Buddhist radicals looted and torched homes in three towns in south-western Sri Lanka. Survivors still live in fear, remembering the violence: a car dealer who lost everything, a grocer who lost his shop, a young man who lost his leg.
Dharga Town (AsiaNews) – Muslims who survived a vicious attack from Buddhist radicals two years ago are still reeling from the pain they suffered.
"We never saw so much violence,” some of them told AsiaNews. “Not only did they attack in plain daylight, but they did it in front of the police, who stood by as people were threatened, wounded and killed. The pain will never go away, and what was broken cannot be put back together.”
Two years ago a Buddhist mob attacked, looted and torched homes in Dharga Town, Beruwela and Aluthgama. The anti-Muslim riot began on 15 June 2014 and lasted for two days: out of some 10,000 people who fled, 8,000 were Muslims and 2,000 Buddhists.
The final toll stood at four dead, 80 wounded, 90 homes burnt, and scores of shops, properties and mosques damaged to the tune of millions of Sri Lanka rupees.
The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a Buddhist extremist group, led the attack, ostensibly carried out in retaliation for an attack against the Venerable Ayagama Samitha Thero.
Once news about the latter spread, BBS leader monk Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero brought together his followers and incited them to attack Muslims. BBS activists marched through Muslim areas. Muslim properties were deliberately targeted, whereas other stores were spared.
“Buddhists chanted anti-Islamist slogans,” M. Fazaal and Imran Mohomad told AsiaNews. The two eyewitness, both of whom are Muslims, said that the mob “began moving towards the mosque where we were praying. They started uttering obscenities at us, and pointed their fingers at us, gun-like.”
M. Hanifa Mohomad Zarook Hajiyar, a wealthy 70-year-old Muslim merchant, saw his home looted and set on fire with the Special Task Force personnel deployed by the government to quell the violence standing idly by.
“The STF personnel were there,” he said. “but did not intervene to prevent what was happening. When I spoke to them, saying – ‘Brother, do not let all this happen’, they turned their guns at me and warned me not to get close, otherwise they would kill me."
In the end, he fled, taking his wife, a son and daughter with her baby, whom Muslims had tried to take. His losses are huge because the mob torched his car dealership.
"God gave me everything,” Zarook Hajiyar said. “He also gave courage to face all this. I trust him. I have no resentment against Buddhists or the mob of BBS radicals. Let us live in peace with Buddhists in our village, even in the midst of this disaster."
M. N. Imbran, 33, also lost his small grocery store, but today he is "serene and satisfied because the army has rebuilt my house."
By contrast, Mohomad Asjath, 20, is still desperate. Those two days forever changed his life after he was shot in the leg by a task force officer at night when he wanted to see how the situation was evolving.
It took hours before he was taken to Dharga Town hospital, and when he got there, doctors refused to treat him. Later he went to the hospital in Nagoda, but the medical staff mocked him and delayed his treatment. Eventually his family hired a private ambulance to drive to the National Hospital in Colombo.
"Here the doctors tried to save my leg,” he said. “After five days, a doctor approached me and said, ‘I'm sorry, we have to amputate the leg'. I still remember his trembling voice saying to me that if the bullet had been removed in Nagoda, I’d still have my leg.”
The young man used to work as a mechanic in three wheel garage and earned 25,000 rupees a month (US$ 240). After the accident he lost his job and with it an important source of income for his family.