The Christian community of Batticaloa faces challenges

The Christian community in Batticaloa has been facing challenges since the Easter Sunday bombings, a fact-finding mission led by a group of women activists has revealed.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, Nimalka Fernando, Sakuntala Kadirgamar, Chulani Kodikara, Rehab Mamoor, Yamini Ravindran, Thyagi Ruwanpathirana, Kumudini Samuel, Shreen Saroor, Ambika Satkunanathan and Muqaddasa Wahid visited Batticaloa on December 5 and 6 to ascertain the situation of the various communities affected by the Easter Sunday attacks.

They noted that the devastating impact of the Easter Sunday attacks on Christians belonging to independent and non-denominational churches as well as on the Muslim community of Batticaloa is undeniable.

“We were aware that meeting the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks and asking about their recovery experience could re-traumatize them, especially since countless groups and individuals have already met and spoken with them. Thus, we spoke with people from the Christian community who work with victims. During these discussions, we learned of the ongoing challenges that the Christian community faces in exercising their right to practice their faith freely and without fear. This is due to both extra-legal state interference and social discrimination from the Hindu community and the Catholic Church. Christian pastors have highlighted the phenomenon of Hindu groups who propagate Hindutva-like ideologies and are affiliated with the Shiv Sena in India, targeting the Christian community,” they said.

Other forms of discrimination, marginalization and harassment of the Christian community include denial of permission to establish places of worship, prohibition to use the public cemetery, denial of admission of their children to national schools, the disruption of prayer meetings, including through the use of violence, and the perpetration of violence against pastors. We have been told that complaints to the police often have no impact as the police take no action. Security agencies are said to visit churches and request information about worshippers, supposedly to ensure that those who are not part of the congregation are not allowed to enter churches. The pastors, however, said this only served to intimidate them and was against their open and inclusive policy of welcoming people of all faiths.

“We also met with the wives and mothers of those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks. The men arrested are usually from poor families, and as a result, women who have young children face severe socio-economic hardship, which has had a detrimental impact on all aspects of their lives. Several arrests made in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks confirm the historical pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions. For example, many people were arrested before the investigation, held under detention orders for months, and then released because there was no evidence against them. By the time they were released, they had lost their livelihoods and suffered reputational damage and psychological trauma,” the fact-finding mission said.

The fact-finding mission said many of the arrests are alarming because they appear to have been made not for acts seen as breaking the law, but for supposed opinions. People who apparently did not commit or aid or abet an offense were also arrested. For example, boys and young men who were coerced or misinformed about the destination and purpose of an event organized by Zahran and only attended for one or sometimes two days were arrested. As a result, many were unable to appear for exams and, to this day, languish in detention.

“The fact that people are being held under detention orders for more than the stipulated period of 18 months is also of concern. The families of those detained said they were not informed of the place of detention, of the receipts for arrest issued a few days after the arrest, and of not being informed when a person was transferred to another place of detention. To date, arrests continue,” the statement said.

The families of those detained for the Easter Sunday attacks have been shunned by other members of the Muslim community, which has exacerbated their struggle for survival. Visits by security agencies to the families of detainees and summonses to the police station for investigation further isolate the families from the community, which views them with suspicion. At the same time, those assisting the families of detainees are monitored and even interrogated by security agencies, preventing others from assisting these families. This compounds the severe psychological stress experienced by families struggling to cope with the multiple impacts of imprisoning a family member, often the sole breadwinner. Families have no legal knowledge or means to retain legal representation and are therefore vulnerable to empty promises and extortion.

Inter- and intra-community tensions in Province Orientale were not appeased after the end of the thirty-year armed conflict, but escalated and were revived by the attacks on Easter Sunday, which seem to have aggravated the existing fissures. New groups are emerging that have found new targets for discrimination and marginalization, creating new hotbeds of conflict and insecurity for vulnerable populations.

As one community leader succinctly put it, “wherever there is a majority, the minorities there are oppressed.” While there are efforts at the community level to address these divides, government action and inaction hinders rather than supports these community efforts. To solve these problems, we must consider national security as security for all. It forces the state to consider a form of security that does not rely on the demonization and targeting of certain communities, which leads to discrimination and the marginalization of already vulnerable populations, thus undermining social cohesion and community harmony. .

Activists who undertook the fact-finding visit said a detailed report of the findings was to be published. (Colombo Official Gazette)

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