Out of the 21 million population in Sri Lanka, Buddhists form the majority of 70 per cent, while the Muslims are in a minority with 9.8 per cent. During recent years, a section within the Buddhist and Muslim communities generated a massive turmoil where innocents from both sides got affected.
After the Easter attack, the situation drastically changed; a small section within the majority community wanted to wreak vengeance upon the Muslim community. The timely interference of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, eased the tension among the people by forgiving enemies and their faults and by enlightening peace and prospering love.
A leader from the majority community requested to boycott all Muslim businesses including restaurants, clothing, and shopping complexes. Especially Muslim owned restaurants as they were suspected of serving medicated food with sterilizing properties for the Buddhist which was a huge blow for the Muslims. He stated that Muslims hardly visit shops outside their own community and that other communities should do the same.
It is unfortunate, that even a section with the clergy was supporting the above extremists. One of the religious leaders, in his speech, was reported to have stated that a Muslim doctor from the Kurunegala District has sterilized thousands of Buddhist women in order to curb population growth. Rumours and videos where, alleged birth control medicine was found on women’s undergarments, on the seats of scooters and cafeterias near girl’s schools.
The Muslims spoke to media saying that they were devastated after hearing this as they were having a hard time earning a living and that this segregation has marked a downfall of their economy. The rumours have affected them in the long-run as per the present day the community fears to enter their shops.
The Easter bombing has ostracized innocent Muslims due to extremist minority actions. The mosques feared retaliation and offered their condolences immediately to by hosting white flags and banners conveying deepest sympathies to the deceased. They feared to step out of their homes, they were distressed and that any harm would brace them and their family members. Terrifying them in attending work because of the spread of hatred invading the local community. They also feared to vote for the new president Gotabaya Rajapaksha as he was seen as a pro-majority and that he would be biased to them.
Suspicion is one of the major evils now against the Muslim community post-April 2019 attack. Videos went viral on social media platforms where Muslim men dressed up as women were caught and beaten up by the mob as they were hiding under the burqa and the niqab. The burqa and the niqab were banned for Muslim women by the government passing a special bill to identify the perpetrators as an aftermath of the attack. The emergency decree was severe that anybody who trespasses the law would be even penalized by the death penalty. In some instances, women who were wearing burqa were forcefully refuted and prevented when using public transportation. The law was against their religious customs and beliefs yet the majority of them provided their cooperation. The majority had to suffer due to the actions of a handful.
Distrust against the Muslim community has been prevalent ever since. Presently the COVID-19 virus trapping the entire world and once again the Jama’ath is accused of spreading coronavirus within the country. The Muslim fanatics are suspected to spread the virus in supermarkets, hospitals and other public spaces. The extremists fail to recognize that Muslims usually have extended families and the vulnerability of getting infected to the virus is obviously at a greater proportion. The central province recently detected two Muslim individuals who escaped quarantine tested positive for Corona and they belonged to the Muslim majority cities of Akuruna and Katugastota . They were caught amidst a religious gathering in their mosques. This further aroused the local communities who were flooding with anger and intolerance for the irresponsible acts headed by them at a critical time like this. Currently the two cities are locked down until further notice.
A year later, religious extremism has failed to cease among the communities; it requires a long-standing resolution to avoid deep-rooted religious polarization in the country.
On 21 April 2019, terrorists owing allegiance to the Islamic State targeted churches and hotels in Colombo, as people were celebrating the Easter Sunday. More than 250 were killed, and 500 injured.
One year later, the International Peace Research Initiative (IPRI) within the Conflict Resolution and Peace Research Programme (CRPR) at the NIAS looks at the lessons learned, the road ahead, and issues that need to be addressed. The IPRI debate on “One year after the attacks in Sri Lanka” is multi-disciplinary, looking at inter and intra-ethnic relations, policy inputs, security and justice