Wednesday, March 21, 2018 06:14:16 PM

Three years since Aluthgama: Hopes for co-existence remain more elusive than ever

By Ayesha Zuhair - Wed Jun 14, 3:34 pm

Featured image courtesy Thyagi Ruwanpathirana

Today marks the third anniversary of the Aluthgama riots, a seismic event in the history of Sri Lanka’s troubled ethnic relations. The dark days of 15th and 16th June 2014, saw marauding mobs unleash collective violence on Muslim-owned businesses, buildings and homes in Aluthgama, Beruwala, Dharga Town, Welipenna and Mathugama in the Kalutara district located along the island’s south-western coastal belt. The rioting and looting resulted in the loss of four lives, injuries to 80 persons, and caused extensive damage to property.

Apart from the tangible losses, the violence of June 2014 brought into full focus the very real and devastating consequences of a coordinated programme by divisive forces to drive hatred, fear and suspicion into the minds of the Sinhala-Buddhist population. A result of the anti-Muslim sentiment cultivated in the post-war period, the riots in Aluthgama and its neighbouring towns severely impaired relations between the country’s Buddhist and Muslim communities on the one hand, and between the minorities and a then indifferent government on the other.

Based entirely on propaganda, this virulent anti-Muslim campaign conjured a narrative in which the Muslim minority was falsely portrayed as representing economic, cultural, demographic and political threats to the Sinhala-Buddhist majority. By levelling unsubstantiated allegations of growing ‘radicalisation’, it sought to demonise the vastly peaceful and well-integrated Muslim community of Sri Lanka….

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