By Jawad Akram
Recent flare-up of anti-Muslim riots in Kandy, a central district in Sri Lanka, by Sinhalese Buddhist extremists has recalled the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state of Myanmar by local Buddhist majority, last year (2017). Sinhalese Buddhists constitute about 75 percent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million population and Muslims in Sri Lanka are about 9 percent of total population.
One thing is common in both tragedies – Buddhist extremists are involved on both lands. But another thing draws a clear demarcation between them – Killings, arsons, rapes and other damages in Myanmar were extremely high as compared with Sri Lanka’s riots. Massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar was declared as “Textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by United Nations.
Here in Sri Lanka, Muslims have been killed; their shops, dwellings and Mosques have been vandalized and ablazed, but tide of atrocities could not reach to the level of Myanmar’s cruelties. Albeit there are a few apparent local triggers for current riots in Kandy, but it may also provide a fissure for India to meddle into affairs of Sri Lanka, which is going into China’s sphere with changing geopolitical situation of this region. China and India, both, are vying for regional dominancy in this area.
Historically, Myanmar remained closer to India, and Sri Lanka remained closer to Pakistan for most of times.
There may be another theory that in a well-planned manner, anti-Muslim venomous sentiments are being ignited among Buddhist extremists of this region – Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and may be later on in other countries of this region as well.
But to surprise, Sri Lanka is gaining success in curbing this lethal wave of communal violence, while Myanmar failed as a state to protect its Muslim population. This is because Sri Lanka, as a state, is not involved in killings of Muslims. Though Myanmar and Sri Lanka, both are Buddhist majority countries but Sri Lankan Army and Police are trying their best to protect Muslims while Myanmar’s Army was itself involved in the massacre, rape and torching of Muslims, just like Indian state machinery was involved in mass killings of Muslims in Gujarat, India (2002). In Gujarat riots of 2002, thousands of Muslims were killed brutally and women were raped. Indian current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat then.
Buddhists of Sri Lanka have also denounced killings of Muslims in Kandy. Hundreds of Buddhist monks and activists staged a demonstration in the Sri Lankan capital on Friday to condemn these anti-Muslim riots. Lankans have been lashing out at extremists. Lankan celebrities are also lambasting these extremist Buddhists. Sri Lankan diaspora in different countries is also condemning these waves of atrocities.
Immediately after eruption of riots, Colombo declared state of emergency and curfew was imposed. Access to internet was blocked to curb hate speech, memes and violent Buddhist rhetoric. Main culprit behind this communal violence Amith Weerasinghe and a few of his associates are under arrest.
Sri Lankans, as a nation, have already been war weary because of long civil war with Tamil tigers. They have fought a hard ethnic civil war against Tamil Tigers for nearly three decades, which ended in 2009. They know well the difference between war and peace, so majority of them want harmonious peaceful environment to live in. That’s why Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka are also condemning their extremist factions.
That Civil War with Tamils, spanning to nearly three decades, have made Sri Lankan Army, a well experienced army for countering terrorism. So they are gradually restoring conditions to normalcy.
For enduring peace and avoidance of raising of ugly head of communal violence within country, Colombo needs to avoid inaction against real culprits behind these riots, otherwise more lethal episodes of communal violence would emerge in future in a more dreadful way.