More than twelve centuries of peaceful cohabitation between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka has made both communities interdependent. Therefore safety and security of the one lies in the safety and the security of the other mutually.
The poor mainstream media coverage of the anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama in June 2014 was a vacuum filled, in large-part, by content published in real-time and for weeks after the violence on the web and online social media fora.
This volume, variety and velocity of perspectives and content, while in the main insightful and bearing witness to inconvenient truths, nevertheless featured partially correct or downright false information, paraded as fact and shared widely.
Amnesty International‘s Citizen Evidence Lab was launched in early July, and intends to support human rights researchers and advocates to better take advantage of the new digital data-streams emanating from conflict zones and other human rights hot spots. It is an online space to share best practices, techniques and tools for authenticating user-generated content for human rights defense.
Given how timely and useful information on this blog was for journalists and citizens connected to online media in Sri Lanka, Groundviews, Vikalpa andMaatram are pleased to release, with the permission of Amnesty, Tamil and Sinhala translations of key content published to date. Topics and content relevant to Sri Lanka’s domestic context, as and when published on the site, will be translated into Tamil and Sinhala.
Access the content via http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=746409e6de7b1c2a97474620a&id=92cd9551f9
On the 15th of June 2014 ethnic riots took place in Aluthgama following a rally organized by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a Buddhist fundamentalist organization. Even though the police and state officials had been informed of the potential of the rally to turn violent, no steps were taken to stop the same, instead a large number of police and Special Task Forces (STF) personnel were deployed in the area. In the aftermath of the violence that shocked the country, a women’s team visited Aluthgama and met with several survivors with the objective of documenting the events that took place. Below is their report. Considering the safety of the survivors their names, location and other identities are not recorded.
In two days of rioting and looting four people have been killed, including a Tamil security guard, and 80 others injured, the majority being from the Muslim community. Over 60 homes and businesses were set on fire in the two days while several mosques were also damaged.
Despite the deployment of Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force the police were unable to control the mobs who numbered in the thousands according to eyewitness reports. Eventually the military was called in to restore order.
The towns, which were once tourist attractions, are now under the blanket of a military curfew with many Muslim residents fearing to return to their homes. Sinhala Buddhist families in the area have taken to marking their homes with the Buddhist flag in an attempt to ensure they are not caught up in the attacks.
A needed and insightful article in Colombo Telegraph on the recent nationalist violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka by Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham : “At the present moment, large sections of elite and popular society in Sri Lanka refuse discussions of the truth, and so the past will, I believe, repeat itself.”
In Aluthgama we witnessed a dangerous replay of July ‘83 in the sense that there was a situation of dual power. Who controls the situation: the state apparatuses or the Sinhala Buddhist ‘street’? However, the BBS posed a further question in Aluthgama: who controls the state itself and its direction; its actions? The legitimate state authorities or the monks? Even more serious was the contestation of legitimacy itself: who is more legitimate, the elected civilian power or the monkhood?
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.