The once placid civil society has been torn down by angry mobs as the people have been ‘have-nots’ for too long.
The social calm and peace for which Sri Lanka was admired has been torn down by an angry public that has been deprived of the very basics of life. Through many years, Sri Lanka has faced a perplexing uphill battle, trying to integrate the Muslim and Tamil minority within the social fabric of the nation. However, this fabric, in its entirety, has occasionally found its seams being disturbed by the ruling elite, riding on the wave of communalism and religious fundamentalism sweeping across the island country. Whether it’s surging Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism that is harbouring anti-Muslim and anti-Tamil sentiments or poor government policies that are unable to stop the discrimination; Sri Lanka finds itself scratching at the cusp of “mobocracy” fuelled by communal violence. With so much unrest and discrimination against minorities, one begs to wonder if the government of the Rajapaksa era really pursued policies hostile to both the Muslims and the Tamil communities.
While an anti-Muslim and anti Tamil narrative in Sri Lanka has been a perennial subject; in recent times, it has exacerbated manifold. Muslims alone have faced a plethora of hostilities in the country and surprisingly these policies seem to be backed by the Sri Lankan government. Discriminatory government policies against the Muslim community, such as the forced cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims sheds light on how the government views its minorities. Although, the policy was later reversed, owing to international pressure, the fact that the government remained adamant on cremating Muslims while knowing that cremation is forbidden in Islam, was appalling. Moreover, there is also no substantial evidence that would back the cremation of victims in helping to curb the onslaught of Covid-19.
There have also been other examples of discriminatory legislation passed by the government, which further solidifies the government’s rhetoric of carrying hostile policies against minorities. One such policy is the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allowed the government to detain any individual without any warrant or charge and taking the right of being produced in the court away from the detained individual. Among other legislations that the government wanted to implement, was the draconian law of banning of the veil and the law that banned madrassas. If these laws were placed in effect completely, there would had been again an international outcry against the Sri Lankan government. These laws and legislative policies speak volumes of immense influence the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists have had on Gotabaya’s regime.
Since assuming office, the current administration has continued to single out and demonize Muslims and Tamils in order to divert attention away from the real issues. Mosques around the country were attacked, and social media was flooded with ‘hate speech’ and an anti Muslim rhetoric. Following these attacks and incidents, the officials hurried through emergency measures and used them to arbitrarily detain hundreds of Muslims. After more than 250 people were killed in coordinated suicide assaults carried out by a local Islamist cell and claimed by the Islamic State on Easter Sunday 2019, anti-Muslim sentiment further increased. Following these attacks, Muslims in numerous towns in Sri Lanka’s North Western Province were attacked during Ramadan.
Salis Malik is a freelance journalist and columnist based in Islamabad. He can be reached on Facebook @salismalik7777