Political expediency and its toll on ethnic harmony | Sunday Observer

Political expediency and its toll on ethnic harmony

Are ethnic tensions raising their ugly head again? We have to pose the question in the context of the incidents that occurred in Ampara this week where several Muslim owned shops and an eatery were set on fire because the latter was allegedly introducing ‘tablets that induced sterility’ to unsuspecting customers.

What was implied was that there was a sinister campaign to undermine the Sinhalese community. The hypothesis was that these so-called ‘sterility tablets’ were being systematically and surreptitiously introduced to food consumed by Sinhalese customers at the eatery.

As is wont to happen in this day and age, social media then took over the campaign. Videos were in circulation purportedly depicting an employee of the eatery ‘confessing’ to his crime. Clearly not at ease and under duress, he appeared to be surrounded by a group posing questions in an intimidating manner. This was the ‘proof’ that there was indeed a campaign to destroy the Sinhalese community.

Hopefully, the incidents that followed have nipped in the bud any racial tensions that emerged in the region- and the rest of the country.

Fortunately, although some business establishments were destroyed, there was no loss of life or limb. Had that occurred, the consequences would have been far reaching and could have led to a prolonged conflict.

Nevertheless, the Ampara incidents raise important questions. They indicate in no uncertain terms that there are still groups of persons who are keen on creating communal disharmony to gain their objectives at whatever cost.

These groups usually have aligned political objectives. There are, of course, politicians who unashamedly resort to the tactic of playing the communal card to win elections.

The previous government of Mahinda Rajapaksa did not attempt to hide the fact that it favoured the majority community. In fact, it used it to good effect, marketing Rajapaksa as ‘the hero who saved the race and the nation’ (‘Rata jaathiya beraagath veeraya’).

Rajapaksa does deserve his due place in history as the leader who eradicated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) but history will also record that in his second term, he failed to reconcile with minority communities due to his racially biased policies and outlook, which he used to win over voters in the South of the country.

During the Rajapaksa years, whenever another political party tried to be neutral vis-à-vis their dealings with the different ethnic groups in the country to try and redress the situation, they were accused of pandering to the minorities and playing into the hands of terrorists.

We saw a hint of that even at the recently concluded local government elections. Some political parties were not shy to exploit the incident involving the Defence Attache at Sri Lanka’s High Commission in London, attempting to convey a message that the ‘Tiger had raised its head again’ and that therefore woe betide the Sinhalese community- just because a few terrorist sympathizers had staged a demonstration in the British capital.

This trend of politicians in the south using disinformation to generate ethnic unrest and trying to win votes is nothing new. However, after enduring a thirty year war that cost thousands of lives of all communities, one would have thought they would have learnt a lesson. The incidents at Ampara tell us that they have not.

The other issue that arises from the Ampara incidents is how primitive, simplistic, naive and gullible the ‘average Sri Lankan’ is- if they believe that a few tablets in a ‘koththu roti’ would cause permanent sterility.

There are of course tablets that induce ‘sterility’. They are oral contraceptive tablets commonly called ‘the pill’.

However, they have to be taken daily and regularly to be effective as a contraceptive. When they are ceased even for a few days, their contraceptive effect is lost. So, using the logic of the Ampara attackers, the victims in this campaign to destroy the Sinhala race would have to eat ‘koththu roti’ from this eatery day in and day out for as long as it takes to render them sterile! That is how idiotic this hypothesis is.

To add insult to injury, a doctor appeared on social media. This doctor, a specialist to boot, first said, there are no tablets that can cause sterility.

Then, after facing a backlash on social media, he circulated another video saying that he never said there were no tablets that couldn’t cause sterility. Clearly, he was caving into the pressure- but his explanation, though technically correct, did not convey the correct message. Instead, it only served to reinforce the myth that ‘tablets can cause sterility’.

Leaving that doctor aside, what of the medical profession? While there are mushrooming medical organizations, associations and trade unions ready to take to the streets at the drop of a hat to ostensibly protect the rights of their profession, not one of them has come forward to offer the general public a scientific and accurate explanation of the ‘tablets causing sterility’ theory that is being propagated.

Surely, when the peace and stability of the country is being threatened by ethnic tensions attempting to raise their ugly heads, fostered by unscrupulous political parties, it is the duty of the medical profession to explain to the general public the facts related to the myth and convince the public that there is no basis for such fears. They need to do so because, when it comes from apolitical professionals they have much more credibility than untrustworthy politicians.

Sadly though, the medical profession as a collective, including the rabble rousing Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) have maintained a deafening silence on this issue. But then, one cannot now expect organizations such as the GMOA to adopt a balanced and apolitical view on any matter!

The government was able to curb the incidents at Ampara. We must hope that the matter will end there without disharmony spreading to other regions of the country and creating havoc. This country has enough problems to deal with and it can certainly do without yet another ethnic conflict that would well and truly seal its fate for generations to come.