In light of recent events surrounding religious freedom in Sri Lanka, questions have been raised regarding the legal provisions related to the issue and the powers of key actors. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has compiled a short brief to create awareness on the Constitutional and legal framework and available legal remedies regarding religious freedom and related issues.
Access the brief here – http://www.cpalanka.org/constitutional-and-legal-framework-governing-religious-freedom-and-relatd-issues/
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of Sri Lanka’s Centre for Policy Alternatives, believed the group, which he described as a purveyor of « classic hate speech, » had become emboldened by the lack of censure over the events at Aluthgama.
« Their more violent or aggressive demonstrations of power, involving even criminal acts, have gone unpunished, » he told CNN. « They seem to have a lot of support, if not protection, from within the regime itself. »
« The government, of course, will be quite happy as long as the criticism coming from Sinhala-Buddhists does not translate into a scathing critique of the state and its nationalist project or of the government’s mismanagement of the country’s economy and the welfare system. The question before us now is how we are going to produce a criticism that penetrates into the system that serves the interests of the ruling regime in the name of all Sinhala-Buddhists. This radical criticism needs to come from all of us including the Sinhala-Buddhist community. Student leaders, educationists, workers, men, women, the clergy and activists have to lay bare the government’s deceptive politics behind its collaboration with the BBS. They need to demonstrate the ways in which Sinhala chauvinism undermines the economic strength of the people. They should expose the government’s bogus patriotic propaganda and the neo-liberal character of its economic policies that are against the interests of the poorer sections of the people of Sri Lanka. Highlighting the unevenness within the Sinhala-Buddhist community, we need to demystify the supposed homogeneity of the Sinhala-Buddhist nation. »
« Fifthly, it is necessary not to underestimate the power of the State. It is a State that has tremendous military might; a State which is powerful enough to effectively suppress any movement if it really wants to. And it has every power to do so; legally, constitutionally, militarily, judicially or in any other imaginable way. The fact that it’s not happening tells us precisely what the BBS is all about. »
« A curfew was clamped down in the Aluthgama and Beruwela Police divisions of Kalutara district in the Western Province of Sri Lanka following an outbreak of communal violence on Sunday June 15th 2014 that was triggered off by the “Ethno Religious Fascist” Organization the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS). »
Sickening. The BBS and supporters (including those at Maharagama) accused Muslims of creating « divisions » among Sri Lankan people through labeling of Halal foods (after « peace » had been restored to the country in 2009). Tell me again who is creating divisions?
Video with English subtitles of the speech made by the BBS which incited violence in Aluthgama.
Watch on YouTube here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fPMWD8f9lE
Residents of the riot-hit areas said Muslims were leaving their homes and seeking shelter in community centres as fears of more violence lurked.
There were no reports of arrests.
The latest unrest came just weeks after Muslim legislators asked Rajapaksa to protect their minority community from « Buddhist extremist elements » blamed for a recent spate of hate attacks.
Muslim families gathered at the Dhargatown Marikkar Street Mosque and several other mosques in the area, as homes came under attack by violent mobs, who continued to move about despite the curfew in force.
Shops came under attack in the Beruwala area at 9 PM, in spite of the police curfew, according to sources in the area. Crowds of people were on the March again in Aluthgama by 9 p.m., with police warning Muslim residents to stay indoors. Fixed line telephones in several areas of Aluthgama also went dead late last night.
« For the violence, for the deaths which have happened and which may happen, the BBS and the Rajapaksas must take responsibility. This is their work. This is their unpardonable crime.
We elected them; we tolerate them. That is our eternal shame. »
First thing, get on Twitter if you’re not already on it. You’re not going to get critical, real time updates of the violence in Aluthgama, the spill-over to surrounding areas and its aftermath from traditional mainstream news media. Search for and follow updates from #Aluthgama.
Follow us on @groundviews on Twitter for latest updates, including retweets from confirmed, trusted sources, and the debunking of false or unverified content, curtailing its spread over social media. We’ve tweeted over a hundred updates overnight (till around 2.30am today) and have been re-tweeted hundreds of times, including conversations with sources on the ground and other journalists, interestingly tweeting from their personal accounts even though their news institutions blacked out the violence.
For more details on the violence and who to follow for timely, trusted updates over social media, click here.