This research paper explores three incidents of Anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka: Puttalam in 1976, Galle in 1982 and Mawanella in 2001. This paper intends to cast light on anti-Muslim violence over the past three to four decades outside of the north and east, episodes that have been masked, lost or suppressed in the commonly narrated recent histories of political and religious violence in Sri Lanka.
The history of violence against Muslims during this period is overshadowed by the armed conflict and extreme polarization precipitated by Sinhala and Tamil nationalisms. The incidents recorded are often limited to those in the north and east. It is necessary that the post-war resurgence in anti-Muslim hostility is historicized and placed within the wider sweep of anti-Muslim hostility within Sri Lanka over the past few decades. The distinct experience of political and ethnic violence experienced by the Muslims in the context of Sinhala-Muslim tensions requires greater empirical attention and theorizing than it is has received.
This paper is posited as a step towards addressing this lacuna. This research is also motivated by the possibility that a deeper understanding of the temporal, spatial, political economic and social dynamics of anti-Muslim violence can illuminate the broader conditions that generate and reproduce communal violence more generally.
The phrase ‘regime-change’ is often used to describe the dramatic result of the presidential election on 8th January 2015, both in the sense of a democratic change of government, as well as at a deeper level, to denote the electorate’s expression of a choice between two competing conceptions of the Sri Lankan state. The country rejected the Rajapaksa model and endorsed the common opposition’s promise of a radically different vision of Sri Lanka. With the main part of the common opposition’s promised reforms enacted in the form of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in April, the electorate will be asked to endorse those changes and the promise of more, or to reject both, in the parliamentary elections in two weeks’ time.
As a youth in the late 70s, Bob Simpson chose the drumming community here in Sri Lanka for his doctoral thesis. Currently a Visiting Professor in bioethics at the Colombo Medical Faculty, he laments the death of a healing, living tradition while recalling the past with Kumudini Hettiarachchi
“At present there is much drama regarding the cross overs from the ruling coalition to the opposition and vice versa on the political stage. On one hand these cross overs have generated much interest in the political campaign in general and anticipation about who would cross next kind of mentality on the other. Little we realise that these cross overs are happening within the same ‘political class’ which has been formed primarily during the post independence politics in the country-though some players have lineage to historical political figures who were active in politics during the pre 1948 period. One aspect of these cross overs relates to the concepts of positions (tanaturu) and privileges (vara prasada). These have to be examined in the country’s historical and sociological context for a better understanding.”
More than twelve centuries of peaceful cohabitation between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka has made both communities interdependent. Therefore safety and security of the one lies in the safety and the security of the other mutually.
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of Sri Lanka’s Centre for Policy Alternatives, believed the group, which he described as a purveyor of “classic hate speech,” had become emboldened by the lack of censure over the events at Aluthgama.
“Their more violent or aggressive demonstrations of power, involving even criminal acts, have gone unpunished,” he told CNN. “They seem to have a lot of support, if not protection, from within the regime itself.”
Thus class and political domination go hand in hand. To get out of this situation of domination and be free, the masses in all classes need to first understand the nature of this ‘post-colonial grip’ and its bases carefully crafted by the political class over a period of time, how it disenfranchises and disempowers the population in the lower classes, and what to do to change the situation by transforming the self-serving political culture? By the same token, one has to carefully examine the nature of contemporary surplus extraction and public wealth appropriation processes plus the causes and conditions of poverty.
The Sinhalese society is constructed on the basis of several key hierarchies. These include the party-political, religious (including Buddhist and deity worship), caste, bureaucratic-administrative, professional (e.g. educational, medical) and the military. Understanding how these hierarchies are formed and they way they operate is one way to approach this subject. In doing so, one has to understand the nature of those who hold positions within them. There are also layer upon layer of ‘interconnecting relationships’ based on the hierarchies mentioned here.
Well over a million people of Sri Lankan origin live outside South Asia. The Encyclopedia of the Sri Lanka Diaspora is the first comprehensive study of the lives, culture, beliefs and attitudes of immigrants and refugees from this island. The volume is a joint publication between the Institute of South Asian Studies, NUS, and Editions Didier Millet. It focuses on the relationship between culture and economy in the Sri Lanka diaspora in the context of globalisation, increased transnational culture flows and new communication technologies. In addition to the geographic mapping of the Sri Lanka diaspora in the various continents, thematic chapters include topics on “long distance nationalism”, citizenship, Sinhala, Tamil and Burgher disapora identities, religion and the spread of Buddhism, as well as the Sri Lankan cultural impact on other nations.
A majority of Sinhalese are less extremist, more rational and more humane than their Rajapaksa-saviours, according to the latest opinion survey by the Centre of Policy Alternatives (CPA). They are also becoming increasingly discommoded by and therefore disaffected with the existing regimen.
Mahinda‘Top Line Survey: Democracy in Post-War Sri Lanka’ contains many expected and unexpected insights into the collective thinking of the Lankan people. One of the most politically portentous and (helpful) findings is that an absolute majority of Sinhalese (59.1%) think that ‘the government should give priority to allocating resources to rebuild the conflict afflicted areas, even if this means that less money is spent in the rest of the country’. Only a miniscule 7.9% of Sinhalese think that ‘rebuilding the conflict affected areas should not be given priority over the needs of the rest of the country’.
The Sinhalese felt the war is over and terrorism defeated, so what was there to talk about? The Tamils felt that by even taking part in my film they were implicitly agreeing with the government. That somehow all projects aiming at understanding the other were aligned with the Sri Lankan regime. Clearly, they saw little progress was being made to tackle the problems for Tamils in Sri Lanka and the question of accountability should trump any other efforts. I understand that. I didn’t agree with them, but I respect their right to hold these views and their decision not to take part. Clearly, they saw little progress was being made to tackle the problems for Tamils in Sri Lanka and the question of accountability should trump any other efforts. I understand that.
Perhaps at some point in the future both groups would be ready to talk to me and others whose approach to the conflict was different to theirs.
But I had also been moved by Ethir’s firm stance. Even if you agreed that reconciliation was the right approach, just talking about it wasn’t enough.