Ethnic and communal riots in Sri Lanka targeting the country’s Muslims, who account for 7% of the population, threaten post-civil war peace and stability in the country. If the government does not crush the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism that has led to the attacks on Muslims, it will turn against the Tamil minority sooner rather than later, resurrecting ghouls from the civil war. The violence, though concentrated in and around the city of Kandy in the country’s Central Province, is serious enough to warrant the imposition of emergency in Sri Lanka. The government has also suspended social media services, as these have been used as vehicles for propagating hate messages.
At 7% of the population, Muslims are the third-largest community in the country. Following the end of the civil war in 2009, Muslims emerged as the targets of hardline Sinhala resentment, replacing the predominantly Hindu Tamils. The provocation for the current round of violence was the death of a Sinhalese-Buddhist youth allegedly at the hands of a group of Muslim men in an incident of road rage. This opportunity was seized on by hardline Sinhala groups to incite violence, targeting Muslim-owned businesses and homes, and mosques. The convincing victory by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party in the local council elections in February, and a trickle of Rohingya immigrants, have given fresh impetus to the hardliners. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have responded by increasing the deployment of forces in the area for 10 days.
The majoritarian ideology of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism must be combated and eliminated from the island-nation’s Constitution. Majoritarianism can lead only to violence and strife in a multicultural society. Sri Lanka’s leadership must rise to the challenge.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.