The sectarian violence that broke out in late February in Ampara and early March in Kandy ended in the loss of a young life, injuries to several innocent victims and destruction of property. As a result, there is fear and suspicion in the eyes of those who formerly cohabited in peace with their Muslim and Sinhala neighbours. The mobs that thrashed homes, burned business establishments and defiled mosques were incited by extremist groups such as Mahason Balakaya and Asura Sena, who used social media to further their cause. In order to control the situation, the government declared a state of emergency and requested the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TLC) to impose a temporary blockade on social media sites such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Several victims of the violence also claim that the inaction of the deployed Special Task Force (STF), Police and other security personnel also contributed towards the magnitude of the destruction.
Amongst the worst affected places are the Masjidun Noor Jumma Masjid and the Masjidul Lafir Jummah Mosque in Digana. Following the mob attacks, the walls and ceilings were covered in soot whilst the glass of the windows lay shattered on the floor. The Qurans and holy texts were also burned by the extremist groups that entered the mosques on the 5th of March 2018.
*Hijaz, who had closed down his shop at the request of the STF, recounted the terror that befell his community. He came to the mosque that fateful day to help prepare meals for the STF officers stationed outside the Masjidun Noor Jumma Masjid to provide security. Hijaz recalled a mob of about 3,000 persons forcibly entering the mosque and destroying it. “They threw the food that I had prepared with my own hands and urinated in the kitchen”, he described. “They even robbed the new containers from the kitchen”, Hijaz explained that until 05 pm, the mobs went about their town attacking mosques and shops. As an entrepreneur, Hijaz has incurred personal losses too. “All the glass windows of my shop are shattered, and just today, I opened my shop after a week has passed since the incident. Around 100 shops have been destroyed, and around 15 shops were burned”, he explained.
In solidarity with the victims of the riots, the ADT distributed 450 packs of dry rations amongst those who were affected by the incident. The relief packs contained rice, dhal, flour, tea leaves, chillies, noodles, sugar and milk powder and totalled the value of LKR 600,000.
The moulavi of the Masjidun Noor Jumma Masjid was grateful for the relief packs which were distributed amongst the faithful worshipping at his mosque. “We are happy for these packs which you have given us and for this gesture. I thank you on behalf of the recipients too”. The moulavi of the Masjidul Lafir Jummah Mosque was also profuse in his thanks and added “the value is not just in the packs you brought but because you have expressed your oneness with us in this time of difficulty”.
*Name of the interviewee has been changed to protect his identity.