The Muslim community in a central Myanmar town is still facing hard times even five years after they had suffered a Buddhist mob rampage.
Meiktila in central Mandalay region had seen a violence in March 2013 that left 43 people dead and about 12,000 homeless, most of them Muslims.
Community leaders are slowly healing the emotional scar caused on the people by the violence through the interfaith dialogues and activities.
“The incident destroyed our mutual trust. So we are working together with Buddhist leaders to rebuild it since after the violence,” said San Win Shein, a Muslim community leader in Meiktila.
“It is not that easy (to make people fully recover) as both sides had been hurt by the violence,” he told Anadolu Agency by phone on Monday.
“However, the relations between Buddhist and Muslim communities were improving,” he said.
The violence erupted after a mob attacked a Muslim-owned gold shop in the center of Meiktila following a dispute on March 20, 2013.
Over the next two days more than 40 people were killed by the mob, which also destroyed Muslim homes, set fire to mosques and attacked religious schools.
– Radical Buddhist faction
“The residents now seem to have realized how bad the effect of such incident on society is,” said San Win Shein, who is joint-secretary of the town’s inter-faith association formed by the government after the violence.
“So they are cooperating with us in making sure such bad things never happen here again,” he said.
However, the community leaders described radical Buddhist faction “a major threat” to their effort to maintain stability and harmony between the two communities.
A group of hardline Buddhists including monks is carrying out events propagating hate speech routinely since it was established in early 2016.
Withodda, a Buddhist monk in Meiktila, is famous for his effort to save around 800 Muslims during the violence. Despite the threat from the Buddhist rioters, he let Muslims taking refuge in his monastery.
He told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that the events organized by the group of hardline Buddhists are losing audience. “However, it still attracts people with poor knowledge on non-Buddhist religions,” he added.
“That’s why we are working at full speed to raise public awareness on multi-religion and multi-culture,” Withodda said.
However, he said some government officials still need to “change their mindset” on non-Buddhist religions.
– Freedom of worship
“Like Buddhists, followers of other religions should also enjoy their rights,” he said, pointing out to recent reports of authorities imposing limits on the places of worships on Christians and Muslims.
“They also need to act with wisdom and courage for freedom of worship,” he said.
Five years on, seven out of 13 mosques in Meiktila — which had been chained shut during the 2013 violence — remain closed, making difficulty for Muslims to worship.
“It’s obvious that six mosques are not enough for Muslim population here,” said Htein Lin Khaing, a Meiktila-based activist.
Moreover, a recent order by the township administrative office banned the prayer service at non-religious building.
The letter dated on March 7 states action will be taken on those who conduct religious activities at building which has not authorized by the authorities. “This is unnecessary, and will only make people panic,” said Htein Lin Khaing.
A Muslim resident, who asked not to be named due to security concerns, told Anadolu Agency that he is taking great care in dealing with his daily life so that they avoid the nightmare again.
“What I feel is my Buddhist neighbors still view us problem makers for what had happened five years ago,” he said over phone.
“We, Muslims, were actually victims, not trouble makers” he added.