Violence broke out in Sri Lanka in the city of Kandy last week, inciting fear that tensions could escalate across the country.
The violence started with an altercation that has been cited as “road rage,” that led to a group of Muslim men beating up a Sinhalese man. The man subsequently died of his injuries. The event then sparked violent mobs and arson attacks against Muslims. Muslim establishments were set on fire, such as mosques, stores, and homes. A 27-year-old Muslim man died as result of being trapped on the second floor of his home, which was burned down.
Since the attacks, the government declared a state of emergency and has prohibited the use of certain social media sites, such as Facebook, Viber, and WhatsApp in order to prevent the circulation of extremist discourse. The state of emergency and social media restrictions were said to last for ten days.
If you don’t know the history of Sri Lanka, then a state of emergency, social media blackout and road rage ending in death and mobs might seem extreme. But the fact that it’s happening is a scary reminder of Sri Lanka’s violent history and an ominous warning sign that tensions have not been completely relieved.
A civil war plagued Sri Lanka for 26 years, only ending in 2009. The two warring groups were the Sri Lankan government and Tamils, who established a group now recognized as a terrorist organization called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The conflict goes all the way back to when British rule controlled Sri Lanka. During this time, the British favored the Tamils, the minority ethnic and Muslim group, over the Sinhalese, the majority ethnic and Buddhist group. Once Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948, the Sinhalese retaliated by making Sinhala the official language and Buddhism the primary religion. As tensions grew, the LTTE was formed in 1975 demanding a separate state for Tamils. In 1983 the civil war began.
While the war may now be over, it’s clear that the nation is still working towards peace. Last week’s outbreak of violence isn’t the first since the war, and people, particularly Muslims who have been targeted in the attacks, are critical of the government for not doing enough to monitor what’s going on.
Sri Lanka, an island located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of India, has become a popular tourist destination. According to the Washington Post, the recent violence shouldn’t affect tourism for now.
Looking forward, we can only hope that the country will be able to construct a peaceful future.