Their desperate faces stared at the houses and shops torched and destroyed in Digana, Teldeniya and Ambatenne areas. By March 10, as the curfew was lifted in Kandy, various groups of people started visiting the troubled areas. Local and international media personnel were seen taking photographs and interviewing the victims affected by this violence. But these victims continued to pose one question, “what did we do to them (attackers) to suffer like this”. Basins filled with water could be seen inside some houses and shops that had not been attacked. When asked why, they said that fear was still in the air. They said that the water was kept to douse a fire in case mobs decide to torch their houses.
In a country that had been severely suffered due to an ethnic war that raged for decades, rumors sufficed to trigger more communal riots. And that is what happened in Kandy. Villagers in Digana, Teldeniya, Kengalla and Ambatenne said that the attacks were the result of a highly orchestrated move that was backed by huge political support.
From the previous article titled ‘A divided Digana falls: Isolated incident used to fuel tension’ published on March 7, we recounted the main incident which triggered the March 5 attacks in Digana and Teldeniya. Despite a curfew and security forces being deployed in many areas in Kandy, attacks were launched again targeting several houses, shops and a mosque, but the assailants new targeted area was Ambatenne. The date was March 7 and these incidents happened in the morning.
J.J.Udaya is a Sinhala Buddhists employed at Zilmiya Saw Mill in Ambatenne. The mill, owned by a Muslim businessman named Abdul Bashir Ramsan Mohommed, was built in 1970s. The mill has been a place which has offered employment to a large number of Buddhists in the area. Mobs, provoked by news that a temple adjoining the Mill had been stoned, set the Mill and several houses in Ambatenne on fire on March 7. When we visited the area on March 10, smoke was still rising from the burning wooden logs in the Mill, despite a drizzle. Udaya, who was inside the Mill during the attack, told the Daily mirror that the attack took place in plain view of fully armed police, who watched the mayhem unfold without taking action.
Attackers came with faces covered
I told them that this is the place that provides income for us, mostly Sinhala Buddhists, but by pleas went unheeded. There were hardly much villagers in the crowd.
“Around 500 youths broke the gate and started destroying the mill. They took the diesel which was inside the storeroom of the mill and set the entire place ablaze. I was pushed away when I tried to stop the attackers. I told them that this is the place that provides income for us, mostly Sinhala Buddhists, but by pleas went unheeded. There were hardly much villagers in the crowd. The attackers were outsiders who had covered their faces and tinted their hair with highlighting colours. It’s so painful to watch the place where all of us worked as brothers, being burnt down by some outsiders,” reminisced Udaya.
There is no connection between the Ambatenne attack and the death of the Sinhala driver in Digana. This is merely an orchestrated programme with deep political support.
The owner of the mill, Mohommed, told the Daily mirror that many Muslim businessmen, including him, had made contributions to build the temple which came under attack in Ambatenne. He said that he had not missed attending pageants and poojas (religious activities where offerings are made) organized by the temple.
My house was attacked thrice. The Special Task Force was present when the attack took place.
Mohommed made a request to the Government. “There is no connection between the Ambatenne attack and the death of the Sinhala driver in Digana. This is merely an orchestrated programme with deep political support. It isn’t enough probing only into Thajudeen’s murder and the corruption charges against Namal Rajapaksa. The Government should investigate the entire Kandy incident and take punitive measures against the culprits,” he said.
N.S.M.Jameel still remained shocked after seeing his completely torched and partly destroyed house which he built with his hard-earned money. Only a few walls are left of the house. Jameel’s house is one of the few that could be found in the area and it had all modern facilities. The attackers didn’t only set the house ablaze, but also robbed gold jewelry worth millions. Jameel had collected these valuables over a period of many years for her only daughter’s wedding, which was to take place in two months time. Jameel, now in his mid-sixties, is in tears as all what he had earned through dedication and hard work for decades, have now been destroyed.
“My house was attacked thrice. They threw all the furniture out and torched the house. The Special Task Force was present when the attack took place. Although the attack was launched by outsiders, some villagers also supported them, especially in pinpointing the homes and shops belonging to Muslims,” complained Jameel.
The violence took away another life in Ambatenne when a hand grenade was exploded. Eight people were injured in this attack. On March 6, 29-year-old R.M.Gunarathne Banda had been making preparations to have a sermon at his residence to seek blessings for his wife, who is seven months pregnant with their second child. White flags, put up in connection with the sermon, decorated the roads. A white coloured hut had been set up at the premises which housed his residence. This hut was to be used for the sermon, scheduled for March 9. Life is so unpredictable! Banda’s funeral was held in the same vicinity. His loved ones and relations paid their last respects to him on the day which this sermon was organised for his wife.
His life was snatched away while he was off to work to earn his daily wage to feed me and my son. My husband, a mason by profession, was a law-abiding citizen.
