Monday, May 7, 2012

Statement on the Incidents at Elpitiya and Dambulla

Sri Lanka Unites is a youth reconciliation movement led by a core team of young professionals drawn from all ethnicities working in various fields.For the past six years we have been involved in various initiatives to promote reconciliation among youth from differing ethnic, religious, caste and class groups. We seek to build a nation based on true meritocracy that promotes equality and celebrates diversity. As youth born and raised during war-time, we have witnessed the wretchedness of war and prejudice and seek to pave the way towards authentic youth-led reconciliation and transformation.

We at Sri Lanka Unites believe in actions over words and continually seek for ways in which civilians can take proactive steps towards the betterment of Sri Lanka. Thus, statements such as this are far and few between. Writing about the failure of Sri Lanka’s political structures in addressing the issues of the past and the present has become an over-used mechanism to bring about change. While we do not believe in criticizing the political structure we operate in, we believe that it is within our mandate to address issues in the realm of civil society that directly hinder reconciliation in this nation. The recent incidents at Elpitiya and Dambulla where ethnic and religious extremists have resorted to violence and stirred up animosity among the masses are a cause for civil concern. We at Sri Lanka Unites would like to voice our views, concerns and share our proactive engagement in relation to these incidents.

On April 15th, seven houses belonging to Tamil residents of Elpitiya, Galle were torched down. The alleged reason for this was that a Tamil youth of that area had failed to address an off-duty Army official as “sir”. The youth and another who had tried to mediate the situation were assaulted by a crowd that gathered where the incident occurred. When the incident was reported to the police, the police arrested the two Tamil youth concerned.

On April 20th, a protest disrupted Muslim prayers at a mosque in Dambulla. Those leading the protests claimed that the 65 year old mosque was built and expanded illegally and demanded that it should shut down immediately. Many hateful remarks were hurled at the Muslims that had gathered for prayer during the protest.

After speaking with many students from these areas and across the nation we have come to understand the deep hurt and anxieties caused by these incidents. At the same time we are dismayed at the miscommunications, misinformation and manipulation used by extremist groups to further fuel tensions. We beseech those involved in these incidents directly and indirectly to keep in mind that as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation we have to be mindful of the rights and freedoms afforded to our brothers and sisters. For those victimized, we implore you to not retaliate violence with violence but be patient as we seek for reconciliation void of violence and intolerance.

Even as we release this statement voicing our concern, we at Sri Lanka Unites have taken steps to address these issues, hoping to be part of the solution:

1.    Students from Sri Lanka Unites chapters in Kurunagala have initiated a series of visits to Dambulla to dialogue and empathize with the Muslim community and show that they as Sinhala Buddhists do not stand for the violence that has been perpetrated against the Muslim community.

2.    Students from Sri Lanka Unites chapters in Galle have also initiated a series of visits to the Tamil families whose homes were torched in Elpitiya.

3.    The Sri Lanka Unites Team is collaborating with Sarvodaya’s Learning to Live Together project in Dambulla. This program is aimed at student leaders and addresses the issues that led to the incident and the resulting animosity.

4.    The Sri Lanka Unites chapter in Toronto visited Buddhist and Muslim congregates to hear their views on the incidents. They visited a Mosque to hear from members of the Masjid Al-Jannah who are deeply concerned about the situation. They will join the Muslim community in a discussion to issue a statement to the Consul General and High Commission.

5.    The Sri Lanka Unites chapter in the United Kingdom has contacted the Muslim community leaders and the Sri Lanka High Commission as a part of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith initiative to discuss these incidents and to unite the community.

6.    Sri Lanka Unites has released video statements and interviews relating to these incidents from Sri Lanka Unites team members and students.

We believe that differing ethnicities and religious groups in our nation woven together contribute to the rich culture and heritage that forms our identity as Sri Lankans. We at Sri Lanka Unites aspire towards a united Sri Lanka working together towards sustainable development and prosperity.

"We must learn to live together as brothers, or we are going to perish together as fools." -- Martin Luther King, Jr

1 comment:

  1. "Students from Sri Lanka Unites chapters in Galle have also initiated a series of visits to the Tamil families whose homes were torched in Elpitiya"
    A very good initiative and certainly more than issuing a statement. Terribly interested to find out about the discussions. Can the Galle students post some details on - what arrangements are there, if any, for the rebuilding of the houses? What action is the Police taking? Have those who set fire been arrested? Are the people still living in fear?
    Would be a welcome gesture if one or two of the students write an article on the subject to a couple of Sinhala news papers (a translation can be sent to tamil newspapers to indicate the solidarity shown by bold young students in galle.