Muslims afraid, resentful as ethnic divide deepens in Sri Lanka

10th May, 2019 09:55:05 printer

RATHMALYAYA: N.K. Masliya says she has been visiting a neighborhood clinic in the northwestern Sri Lankan village of Rathmalyaya for over five years, always dressed in a black abaya - a cloak-like over-garment worn by some Muslim women, reports Reuters.

But when Masliya went to the clinic nearly three weeks after Islamic militants killed over 250 people in churches and hotels across the country, she said things had changed. The 36-year-old said she was in a queue with her five-year-old daughter when a nurse told her to remove her abaya, saying: “What if you blow us up with your bomb?”

Muslim groups say they have received dozens of complaints from across Sri Lanka about people from the community being harassed at workplaces, including government offices, hospitals and in public transport since the Easter Sunday attacks.

The government has blamed the attacks on two little-known radical Islamic groups. Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

In the city of Negombo, where over 100 people were killed at the St. Sebastian’s Church during Easter prayers, many Pakistani refugees said they fled after threats of revenge from locals. Now, anger against Muslims seems to be spreading. On Sunday, a violent clash erupted between local Muslims and Christians after a traffic dispute.

“The suspicion towards them (Muslims) can grow and there can be localized attacks,” said Jehan Perera of non-partisan advocacy group, the National Peace Council. “That would be the danger.”

A ban on facial veils and house-to-house searches by security forces in Muslim-majority neighborhoods across the country have added to the distrust.

The government says it is aware of tensions between communities and is closely monitoring the situation.

“The government is consciously in dialogue with all the religious leaders and the community leaders,” Nalaka Kaluwewa, Sri Lanka’s director general of information, told Reuters, adding that security has been increased across the country to avoid any communal tensions.

Muslims make up nearly 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist. The Indian Ocean island was torn for decades by a civil war between separatists from the mostly Hindu Tamil minority and the Sinhala Buddhist-dominated government.

The government stamped out the rebellion about 10 years ago.

In recent years, Buddhist hardliners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force”, have stoked hostility against Muslims, saying influences from the Middle East had made Sri Lanka’s Muslims more conservative and isolated.