Earlier this month, Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency after riots against the Muslim minority. The violence in the Kandy district was ignited by the murder of a Buddhist man, of which a group of Muslims was accused. Elackiya Sithamparanathan explains how the conflict is rooted in the division of her home country along ethnic lines.
Police inspect the damage after the rioting in the Kandy region. Photo CrowdSpark/ Alamy Stock Photo
‘Sri Lanka is a country split between three major ethnic groups. The Sinhalese people are in the vast majority, with about three quarters of the population. The Tamils and Moors are minorities. Then there is also a division according to religion: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. The violence this month was mostly by Buddhists towards Muslims. Rumours were spread that Muslims try to limit the population growth of other ethnic groups by putting sterilization pills in restaurant food. Regardless of whether these stories are true, they fuel hatred.
On the other hand, the minorities in Sri Lanka sometimes feel that they are oppressed by the government, as the Sinhalese dominate parliament and the army. The recent incidents reminded me of the civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, which ended in 2009. Maybe the government also thought of that; it intervened strongly this time in order to restore peace. During the two-week state of emergency, the troops were given rights to search and arrest people without a warrant. And probably even more effective was the blocking of all social media platforms so that people were not able to initiate more riots.
I think Sri Lanka will be a divided country for a while longer. People from my generation of Tamils still feel distant from the Sinhalese because of memories of the civil war. And there is a language barrier. Sinhala is very different from the Tamil language. Among the generation that is currently growing up, things are slowly getting better. All children have the opportunity to learn both languages at school. Hopefully this will facilitate better interaction and understanding in the future.’