Sinhala-Muslim Communal Clashes at Mawanella

History is always very important..

This is a translation of an investigative article on the incident by one of the most fearless journalists of Sri Lanka, Kumara Chapa Bandara of the Ravaya, An Alternate Weekly Newspaper (article published on May 13, 2001).
          The situation that resulted in the clashes at Mawanella and in towns bordering it, resulting in the extensive destruction of property and the loss of a life, seemed to have calmed down. The explanation given by the Head of State (President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga), Media Minister and the State-media was that conspirators against the government had provoked the racist elements of society and tried to instigate a communal clash.
           What is the truth\falsity behind this incident? According to the Human Rights Commission, which visited Mawanella and did there own investigations, the reason was the incidents of extortion and hoodlums loyal to political personalities, which resulted in the state media changing their earlier interpretation. The initial news item on the Mawanella incident was published last week. This news item is a result of a study carried out in the area of the incidents.                    
While the Sihala Urumaya were pasting posters in Maradana, agitating that the property of the Sinhalese destroyed by the Muslims thugs in the incidents be returned forthwith – I was at the ruins of the destroyed Mawanella Jumma Mosque -peeping in at the burned Qurans scattered around.
Around me were Muslim Men and Women walking around the ruins where the glass made crackling noises on their stepping, I peeped into their eyes. What I saw filled in them was, anger and desperation, nothing else.
“Let’s say that our generation might have persevered with this.. these are our children.. how will they understand what they see today ?”, a middle-aged Muslim man said  with a heavy heart.
        “As far as I can remember for 30 years nothing like this has happened.. all because of these politicians.. finally innocent people fight each other”.
            Another Muslim said in support of his companion.
In this town Sinhala-Muslim businessmen work together.. something like this has never happened”.
            A Sinhala businessman from Mawanella explains.
            Then what happened?
            Maheepala’s (a government minister of the PA ruling party) hoodlums extorts money.
The final day of April- i.e. the 30th April was the Day of Wesak, as the full moon was basking the night, a gang of political thugs of Maheepala Herath were moving around and entered into the “Zahira” Hotel (an eating house) which is next to the Central Bus Stop at the center of the town.
          “First three people came inside.. they asked Rs.100/- from me.. I said no.. Later they threw Rs.20/- on to my face and asked for cigarettes.. when I said only Bristol was available they scolded me with filth.. I stayed calm..”
        25 year-old Mohamed Isham who was at the counter said. By that time a relative, 38 year-old Fowsul Ameer who was cleaning the glass racks had also got involved in the conversation.
        ” I just opened my mouth and Millangoda who was there jumped and hit me.. after that the other two also hit me.. Isham came to save me.. they hit him.. we tried to hit at them.. but couldn’t.. I finally escaped and ran to the next shop where Nissanka was.. Nissanka found me a place to hide.. but they pursued me and threatened Nissanka- they said don’t be an ass-hole to the thambinta (a derogatory word used for Muslims similar to nigar for African Americans)..
          Afterwards that the gang of 10-15 thugs were punching and pushing Fawsul Ameer towards the clock tower. “If the thambi can, come and save him”, they cried out, says Fowsul. According to his identification, among the gang of thugs was a brother of Palitha, a foremost loyalist of Maheepala, named Priyantha, he also is a hoodlum of the Minister.
        “They severely beat me with poles they had and they tied me in the light post near the R. Premadasa statue and cut my face.. I screamed in anguish.. no one came.. I saw two policemen nearby looking on at the incident.. after a while the Mawanella police jeep came.. the hoodlums who beat me were still there.. I shouted and told the police.. to arrest those who hit me.. the police completely ignored me.”
           Afterwards the gang of hoodlums of the Minister, were sneering and moved away from the area of the incident, unhampered.
            The endorsement of thugery by the police.
In that incident the Mawanella Police had endorsed the acts of the hoodlums, who are with political backing.  What resulted was a great opposition to the police from the grieved parties. Throughout the night they agitated for the arrest of the guilty. By that time Mohamed Isham who was beaten had made a complaint to the police stating the names of his attackers. The police ignored the complaint completely, and avoided the issue. At the least they didn’t make an effort to get a statement about the incident from the cut-wound injured Fowsul Ameer, who was taken to the police station.
           This state of affairs has become obvious from the information given by some Muslim-Sinhala businessman who were not inclined in revealing their names.
          The next day, i.e. May 1st as morning approached, observing the suspects roaming the city freely doubled and tripled the hostility of the people. Accordingly when night approached a protest campaign against the police came into being in the middle of the city. Somewhere around 9.00pm the protest had swelled upto include about 1000-1500 people, a Muslim youth who participated explained  .
