By Shivanthi Ranasinghe
Those who verbally lynched Pakistan over the Sialkot incident have been left red faced by the overwhelming response from the Pakistani people. As a Government, a community and a Nation, Pakistan has not only condemned but also taken responsibility for the mob frenzy that brutally attacked and killed Sri Lankan national factory manager Priyantha Kumara. Pakistan’s efforts, however, have not received the attention it deserves – maybe because it does not support the general narrative certain vested interest groups promote of Pakistan.
Priyantha’s incident was perfect for those who work hard to portray our countries as primitive, intolerant and extremists. The EU was quick to contemplate revoking the much-touted GSP Plus privileges from Pakistan. This kind of knee jerk reactions from the West without giving the country in question a chance to resolve domestic issues is typical. Just how would restricting an economy resulting in job losses and income further the cause of human rights? This deserves an answer from the EU. More than an actual concern for human rights, obviously these incidents are just ploys for external agents to interfere with the country’s governance.
Pakistan clearly showed they did not need the proverbial headmaster’s stick to do the right thing.
1. Pakistan is treating the Sialkot lynching very seriously. To briefly recap, PM Khan has personally apologised and promised justice to the victim;
2. Investigations have been swift and thorough. Footage from 160 CCTV cameras were analysed to identify the perpetrators;
3. Within days Police arrested 131, nearly 26 were remanded, about 900 questioned;
4. The Government is treating this as a terrorist act, meaning they intend to bring the law heavily on the culprits;
5. Already one person, identified as Adnan, who justified Priyantha’s brutal killing on social media and later confessed to his crime before the court has been sentenced to one year in prison by the anti-terrorism court. A fine of Rs 10,000 has also being imposed.
Most importantly, Pakistan had not tried to dilute the incident or make excuses for it. Instead, as both a Government and as a nation Pakistan had apologised profusely to Sri Lanka. Even when Priyantha’s body returned to Sri Lanka, Pakistan remained very visible instead of slinking away.
An official from the embassy was seen placing a wreath on the coffin. Factory owner had pledged the family the victim’s salary without interruption for the next 10 years. The first salary cheque since the incident was recently deposited into Priyantha’s wife’s bank account.
The business community raised USD 10,000 for the family. The Pakistani expatriate communities living in Canada and USA had raised LKR 2.8 million and USD 40,000 respectively to be given to the family.
On 20 January 2022, the Pakistan High Commission, Colombo organised a Condolence Reference in memory of Priyantha. Addressing the large gathering that included Priyantha’s family, Buddhist clergy and other religious priests and few Parliamentarians, High Commissioner-designate of Pakistan Major General (Rtd) Umar Farooq Burki observed, “Each and every person in Pakistan from the Prime Minister Imran Khan to a common man on the street was aggrieved and strongly condemned this inhumane act”.
Of course, none of these words nor deeds will lessen the tragedy or the family’s trauma. At the same time, we must appreciate the effort taken by Pakistanis across the world to atone for this deeply depressing tragedy.
Commendably, Sri Lanka though justifiably outraged had remained calm. Political groups that gathered to protest in front of the US embassy over George Floyd’s murder never rallied outside the Pakistan HC or elsewhere.
Parliamentarians’ failure to take a united stand on Priyantha’s murder disappointed many in the public. The parliamentarians’ apathy was in contrast to the unity displayed by the Muslim MPs when Rishard Bathuideen and Azath Salley were in remand custody. Be that as it may, we must be thankful that none got into an ultranationalist trance because,
– This was an isolated incident;
– The perpetrators received neither sympathy nor support from the Pakistanis;
– Justice and compensation has been promised and already in the process of being delivered;
-Pakistan is one of our few all weather friends and their friendship has come without strings;
– Pakistan is an important counter balance for Indian hegemony.
Mob Attacks & Trade Union Actions
When news of Priyantha’s death first emerged, it was alleged that the possible cause could be an act of blasphemy committed by him. His family was quick to reject this notion. Priyantha, has worked in Pakistan for over 10 years. Thus he knew the people and the culture well. Hence, his family categorically rejected this allegation that he insulted the workers.
With this blasphemy theory bouncing around, the possible cause for the attack never surfaced properly in the Sri Lankan Media. However, Pakistan Media dealt more comprehensively of an issue that has being simmering for some time.
Over the years the police had received numerous complaints from both the factory owners and top management over the attitude of some of the factory workers. According to the Pakistan Media, employees would not finish the tasks assigned to them. Instead when insisted would threaten to go on strike.
Employers and managers from various factories had complained a number of times to the police that they feel threatened by the factory workers and are virtually being blackmailed by them. Non-compliant workers could not even be terminated from their jobs without possible backlash in terms of demonstrations and trade union action such as strikes.
In Priyanatha’s case, it became a mob frenzy. This proves the fears of top management and owners to be true and correct. In many ways, there is not much difference between the Pakistani and Sri Lankan workers. The biggest threat before Sri Lanka has proven to be the trade unions and not the pandemic. Today, all the public exams related to secondary education had to be postponed. The cause was not the pandemic but the trade union actions of principals and teachers.