The mourning widow Ruwani Kosala Pathirana could barely talk. She said that Banda had left home in the morning on March 7 telling her and his mother that he heading for work. Banda, a mason by profession, was a law-abiding citizen, according to Kosala. “His life was snatched away while he was off to work to earn his daily wage to feed me and my son,” she said.
A weeping mother’s story
A hand grenade had been exploded, killing my innocent son. This violence should be stopped at any cost. I don’t want another mother like me to undergo the same pain.
The voice of R.M.Podi Menike, Bandara’s mother, was not clear due to the shock. Podi Manike was making a great effort to reminisce how she struggled to contact his son once she had heard about the alleged attack on the temple in Ambatenne. Podi Menike had dialed her son’s number more than twenty times in search of his whereabouts. She had suspected that he could be affected due to the ongoing turmoil in the area. She had even tried to reach the area where the turmoil was taking place. But family members and neighbours had stopped her. Since Banda had failed to pick up any calls, his mother’s fear s were mounting. It was around 11.30 am when her twenty fourth attempt in finding some information was successful. Podi Menike had heard a female voice from the other side of the line. It was the voice of a nurse at the Kandy Hospital who informed the weeping mother that his son had sustained injuries. Podi Manike, accompanied by some of Banda’s close relatives, rushed to the hospital.
All of a sudden, a hand grenade was thrown to where we were from a two storeyed building
in First Post Junction in Ambatenne.
“There was my beloved son’s lifeless body lying in a pool of blood in the hospital. A hand grenade had been exploded, killing my innocent son. This violence should be stopped at any cost. I don’t want another mother like me to undergo the same pain. No more mothers should lose their sons and daughters. The responsible authorities should take action to prevent such unfortunate incidents happening in the future,” she said.
While several youths, injured in the hand grenade explosion, are currently receiving treatment at the hospital, eighteen-year-old Sadeep survived with minor injuries. Sadeep doesn’t even know who he was with when the explosion had taken place. He said he was accompanied by friends to witness the attack on temple.
“All of a sudden, a hand grenade was thrown to where we were from a two storeyed building in First Post Junction,” he said.
We asked whether he saw the grenade being thrown towards where he was from the building that’s mentioned. He replied in the negative. He added that he was told by others that the grenade was thrown to their side.
Relationship with the temple
There had been no problems between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. All the community meetings of the Muslims are held inside the temple. The water supply for the Zilmiya Mill, which had been torched, is also provided by the temple
-Ven. Piyarathana Thera of Mullegama:
Ven. Piyarathana Thera of Mullegama Sri Vidarshanaramaya in Ambatenne said that a group of outsiders were involved in the stone throwing incident, which targeted the temple.
“People gathered in the morning on hearing the news that the temple had come under attack. Security officers were also present and ready to move into action if the situation worsened. First, there were only dozens of men who were villagers. Within an hour a number of vehicles arrived and I witnessed thousands of men on the road.
The majority of them are unknown to me. I have no idea how that amount of people flocked to the place within a short period of time. We tried to ease the situation with the support of security officers. After a few minutes, we came to know that a hand grenade had been exploded, killing a villager. That was when the groups started burning down the houses and shops,” recalled the priest.
The monk explained how the relations between the two communities had existed in the past.
“There had been no problems between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. All the community meetings of the Muslims are held inside the temple. The water supply for the Zilmiya Mill, which had been torched, is also provided by the temple. The business entities of Muslims are run because of Sinhala customers. Many of our Sinhala people are employed at their businesses,” said the priest.
Piyarathana Thera noted that the attacks in Ambatenna, Digana and Teldeniya were carried out by a group of opportunists who shamelessly carried out a racist campaign in order to fulfill their whims and fancies. “The motivation to fuel violence comes inappropriate attempts to handle emotions. Often, violence is the medium used by an individual to openly express his or he anger. Violence can also be considered as a tool by which individuals get what they want,” the Thera opined.
Meanwhile, Mawlawi of Digana Jummah Mosque, Mohommed Rasmi said regardless of race and religion, all the communities should be brought together to heal the wounds of the innocent victims. He said the country would not be able to make progress if citizens are separated because of racist ideologies.
All the communities should be brought together to heal the wounds of the innocent victims. The country will not be able to make progress if citizens are separated because of racist ideologies.
-Mawlawi Mohommed Rasmi of Digana:
“Racism is morally wrong. You should learn to know that racism doesn’t help and it only adds to your frustrations. Don’t let your happiness be ruined by being racist. Racism is something you can avoid at all cost. Try befriending a person from another race. We are human beings. We all are Sri Lankans,” he affirmed.
HRCSL inquiry reveal outside hand in unrest
Meanwhile, in separate letters addressing President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Human Rights Commission Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has said that investigations carried out by the commission found that a group of outsiders created the unrest between Muslims and Sinhalese communities in areas of Kandy. The HRCSL said that incidents in the recent past targeting Muslims had been instigated by groups from outside the respective areas.
The HRCSL urged the President and Prime Minister to act swiftly and take appropriate action against those directly involved in the violence and those who instigated and provided organisational strength for such violence.
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