Riddled by decades of ethnic civil war, Sri Lanka is now on a verge of a religious divide. The Sinhala Buddhists are allegedly fuelling anti-Muslim sentiments in this small nation. Last week, fresh protests demanded five female Muslim teachers to stop wearing abaya robes at the Shanmuga Hindu Ladies College in Sri Lanka. “Wearing abaya destroys Hindu culture,” the protesters chanted. The protesters said that the Muslim teachers started wearing an abaya to impose their culture and convert the children to Islam.
Lanka, the island-country once regarded as the safest abode for Muslims in the Asian region, is caught up in ethnic conflict once again. Anti-Muslim protests are not new in Sri Lanka. Protests and riots have been mainly led by the hardliners but now lingering tensions are evident in the emergence of the Hindu nationalist movement. Protests are based on persistent baseless rumors about Muslims trying to dominate by having more children and carrying out conversions. But statistics show Muslims being the minority, making up about nine percent of Sri Lanka’s population, Hindus about 13 percent and Buddhists about 70 percent.
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Earlier this year, the communal tension between the Buddhists and the Muslims broke out over a traffic dispute. Reports say that four Muslim men attacked a Buddhist truck driver, who later succumbed to injuries which led to the Sri Lankan government declared a state of emergency and blocking of social media platforms. The weeklong unrest saw mosques, homes, and businesses being destroyed.
Over the years fringe Buddhist groups in Sri Lanka have been inciting violence through hate speech. A large portion of the tension is attributed to Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. Their ethnic cum religious nationalism has become the only trump to capture power. According to a Sri Lankan daily Colombo Telegraph, this has transmogrified into a poisonous philosophy of ethnic cleansing. The hardliners are also believed to have exploited the silence and inaction of the government.
Historical facts cement the centuries-old Buddhist-Muslim coexistence in Sri Lanka but the current state of affairs have undeniably dented that centuries-long secular fabric.