        “We protested against the police…Sinhala people were also with us…”, the youth who requested that his name not be relieved vouched. Almost all the Muslim and Sinhala men-women who explained the circumstances of the incident requested Ravaya not to relieve their details. The fear they display for the hoodlums of the Minister is apparent from this. But it’s the nature of the incidents that occurred apparent is apparent according to the evidence given by these people and our observations in the city.
            The Thugs order the Police. 
While the people were protesting around the clock tower, a close confidant of the Minister Maheepala Herath, a person named Palitha who came with his gang had observed this. The OIC of the police pledged that he would arrest the suspects before 10 O’clock the following day. He also challenged the protestors to continue protesting if he was not able to arrest the suspects and claimed to remove his uniform and retire home in failing to do so. Though the statement was powerful, the city dwellers knew that it meant nothing. But the severity of the protest lessened after those boasts
.          At about 11.30 p.m., Palitha a loyalist of the Minister ventured out. He had lost his patience. At the center of the city near the Seetha Bakery, he ordered the police in a loud voice to disperse the crowd by asaulting and then shooting. The protestors were agitated by these utterances of his and started attacking him, the few policemen who were around were not available to control the situation. Thereafter the OIC with a police team got Palitha into the jeep and sped in the direction of Rabukkana in high speed. This resulted in the protestors starting to throw stones, and resultantly damaged the jeep
After a while a police team from Kagelle tear gassed the protestors and brought the situation under control, and they also made the claim to arrest the suspects before 10 O’clock the next day. Afterwards the situation calmed down to a great extent and it would have fully calmed down had the police arrested the suspects the next morning. Expecting such a deed from the police, who are puppets of the Minister, Maheepala Herath is a futile joke to say the least
 Protests against Police increase.
             The next day i.e. the 2nd since Daybreak, Muslims from Mawanella and the suburbs were pouring into the town. In contrast though in lesser numbers the Sinhalese also joined. Most of them had posters with them and by the writings on the posters it was clear that it was a protest against the police and there was no dispute among the Sinhalese – Muslims. In general it was apparent that there was a consensus among the Sinhalese and Muslims against the day-to-day interference’s by the political hoodlums of Minister Maheepala Herath and the police who support them unconditionally. As it was approaching noon the crowd gathered around “Thalib Drive” which is near to the road in front of the clock tower. At that moment, from the opposite direction i.e from the Rabukkana route Maheepala’s supporters with their hoodlum leaders were readying themselves for a confrontation. Further at a short distance from the famous Mawanella Bridge on the Colombo-Kandy road, through Nayawella Road which falls to the Rabukkana Road the supporters of the Aranayake Peoples Alliance Minister Lalith Disanayake also joined in making a strong contingent. The hoodlum leaders among them, Palitha, Priyantha, Millangoda, Kithsiri, Maddu and Ashoka were conspicuous.
             Political Hoodlums Arouse Communal Passions.           
           At that moment, where the Muslims had gathered, Businessmen, Three-wheel drivers and various others including Sinhalese were also there. The hoodlums who interpreted the situation properly started to arouse communal feelings. The various antics used were proven successful. Accordingly there was a confrontation where stones were being pelted between the two groups, while the police were looking on. In a short while it turned into a serious confrontation. At this moment among the politicians who came to calm the situation, Minister Lalith Disanayake of the Peoples Alliance was conspicuous. A petrol bomb also explored near the market at that time. Although it was assumed that the target was the UNP Provincial Council Member, Zavahir Hajjiar those who were injured were the bystanders. The Police who tried to control the situation only fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the direction of the Muslims. This resulted in a huge advantage to the hoodlums.
            The Arsons Start.   
            While the battles were going on, they entered “Ajantha’s” shop and broke the door, took out steel poles, knives and steel buckets, and resultantly used them in the battle. The steel buckets were used as Helmets. Then they broke the second door and stole a water motor and other valuable equipment and burned the shop. The burning which started their spread throughout the town. Accordingly, the following shops suffered the most damage due to the attacks and burning:
           The vehicle sale of Faisal Hajjiar which is near the Mawanella Bridge, his House which is in the left hand side, Noordeen Businessman’s shop and house, Koya Beedi Factory, Munafer’s tile shop which is in front of the Hindu Kovil, in that same line Jayasiri Stores, near that the shop of Mohanlis, Mubarak stores, Mahakade, Janahitha Stores, Salima Hotel Disna Studio, all at Disna Building, an unauthorised construction of a Fruit Shop, the studio, Sadun Enterprises, Bombay Sweet, Nimalsiri Bookshop’s stores, Ajantha Hardware, Hotel of Faroos all at Thalib Drive, the 25-30 shops at Kandappa Building, the shops at the market belonging to the Provincial Council, the unauthorised construction at he Bus Depot, Seetha Bakery, the two floor building in front of the Bus Depot  housing Emart Stores and the Ice Cream shop, and the Shoe shop, Nafeel Texs,  Link Communications in front. Further 10-15 places also have suffered various degrees of damage. Eyewitnesses claim that Mega Stores which is in front of the Courts and next to the Seylan Bank was stoned by the policemen on duty at the court comlplex, which must be stated, brings out the reality of this attack.
