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

Categories: South Asia, Sri Lanka, Citizen Media, Ethnicity & Race, Good News, Human Rights, Protest, Religion

Anti-hate activists in Sri Lanka plan to gather in [1] 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 [2] (or Buddhist Strength Force, aka BBS) offices in Colombo was disrupted [3] by the BBS and the Sri Lanka Police (see Global Voices report [4]).

Rally for unity [1]The candlelight vigil [5], organized by a group known as Buddhists Questioning Bodu Bala Sena [6] 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 [7] attributes the politics of the BBS to more complex dynamics within the Sinhala Buddhist community as well. Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra [8] 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 [9], the BBS moved on to criticize the Islamic dress codes [10] 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 [11] 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 [12], followed by an attack on a much larger mosque in Dambulla [13].

Churches [14] 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 [15]. Muslim owned businesses [16] have been a special area of focus for hate groups; one was recently attacked in Colombo, with monks featuring prominently [17] 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 [18] 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 [6], Love not Hate [19] and this petition [20] have been trying to create momentum to overcome it. Still raw after 30 years of civil war, Sri Lanka’s public sentiment [21] in some areas needs no prompting to associate racial discrimination to potential violence on a grand scale.

A Facebook event [22] to propagate the “Rally For Unity” has got good response. Fazly Mowjood [23] 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 [24] and bought materials to create these posters:

Posters for Rally for Unity. Image courtesy Rally For Unity Facebook page [25]

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 [26] and actor turned politician Ranjan Ramanayake [27] is also an encouraging sign of the gathering momentum of the anti hate movement in the Sri Lankan mainstream.