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Anti-Hate Rally Attempts to Tackle Emerging Racism in Sri Lanka

Anti-hate activists in Sri Lanka plan to gather in the capital city of Colombo on the 28th of April. The country has recently seen a spate of isolated violent attacks and broad-based hate rhetoric against minorities. This rally comes just two weeks after a peaceful candlelight vigil by citizens standing outside the Bodu Bala Sena (or Buddhist Strength Force, aka BBS) offices in Colombo was disrupted by the BBS and the Sri Lanka Police (see Global Voices report).

Rally for unityThe candlelight vigil, organized by a group known as Buddhists Questioning Bodu Bala Sena was the first public protest organized to decry what many view as a protracted campaign of hate speech by the BBS against minority groups in the country. Blogger Indrajit Samaraiva attributes the politics of the BBS to more complex dynamics within the Sinhala Buddhist community as well. Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra speculates that the activities of BBS are tactics of distraction from other problems plaguing the island nation.

Having started by protesting against the Halal certificate, the BBS moved on to criticize the Islamic dress codes for women, reported veteran journalist and blogger D.B.S Jeyaraj. Many isolated incidents were subsequently reported from across the country of attacks prompted by BBS hate speech.

Though the BBS has been the most vocal of these ultra right nationalistic organizations, the latest spate of Islamophobia and anti minority rhetoric in Sri Lanka started before its emergence into the limelight with the attack on a Muslim shrine in the city of Anuradhapura, followed by an attack on a much larger mosque in Dambulla.

Churches have not been spared either, and some Buddhist temples that do not agree with the specific ideology of these extremist groups have also fallen prey to attacks. Muslim owned businesses have been a special area of focus for hate groups; one was recently attacked in Colombo, with monks featuring prominently in the mob that did the deed. The BBS has also carried out numerous illegal raids with apparent police support, the most notorious of which was a raid on an abattoir in Colombo carried out under the unfounded claim that animals were being slaughtered there against city regulations.

Since of late, there has been a gathering force of anti hate sentiment to counter hate speech, especially apparent in Sri Lanka’s social media sphere. Movements like the Buddhists Questioning Bodu Bala Sena, Love not Hate and this petition have been trying to create momentum to overcome it. Still raw after 30 years of civil war, Sri Lanka’s public sentiment in some areas needs no prompting to associate racial discrimination to potential violence on a grand scale.

A Facebook event to propagate the “Rally For Unity” has got good response. Fazly Mowjood has this resolve:

if the racist groups are not going to stop spreading racism in the country then we Srilankans are going to stop it for them & this coming Sunday is going to be only the beginning, there will be more to come until the last racist group in Sri Lanka is SILENTLY STOPPED!!!

The volunteers who are arranging the protests pooled in some pocket money and bought materials to create these posters:

Posters for Rally for Unity. Image courtesy Rally For Unity Facebook page

Posters for Rally for Unity. Image courtesy Rally For Unity Facebook page

Sunday’s rally appears targeted at decrying hate speech in a more generic sense, and does not appear to target any group in particular, a key difference from the candlelit vigil. Increasing support from politicians like former SL cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga and actor turned politician Ranjan Ramanayake is also an encouraging sign of the gathering momentum of the anti hate movement in the Sri Lankan mainstream.

  • Pingback: Anti-Hate Rally Attempts to Tackle Emerging Racism in Sri Lanka | OccuWorld

  • http://www.facebook.com/metteyya.brahmana Metteyya Brahmana

    Although I strongly disagree with the anti-Islamic current focus of BBS, I think they have a right to be concerned that the Buddhist values of Sri Lanka are under attack by outside forces. Sincere Muslims and Hindu Tamils actually share a common desire that Sri Lanka not go the way of Thailand, in which free-sex and prostitution, gambling, and other vices are commonplace in the country. Some Westerners think that vice-oriented “businesses” in Sri Lanka would make the country more ‘secularized’, modern, and open to Western values, but part of what makes Sri Lanka special is the spiritual emphasis in the culture, and Buddhism is at the center of this spiritual emphasis.

    So rather than having an anti-BBS rally, these folks should be trying to unite ALL Sri Lankans in a common cause to retain its very long pre-colonial spiritual heritage, which includes Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. If sincere Christians also want to be part of this effort to maintain Sri Lanka’s spiritual heritage, they are welcome as well. But we have to be suspicious of any group sponsored by Western countries in Sri Lanka that either is trying to divide-and-conquer the country through promoting separatism for certain groups, or who are trying to create the conditions favorable to Thailand like vice-oriented businesses.

    Establishing gambling zones, for example, in a separate Tamil-governed area in the North favored by some American businessmen, like casino promoter Shelden Adelson, should be viewed as troublesome exploitation of the post-war political situation in the North, not legitimate efforts to protect the Tamils.

    Once Sri Lanka embraces Thailand-like vices as part of the culture, it is extraordinarily difficult to go back to the former spiritual values that have made Sri Lanka a special place. There are plenty of places in the world where people can go to get drunk on alcohol, get high on drugs, pay to see and engage in sex, and gamble their hard earned money away. Let’s unite around making sure Sri Lanka does not become one of these places.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=535165489 Hansi Munasinghe

      I agree with you that “the Buddhist values of Sri Lanka are under attack by outside forces,” but unfortunately the BBS, Sinhala Ravaya and other organizations have identified Muslims and Tamils who have been living in our island for hundreds of years as “the outside forces”. It is organizations like the BBS that make it impossible for ALL Sri Lankans to unit against injustice, corruption and the negative impacts of gambling and red light districts. Instead of going after political and business interests that are harming our island, organizations like BBS and Sinhala Ravaya have begun a campaign against minorities. It is their attacks against Muslims, Tamils, Christians and moderate Sinhalese Buddhists that need to be stopped. This rally is against extremism of all forms. We all know what happened in 1983. Those mistakes were made before we were even born, and we had to pay the price of that. We can not let history repeat itself.

  • RolandDeschamps

    Metteyya Brahmana and Hansi Munasinghe are both spot on. The BBS must be changed from within. If it is allowed to continue unabated, it will destroy this country. It will play right into the hands of western subversion. It would require leadership of great stature and vision to bring sense into this outfit.

    Tamils and Muslims are excellent Sri Lankans with excellent values. They should be left alone and permitted to practice their beliefs, however contrary they may seem to the Buddhist majority.

    The Buddhist majority should focus on practicing their tenets. If they do this, it will not be possible for outfits like the BBS to rear their ugly heads (this includes all extremist organisations, the LTTE included).

    There is hope for Sri Lanka though, I must say. This is because the BBS is clearly not accepted by the majority of Sri Lankans. More communities leaders such as Arjuna Ranatunga must pull their weight against extremism.

  • Baba Sariffodeen

    the racism is clearly orchestrated by monks and their allies belonging to the Low caste system. Their lives are always at a disadvantaged level. By spearheading racist agendas, they can propel themselves to the fore-front of Sri lanka society and be counted as National Buddhist heroes. Their dhobi castes thus cleverly concealed.

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