          Further 11 vehicles and 7 motor bikes, which were parked at various parts of the city, were also burned. Satisfying the desires of the political hoodlums the glass covering of the Buddhist Statue near the Clock Tower and the windows at the Muslim Mosque at the center of the city was broken.
            The Army Arrives – the hoodlums retreat while attacking
           As evening was approaching an Army unit had arrived at Mawanella and took action in dispersing the people who were still involved in fighting. They were also assisted by a Helicopter, which was flying low. At this moment the political hoodlums and agitated Sinhalese people who were retreating through the Colombo-Kandy highway, from Mawanella through the towns of Beligammana, Nadeniya, Higula to Ganethanna, were attacking the Muslim Houses and Muslim Business Premises situated beside the road. Accordingly they had attacked the “Safe Way ” textile factory, the Raliya Hotel subsequent to it and Roja Hotel in front of it. There were two Weddings going on in both of these Hotels Reception halls and the participants at these wedding run to various locations. A gang who used this opportunity for there benefit, enjoyed the wedding food left in the commotion and planned there next move of attack, which was a highlight. Afterwards they burned the following Muslim Business establishments, which are situated, near the city of Higula, a modern shopping complex named “Efco”, a Petrol Shed and Azhar Stores, M.K.M. Stores situated in the city.
          Muslim Mosques are Damaged.
          The hoodlums elevated their attacks to more passionate areas in Higula. They attacked the Higula Mosque. Afterwards they got their hands on the Ganethanna “Ziyaram Shrine” alias Small Muslim Mosque. They burned it and scattered the money in the tills on the road in a manner that would have aroused the feelings of anger. While we were reaching the area, Muslims had being arriving in-groups to the area and were looking on, seeing this spectacle had truly disturbed us. It was such an emotional moment. The goons who marched forward attacked “Tasir’s” and “Appa’s” shops and broke into the Ganethanne Muslim Jumma Mosque. The destruction caused to this Mosque considering  the other was extensive and inhumane.
“We clearly saw that the Mawanella Provincial Council Chairman- Sena Gangodathanna had lead in the attacks on these Mosques…  ” a Muslim Youth gave evidence. It was also clear that the majority of those who involved in these attacks were from the areas of Aranayake, Mahanthegama, Rabukkana and lower Kadugannawa. The equipment needed for the attack was transported using the Three Wheel from lower Kadugannawa. Further, there were clear evidence that among the foremost of the attackers were Kulasigha, Makadawera-Senawi, Senadeera , Rathnayake , an army deserter Nimal, Some and Chanaka,  all from lower Kadugannewa.
Further many Muslims under attack were provided shelter by the Sinhalese people living in the nearby areas, which was confirmed by some Muslim elders.
As the majority of people who gathered at Mawanella were destroying Ganethanna, the leading political goons who were left in the city had avoided the army with the help of the police and burned many other areas. It was also revealed that many of the establishments which were burned as mentioned here happened in the above mentioned method. At those instances, it was revealed that a 350 ELF or a similar looking lorry belonging to a person called Ashoka was used in the transport of these goons.
 As we were walking along all these destruction and investigating the events, the sad complaint made by Faisal Hajjiar whose appeared destitute among the ruins of his burned house which was situarted near the Mawanella bridge, was
    ” Many politicians like Mr. D.S. Senanayake , Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranayake, Mr. Badu-uddeen Mahmoud,.. Sir Razick Fareed .. Mr. Anurudda Rathwatte’s father had dined.. stayed and gone.. we also worked considerably to bring the Peoples Alliance to power.. Allah    finally the gift we got…” While his house was ransacked and burned the house occupants were not at home. 
“I stay at Kandy.. As I soon as I got the news I called Fowsi.. and  Alavi Mawlana and told them.. I said that the place where they started their politics is being burnt, and asked them to do something .. they asked from me-what can they do.. “.
       The daughter of  Faisal Hajjiar, Madaniya Bukhari Warshu said with disgust.
What is apparent from all these experiences is that the attack started by the political goons of Minister Maheepala Herath and the backing of the police had created a situation for a nationwide Muslim-Sinhala confrontation? It’s also clearly apparent that the Muslim people living around Maligawaththa had decided to start to attack the Sinhalese people without being able to understand  the basis  of the attack. Therefore, all Sinhala- Muslim- Tamil people should gather nation wide and should build a fortress against the political culture of the country that is building a communal web that would destroy  “the strength of a united people”.
Therefore the posters of Sihala Urumaya should change as follows :
    “Immediately return property of the people destroyed by the political goons. Let all people gather together against the violent political culture”.   
 (Translated by: Br. Fahad bin Abdhil Cader )