Groundviews

De-greasing social speculation over “grease devils” in Sri Lanka: Part II

Read Part I here.

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Basically the whole plethora and all variations in media, from print to electronic to the web, from Sinhala to Tamil and English including the “updates” via SMS in some instance, broke the news of PC 61006, Navaratne Bandara of the Puttlam police station being assaulted to death by mobs in the town itself. First reports said he was at the time of the attack, returning after duties. Said to have been on “traffic duty”.

A few kilo metres away, in the adjoining “Maanangunduwa” islet, 05 people were injured from police shooting, in an incident that was about, a supposed “grease devil”.

In both reports, either the media had fumbled or the police sources have. Or both have, leaving a mess of reporting.

PC Bandara “was on his way back to the station after traffic duty when he was severely assaulted by the angry mob in front of the Sathosa retail outlet”. (DM – Unrest continues: angry mob kills PC / Monday 22 August).

Further on, the police spokesperson says about this same incident, “….a mob had targeted him (PC Bandara) shortly after he rescued a person who was being attacked near Palavi junction. According to him (who, the dead PC Bandara ? – writer’s question), the gang had pounced on him after the rescued person was taken by the police to the local police station.

NOW, why did the police leave PC Bandara and take away the injured civilian only, to the police station ? Usually the police don’t leave their colleagues, vulnerable like this. After all, PC Bandara was on his way to the police station.

The other Puttlam incident reported from “Maanangunduwa” islet, the DM report (22 August) says, the 02 police constables were returning on a motor bicycle, when they saw the people attacking a supposed “grease devil” and intervened in saving him. The DM report  says, “The people had then set fire to the bike and had assaulted one of the constables while the other had run away.” But it says, 05 people suffered gun shot injuries. According to ST “on line”, its “unidentified gunmen” who had opened fire on villagers.

There were other reports from Kalpitiya too. A Muslim woman in Vannimukkulam stepping out of the house for water in the night, scrapped by a stranger with “pointed nails” and a police constable in ‘civies’ supposed to be on duty at an Advance Level exam centre in Kudirippuwa, Nirmala Mariya Matha MMV, attacked by a mob in the night. Then again in Vavuniya, 02 civil defence force men attacked and handed over to the Vavuniya police for allegedly molesting Muslim women.

Puttlam is now under the military.  The police had emphasized says the “Island” of 23 August, “The military too, deployed troops along with armoured personnel carriers at Puttalam, to bolster the police.”

These have not lessened or loosened the situation in the East. The military there have also moved onto streets and are a very large presence in most parts of the East, reminding the pre war era. The “grease devils” have done their job right. They have once again got the military out on the streets, heavy and strong. Mind you, this military is no easy force to meet in a conflict. They are battle trained and just out of a “bloody war”.

The media again

Traversing the path of this “grease devils”, one comes across many pathways, one could walk along that seems interesting at first, but scary too. First is that of the media that is more than irresponsible. They are also sensationalising the issue, the way they report.

The language, the stories collected, the ghostly and greasy visuals created in narrations, all adding more fear than rationality. The media has also confused the issue with reports that contradict each other in limiting to stories and tales with no clear evidence given in any incident.

No media has questioned, how many of the so called “suspects” handed over to the police have so far been produced in courts and on what crime or violation ? Or else, what is happening to these men ? Have they been let loose again, as people in some parts of the East claim ? That part of the information remains extremely sketchy and unaccounted for, in all media reports and in the recent editorials too, that is not questioned or raised as important.

Meanwhile, the Divayina publication is bent on giving an anti Muslim spin to the “grease devil” conflicts. Its 23 August news item about the killing of PC Bandara in Puttlam is captioned, “Constable attacked while pleading not to” with a qualifying title that says, “Religious place incites mob”.

Another very speculative media coverage of the “grease devil” issue appeared in the columns of Sunday “Divayina” of 21 August. The “defence column” insisted that the “grease devil” is a conspiracy by the Tamil Diaspora. It implicates 02 TNA MPs in spreading false stories against the GoSL and trying to destabilise the regime. The column also claimed a “Tiger news web” in Switzerland is run by a brother of one TNA MP,

The Kinniya Muslim mobs that attacked the navy Camp were supported by a Muslim fundamentalist group, “Jamat Al Islam” the same column said. The picture it creates is that of East going under “Muslim fundamentalism” asking whether it has to be like under the “Talibans”. The columnist therefore proposes, the East should be brought under one of the “top military brass” who routed the Tigers in the Vanni.

The “grease devil” route

Meanwhile the most conspicuous route this whole phenomenon took, and its metamorphosis, is also a crucial factor, to look into. This originated from Ratnapura district in Kahawatte. Serial killing of elderly women and the killer(s) unknown, the killer was first given the term “Boothaya” (Devil or Demon) and established so by the media. This night stalker thereafter moves through Haputale in the adjoining district, to Uva province, despite 02 suspected killers being arrested by the CID for the serial killings in Kahawatte and their identities established.