Grade V scholarship exams, originally scheduled for 14 and 15 November, 2021 was forced to be rescheduled to 22 January 2022. The Ordinary Level exams, held in December, was postponed by six months and would be held in 23 May 2022. The Advanced Level exams was pushed from August to 7 February 2022.
In effect, trade unions effectively delayed by months the future of these children who were to sit in these exams in year 2021. Yet, none of the human rights advocates nor the opinionated West had rapped its cane against these trade unions for violating these children’s fundamental rights.
The Government’s soft peddling approach over the trade union action taken by the teachers and principals (over an issue that has been in existence for a quarter of a century) is threatening a seismic effect. These trade unions literally held children as hostages.
Though philanthropists like Dhammika Perera and a number of TV channels tried to offer an alternate medium of education, the Government was unable to make use of it. It is most unfortunate that the Government’s focus was locked in the vote base.
After having allocated Rs 30 million to redress the teachers’ salary anomalies, the other State sectors are facing a cash crunch. It would not be long before these sectors too would start agitating for salary increments.
While it is quite unlikely that our workers would resort to extreme measures as lynching, they too are quite callous. The blitz train strike on 15 December 2021 is a case in point. The sudden strike commenced at 12 pm. It was called off at 4 pm and train services resumed 40 minutes later after receiving an appointment with Minister of Transport Pavithra Wanniarchchi to discuss their grievances.
The passengers who were greatly inconvenienced by the train drivers’ and station masters’ union action were the schoolchildren.
Most deplorably, none of the passengers were even allowed into the station during the strike. Thus the children were literally stranded on the road, with nowhere to go, no money for an alternate mode of transport as many use the season ticket and no means to buy food or contact parents for help as Sri Lankan school children do not carry cellphones. It was reported in Divaina that children had become emotionally distressed because they were hungry and obviously scared.
This is without question child endangerment and negligence. We can only imagine how afraid the children might have been and the anxiety of their parents, especially those with daughters. At the same time we can only hope that none fell prey to the numerous drug peddlers and other nefarious characters.
Lynching vs Terrorism
Pakistan’s solidarity with Sri Lanka over Priyantha’s killing must be compared with the absolute silence maintained by India and its people over India’s role of aiding and abetting terrorism in Sri Lanka. As a sponsor of terrorism, Tamil youth were trained to literally butcher Sri Lankans of other ethnicities.
Among the hundreds of atrocities, we could never forget the Anuradhapura massacre where scores of Buddhist pilgrims were gunned down, the Aranthalawa and Gonagala massacres where Buddhist novice monks and Sinhala villagers were literally hacked to pieces and the Kebithigollawa massacre where a bus load of passengers, mostly pregnant women and their young children, were blasted to smithereens with a claymore mine bomb.
This three decade-long destruction to lives, livelihoods and to Sri Lanka in terms of sovereignty, economy and repute in the global forum was immense. Though India failed to arrest terrorism after forcing the 13A, India has neither acknowledged their grave error of judgment nor apologised for the immense damage we suffered from their mistake.
Instead, India shamelessly continues to push for the full implementation of the 13A and continues to sow ethnic dissent in Sri Lanka. The fact that India continues to insist on a political solution for Tamils in the North and East (whilst largely ignoring Tamils in the hill country who are of direct Indian descent), is on the face of it an aggression against the Sinhalese. At a much deeper level, this is actually an aggression against the whole country as India’s purpose is to use the separatism ideology as the cat’s paws to destabilise Sri Lanka for their own gain.
The US together with other western countries and India toppled a nationalist Government in 2015. The puppet regime they installed steered the country from one disaster to another. The fact that India supported President Gotabaya’s ascendency to power in 2019 is an admission that they made yet another mistake vis-a-vis Sri Lanka. Yet, India remains unapologetic.
Today’s Sri Lankan economic woes largely stems from the Yahapalana Government’s financial mismanagement. Even so, India quite shamelessly continues to insist on a 13th Amendment, despite it being despised by the majority of the country.
Amending the PTA
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his speech at the second session of the ninth Parliament pledged to amend the PTA. However, it is important to understand that the demand to amend this Act is not coming from the voters but from international bodies as the EU and the UNHRC.
Sri Lankans, after having experienced terrorism from various fronts for decades have no illusions of terrorism. Sri Lankans have not confused terrorism with democracy. From experience we know that terrorism challenges the very framework of democracy as terrorists try to force their demands that can never be won democratically. Therefore, if at all, Sri Lankans want the Act to be tougher.
This Government has pledged to adhere to international standards when it comes to dealing with terrorism. Before we honour these pledges however we must ensure that these so-called international standards can protect us from future endeavours by powerful countries to sponsor terrorism against Sri Lanka and its people and other unique challenges we overcame militarily.
Disclaimer: Sialkot Lynching, Indian Sponsored Terrorism & Amending the PTA - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view