Tension in Ampara after fake ‘sterilization pills’ controversy | Sunday Observer

Tension in Ampara after fake ‘sterilization pills’ controversy

4 March, 2018

A.L. Farsith, the owner of the Ampara eatery that became the epicentre of ugly communal incidents last Monday (26), says, he had never heard of ‘wandapethi’ or sterilization pills until the day the mobs descended on his restaurant.

Yet, the video circulated widely on social media shows Farsith – wide-eyed and fearful – admitting to having included the sterilization drugs in food served at his restaurant.

“My Sinhalese is not very good. I had never heard the term ‘wandapethi’ before. I was afraid for my life, so I just nodded and said yes,”Farsith told the Sunday Observer’s sister publication Resa in an interview last week.

As a result of his coerced ‘confession’ the mob laid siege to Farsith’s little restaurant on D.S. Senanayake Street, Ampara. The restaurant owner, still in shock, says, he had only opened the eatery a few weeks ago. The incident was sparked by a customer who had found a small ball of dough in the food served at the restaurant, Farsith said. The customer made a phone call and 40 men descended on the eating house. The restaurant owner was remanded as a result of the video admission, and police took the food for examination.

But, the matter did not end there. The news spread like wildfire across Ampara town. In the violence that spilled over into the next morning, a mosque and several vehicles also suffered extensive damage. Five people were injured in the violence, but none seriously, correspondents from the area reported. Police and Army rolled in soon afterwards to keep the peace. Overnight and during the next few days, police provided heavy security to places of religious worship around the Ampara town. Tensions continued to simmer in the area however, with an attack on a bus bound for Colombo from Samanthurai yesterday.

Detrimental to reconciliation

Farsith remains determined to bring those who destroyed his business before the law and eventually restart his business. But the incident has raised fears of renewed hate campaigns and violence targeting a minority community.

A fear sowed by those with vested interests, the issue of ‘sterilization pills’ or medication that supposedly causes permanent infertility has become deeply rooted in society, cropping up at various junctures. Packets of gel found in clothes, to toffees given out free at clothing stores, the issue of sterilization pills has been playing out on social media platforms while spreading misinformation among the general public.

The rabid misinformation is loaded with subtext to accuse Muslims in particular, of attempting to wipe out the majority community in the island. The clothing stores in question are almost always Muslim-owned. These stores have been the targets of vicious communal attacks over the past several years, in Pepiliyana and Panadura most vividly.

Commenting on the recent issue that led to violence and property damage President Maithripala Sirisena said, these incidents were detrimental to the country’s reconciliation process. According to the President such incidents crop up at crucial junctures when policies to ensure National Reconciliation and Coexistence are being introduced, while the public must understand the real intentions of those instigating such incidents.

According to the head of the Walpola Rahula Institute for Buddhist Studies, Galkande Dhammananda Thera, the recent incidents in Ampara were a prime example that the public have not learnt lessons from the country’s turbulent past.

“When examining the beginning of Sri Lanka’s long drawn war it is evident that many incidents took place due to the political needs of various parties” the Thera said, adding that small groups claiming to be nationalists and their shortsighted actions along with inaction of the law enforcement agencies gave rise to a conflict in the country.

“We are seeing similar incidents now” Dhammananda Thera pointed out. According to him if anything was in fact added to the food the course of action should have been gathering evidence and proving the allegations, and not acting in such a violent manner. “This is an example of not taking past lessons into account” he said.

No sterilization pill

As the debate on such sterilization medication rages, especially, on social media platforms the question remains as to whether there is in fact such medication in existence that can permanently make a human being sterile. But due to the sensitive nature of the recent incidents many health professionals have been reluctant to broach the topic.

However, stepping in to explain the current medical situation, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Dr. U. D. P. Rathnasiri said, a female can only be made permanently sterile via surgery. “There are temporary birth control methods which are either short term or long term which include birth control pills, vaccination or the use of a loop” he explained, adding that the only permanent sterilization methods available are surgical methods.

“That is, vasectomy on males and tubal ligation surgery method used on females” he said. According to him to the best of his medical knowledge medical professionals can only temporarily delay pregnancies via pill and vaccination methods. “Scientifically, there is no pill that can render its user permanently sterile,” he confirmed.

Putting up a post on his social media page, Lecturer at the Melaka Manipal Medical College in Malaysia, Sri Lankan Dr. Mohamed Najimudeen has even offered a prize of Rs. 1,000,000 to anyone who can prove sterilization medicines are being added to clothes or food in the country by various individuals.

While the medical scenario remains so, with the information widely available to those in search of it, the fact that is most concerning is the public’s willingness to believe and accept anything which is presented to them.

Human nature

Speaking to the Sunday Observer on this phenomena, Sociologist and Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Jayewardenepura, Dr. Praneeth Abeysundara said, being manipulated by others for good or for bad is human nature.

“They don’t look for evidence but believe what is told to them” he said pointing out that such a situation is detrimental to a country when it reaches this level of violence, without proper fact checking being done. As a solution, Dr. Abeysundara suggests, the authorities and media should create awareness among the public so that developments of this nature are minimized.

Meanwhile, Professor of Sociology, University of Sri Jayawardenapura B.A. Tennyson Perera said, certain parties with ulterior motives have harnessed the incident to suit their agendas. “Each ethnic group have their prejudices, based on each group’s attitudes and values. However, these prejudices should not lead to ethnic strife.

Therefore, this problem should be solved before it amplifies into something bigger than it is,” he said. According to Prof. Perera it is important to solve the problem within the problem itself. He said, one method is for community leaders from each group, say the clergy, to have a dialogue, where they discuss the issue and come to a consensus.

In a statement issued about the violence, Chairperson of the Government Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga said, the attacks appeared to be well organized and orchestrated. Urging law enforcement to take action against the perpetrators immediately, President Kumaratunga said, there should be no tolerance of groups that seek to take the law into their own hands.

“Sri Lanka has a past of people creating disunity between communities for petty political gain,” Kumaratunga recalled in her statement.

Meanwhile, Ampara continues to be restive, as police investigations continue into the incidents. Five arrests have been made in relation to the violence in Ampara so far, and police have ensured residents in the area that security measures were being put in place to prevent a recurrence. But Muslim civil society groups worry about when and where the next flare up would be.