Evidence is slowly mounting that political leaders and policemen loyal to the former president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, played a role in the anti-Muslim riots that erupted in the city of Kandy this month. The shocking disclosures were made by eyewitnesses and victims, many of whom lost their homes and businesses in vicious mob-style attacks. The implications are enormous because for the first time this idyllic highlands district, long known for its spirit of religious tolerance and diversity, was torn apart by violence. Both police and political involvement indicate that fringe Buddhist extremists and hate mongers have godfathers. This means that the unrest in Kandy which saw scores of mosques, houses and shops being burned down were not spontaneous acts of religiously-motivated unrest. It also raises the possibility of other acts of violence targeting Sri Lanka’s Muslims being sponsored. Neither Rajapaksa’s party leaders nor the police are willing to accept their role in the affair. There is however closed-circuit television footage that proves otherwise. Instead of protecting people encircled by the mob, an elite police unit thrashed Muslim leaders and clerics.
All this serves to show how deeply and dangerously divided Sri Lanka is becoming. Layer by layer, we see the veneer of rising Buddhist nationalism against anti-Muslim sentiment in the region. The tinderbox has already exploded in parts and threatens the island nation’s government. There is some truth in the allegation that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, allied to Rajapaksa, campaigned and fought the local election on a similar platform. For the last decade or so, anti-Muslim sentiment has surged in Sri Lanka. The authorities there must guard against any move that would pit the minority community against the majority. The country has already lived through two decades of civil war. It can ill afford any more hate-mongering or war.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2018.
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