In Uva the “boothaya” becomes a “Grease Devil” and its “ghostly” facade drops off to be a “human” form. Thereafter “suspects” are arrested, confronted with, or are seen in across Uva in as many as dozen or more villages and estates, from Uduwara in the Ella police division, across Badulla and Mahiyangane to Girandurukotte. Meanwhile there were reports from a few places in the Central province, Hatton, Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. Not that there were no isolated incidents in few other villages that were talked of, but never officially accepted.

The next major leap of this now popularly called “grease devil” from Uva, was to the Eastern province. It was in the East that the issue became a serious and a sensationalised social conflict. It was in the East, it became a conflict between the civilian people and the police and security forces. It was in the East it became a conflict between the Muslim people and the State forces.

The “grease devil” then moved to Puttlam, another Muslim area. Again the conflict is between the police and the Muslim people. For the first time a police constable is killed and another brutally attacked, to be warded in hospital. In Vavuniya too, the incident was related to the Muslim community and women.

Meanwhile, the “grease devil” has metamorphosed into a “Mystery Man”. In the East, they don’t any more talk of “grease devils”. Now there is no doubt in the social psyche, its very clearly a human stalker, and the “mystery” is, who is nurturing him and safeguarding him. People in the East, the Muslims claim, this “mystery man” is from the ranks of the State security forces. The pointing finger is clearly towards this Rajapaska regime.

Back to the military

This whole “boothaya” to “grease devil” and now to a “mystery man” crusade of social violence have once again provided this regime an opportunity to run with military muscle. With the Muslim society having their daily, late evening prayers in Mosque congregations during this ‘Ramazan’ fasting period, these “riots” have disturbed their whole religious life, prompting the top Moulavis to sit with defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in asking for firm security measures.

In terms of security, the defence establishment could only provide more armed personnel, for more places. Thus the immediate decision to strengthen armed security in whole of Eastern province, Kurunegala and Puttlam. This afternoon (23 August) the defence secretary has arranged for all Mosque Federation religious leaders from Ampara, Batticoloa, Trincomalee, Kandy, Kegalle and Puttlam to meet him on security issues.

 

It would turn out as one, where the Muslim religious leaders, including the “All Ceylon Jamaiyathul Ulema and Muslim Council of Sri Lanka” would accept heavy military patrolling of their areas, to curb the now disturbing “mystery man”. These Muslim religious leaders would now be held responsible, to have their “brethren” from taking on to the streets. All civilian protests and violence, are hence termed, “subversive”.

The Tamil Diaspora, that is often referred to as the “LTTE rump” by this regime and its defence establishment, was publicly held as culpable in the present chaos in the East, by DIG Pujitha Jayasundera. ““We won the war, and these people [the Tamil diaspora] are telling us stories of grease devils” the DIG is quoted by media as saying, addressing a gathering of civil society representatives in Batticoloa. Now the people should support the State security forces in maintaining security and enforcing law and order, had been the message, at this meeting.

Yet remaining “mystery” and Muslims

All of it begs answers to two important questions. What made the “grease devil” travel East and not South, from Kahawatte ? Why was the Muslim community the most sought after community by the “grease devil” and not the Sinhala or the Tamil communities ?

The two questions, seem to have one plain answer. The regime needs justifiable grounds, or a reasonably justifiable situation to have the military as its most powerful political factor in maintaining power, in a society that can have very little in terms of peace, or post war dividends. That military to be out on the streets with enough muscle strength, needs another “chaotic” conflict.

Such a conflict can not be afforded in the South. The “grease devil” therefore would not come to Galle, Matara or Hambantota. It would not come to Kalutara or Gampaha either. There is also no necessity in having such chaos in the Vanni or Jaffna. The Tamil society for now is rudderless and the military presence there is firm and wide spread. Therefore, the only area where such a conflict could be created adequately to ask for stronger military presence was the East, where the Muslim society is in their largest concentration.

A few months ago, few isolated incidents of unidentified gunmen shooting at a rival political cadre or two in the East around Batticoloa was hyped through media, as an issue of “numerous armed groups” operating with illegal arms. The Eastern Commander declared a dead line for the surrender of such arms and threatened to use force, if arms were not surrendered. It was made into a loud issue, but not loud enough to have the security forces out on streets, in this way.

It was the Muslim factor that actually gave the regime what they speculated for. The Muslim culture have proved they are more robust and aggressive than both the Tamil and the Sinhala cultures, when provoked. The spread of rumour targeting women in Muslim society, was also a sensitive cultural area for the Muslim men to get agitated against. And Muslim religion remains the only religion in the world that can have all their faith gathered consistently in mosques on every Friday afternoon and now during Ramazan fast, every evening. They therefore stand mobilised, even in the absence of political parties and other civil society forums and associations.

 

From “grease devil” to “mystery man”, it seems the Rajapaksa regime has got their agenda working. The justification for the military and security forces to be out on the streets, not only in the East, but from the Eastern coast to the North Western coast, including the Central province, has been well established for now. The Emergency Regulations extended or not, the Opposition for sure and this society as well, for another round of events, would not challenge the military out in force and in control of the society. It gave this regime enough justification to have the military back on the streets with some social acceptance and the Muslim leaders asking for security. This seems the end of this “greasing” of society for now with the military back in strength.