Muslims form a crucial part of the Sri Lankan minority segment, and often, their demands or aspirations are buried in the demands of the Tamils.
The 30-year-old war did as much harm to the Muslims as much as they affected the Tamils. It is therefore important that the Muslim factor too is given equal prominence and importance in the process towards creating a durable solution to the ethnic problem.
It is not an easy task
Tamils and Muslims are completely different from each other in their ideologies and lifestyle. Therefore, naturally, the demands pertaining to a political solution differ. Muslims had no major in the ethnic question, but they were victims.
However, a considerable section of the Muslim community was part of the early stages of the struggles, because they were also identified as a Tamil-speaking community.
However, the scenario changed in 1981 when the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) was established. The launch of the SLMC resulted in the Muslims being identified as a separate ethnic community.
The 1990 eviction
The year 1990 was a crucial year in the annals of the ethnic crisis where over 72,000 Muslims were forcibly evicted from their homes in the North.
The first expulsion was in Chavakachcheri, where 1500 Muslims were asked to vacate their homes. The Muslims in Jaffna were evicted on October 30, 1990, soon after the expulsions from Kilinochchi and Mannar.
The evicted Muslims settled down in various parts of the island, most of them in Puttalam.
The incident created a lot of bitterness between the Tamils and the Muslims which was evident especially in the Eastern Province where both communities form a sizable component of the entire population.
Post war, the Tamil and Muslim leadership have had several rounds of talks trying to reach a mutual agreement over the framework that is needed to solve the larger problem.
At the same time, the relationship between both communities has also improved over time.
LTTE tenders apology
In 2002 in a press briefing held in Wanni soon after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with the then United National Front Government, the LTTE expressed its regret over the expulsion.
LTTE’s Chief negotiator and Strategist Anton Balasingham who appeared alongside LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in what would be his last public appearance, stated that they had already apologized to the Muslims adding that the Tamil homeland also belonged to the Muslims.
But, that apology did not have much of an impact as the relationship was once again strained as hundreds of Muslims were affected in Muttur, East of Trincomalee when fighting intensified in 2006.
Later in 2015 during the 25th commemoration of the expulsion, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, M.A. Sumanthiran criticized the Tamils for keeping silent when the Muslims were evicted.
Today, eight years after the war, several Muslims have been resettled in their hometowns in the North along with Tamils. However, recently, several Muslims joined the protest in Mullikulam, Mannar demanding that their lands occupied by the Navy be handed back.
Unity among the minority communities is a vital component in the process towards a lasting solution. The government cannot, and should not, work with the Tamils alone in this journey, The Tamils too need to identify and understand the needs of the Muslims in formulating a suitable framework to end the crisis.
Most importantly, it is important that the process is not hampered by minor misunderstandings between the said communities.
The government too needs to encourage both parties to work together not only to address the long-term needs, but also the short term requirements of the communities.