What do Sinhalese think of Tamils

Religions in Sri Lanka: Legacy of violence


Read on one side

More than 300 dead and at least 500 injured: Muslim extremists were probably aiming to kill as many Christians as possible on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. Exactly how far these acts were initiated from outside Sri Lanka is still unknown. However, considerable tensions between the individual ethnic groups and religions are nothing new in the society of the country. Above all, however, the great conflict of the past decades, the civil war between the majority of the population of the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese and the mostly Hindu Tamils, has not yet been resolved.

This war was a legacy of colonialism. After independence from the British in 1948, the clashes between the population groups, who had largely coexisted peacefully for two millennia, escalated. The reason: the colonial rulers had given the Tamil minority an advantage over the Sinhalese, for example through a disproportionately high share of administrative posts. In 1983 this conflict turned into open civil war.

The nationalist head of state Rajapaksa succeeded in 2009 with the Sri Lankan army in defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who fought nationwide with suicide attacks and explosions for an independent Tamil state on the island. To do this, he had the Tamil settlement area in the north bombed. Peace was then made - but the war crimes on both sides have never been dealt with.

"Strong prejudices against Muslims"

The violence in the country has shifted since then. While the attacks by nationalist Buddhists were directed against the Tamils ​​until 2009, after the peace agreement, it was mainly Muslims who fell victim to racist clashes.

The Muslim minority makes up almost ten percent of Sri Lanka's population. Most of the Muslims are Sunni, and some are also Sufis. They trace their origins back to Persian and Arab traders who have been trading in the region since the seventh century. The merchants married Tamil and Sinhala women and settled in the east of the island around Batticaloa and Ampara. The Portuguese, who controlled Sri Lanka since the 16th century, called them "Moors". They still refer to themselves as "Moors" today.

Muslims are not systematically oppressed, says Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, professor of history at the University of Colombo: "Nonetheless, there are strong prejudices against them, not only on the part of Sinhala Buddhists, but also from Christians and Tamils." And there is growing competition between Muslim and Sinhala business people.

The Buddhist nationalists also take advantage of this. The Buddhist Power Force, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) has been agitating for a unified Buddhist state since 2012. Since 2014 there have been repeated attacks by Buddhists on Muslim businesses. Thugs attack mosques. "Yes, we are racists. Yes, we are religious extremists," the Sinhalese monk Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, then Secretary General of the BBS, shouted to a roaring crowd in 2014. Only last year he was sentenced to six months in prison.