1 June, 2023


Overcome Inter Ethnic Tensions That Exist Beneath The Surface 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Nationalist Buddhist groups setting up temples and putting up statues in places where there are hardly any or no Buddhists has become a visible source of inter ethnic agitation. The Northern Provincial Council has passed a resolution that no Buddhist temples should be constructed in the North. Many Tamils see the putting up of Buddha statues and the construction of Buddhist temple as a projection of Sinhalese domination in the North after the defeat of the LTTE. They ask why Buddhist temples are being built and statutes are erected in areas where there are no Buddhists. Some of them are constructed by the armed forces. However, it is not only Buddhist groups that are engaging in this practice. Christians in the North have complained of Hindus doing the same and that large numbers of Hindu temples are coming up on encroached state and private lands using Diaspora money.

After a two year lull that followed replacement of the former government through the electoral process, public manifestations of inter community tension and media coverage of the same have been on the rise. There are indications of political maneuvering behind these efforts to disturb the peace in the country and to bring ethno-religious nationalism to the fore. Video footage of religious clergy engaging in vitriolic attacks on those of other ethnic and religious groups have gone viral on the social media. Most notably in the North and East, there are clashes being reported on inter religious grounds. There are many incidents of religious clergy getting involved in expansionist projects, such as religious conversions, destruction of ancient sites or building places of worship in areas where they are less numerous.

A particularly acute source of inter religious tension is the constant use of hate speech by groups that form themselves under the name of religion and attack those of other religions. Most visibly, nationalist Buddhist groups have been targeting the Muslim community in this regard. Ethno nationalist organizations have been engaging in hate campaigns and intimidating those of other communities at the local level. The expansion of the Muslim population, its increasingly visible economic strength, alleged connections to militant international Islamic groups and religious practices such as Halal have been the main focus of their campaigns. This has created and continues to sustain a sense of apprehension and insecurity in the Muslim community particularly in areas where they are a minority, which is most of the country.

Social Tolerance 

During the period of the last government, these incidents of hate speech and violence were ignored by the government. There was also a widespread belief amongst human rights groups and the Muslim community that a section of the former government was also tacitly supporting the aggressors. On the other hand, at the present time government leaders have shown no support for actions that are in opposition to inter ethnic and inter religious harmony. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have made it clear that they wish these incidents to cease and the law to prevail. President Sirisena’s admonition that anyone who violates the law would be dealt with by the law enforcement agencies will serve to embolden the police to take deterrent action rather than stand idly as they did during the Aluthgama anti Muslim riots in 2014.

As a result of government policy that is not anti minority but is focused on preserving inter community relations, there is no mass sentiment that is in favour of communal confrontation visible in any part of the country. The National Peace Council has been conducting inter religious meetings at the community level. A gathering earlier this month in Trincomalee which was attended by members of all religions, and by government officials and police, on the contrary revealed a great deal of goodwill. The police officer who had been entrusted with communal amity said that there were youth who went about pasting stickers which had hate messages. But apart from pasting the stickers they did nothing much else, and the general population did not support them. It appears that at the level of the general population there is little or no personal animosities. On the contrary social relations and cultural similarities make the people prepared to sit with one another and attend meetings that are called in the name of inter ethnic and inter religious harmony.

Sri Lanka is fortunate in that its past traditions of inter ethnic and inter religious tolerance, of which there are records from the days of the kings, continues to prevail at the social and individual level. On the other hand, the visible manifestations of aggression and intolerance are politically created ones. When such politically motivated action takes place they are highly visible and are immediately given media attention. This creates an impression of crisis. But those who seek to attack those of other communities on account of religious rivalries and for purposes of religious domination do not have support amongst the people. Therefore the agitators are susceptible to control by the law enforcement agencies.

Community Tension 

However, in contrast to the politically motivated inter religious tension, there is a degree of community level tension between the different ethnic communities living in the North and East that is having an impact on their lives. In Mullaitivu, an inter religious meeting became a forum for conflicting views to be expressed on matters pertaining to land. A Muslim participant explained that in 1990 when the LTTE expelled the Muslim population from the Northern Province, about 1500 Muslim families had left Mullaitivu. But now more than 26 years later, there are about 4500 Muslim families that have returned due to the natural increase in their population. Obtaining land for the additional families is providing to be difficult as it is resisted by those from the Tamil community and the government administration that functions in that area.

In Batticaloa it was a similar issue of land that led to one of the outbursts of the Buddhist monk against the government servant which went viral on the social media. The monk was angry that Sinhalese who sought land permits were being denied them although they had a claim to the land, according to the monk. On the other hand, the Tamils in the area felt that it was they who were under threat, now that the Eastern Provincial Council had a Muslim Chief Minister. According to them most of the provincial council appointments were going to Muslims, including being security guards in Tamil schools. They also pointed out the prosperity of Muslim towns in the east, as compared to the impoverished Tamil towns that lay adjacent to them.

In situations where there is political mistrust between communities and a history of conflict, it is important that governmental and provincial authorities should take decisions in a fair manner and in a manner that does not create more conflict. The use of a majoritarian mindset by politicians to favour their own community when they are the majority in a region is not conflict-sensitive nor is it acceptable. Decisions that are taken need to be seen as fair by all communities. If this is not the case, inter ethnic and inter religious harmony will be difficult to achieve, and the gains of the present will be dissipated in the new conflicts of the future. The role of civil society would be to identify these conflicts in dialogue with the communities and find ways to take them up to those who make the decisions so that they may decide fairly and take into consideration the concerns of each community in a conflict-sensitive manner.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 10

    Tension is it? Haven’t you noticed that Evangelist organisations have been building small churches in Hindu and Buddhist villages for years and the Government won’t do anything about it?

    • 5

      When Masjids and churches are built, those people of those religions go and perform their religious observances in those holy structures, and they will also find homes in close proximity to become stakeholders in the conduct of its affairs. What do Buddhists do instead? They put up statues along roadside junctions where there are no human existence, let alone Buddhist worshipers. Even in temples, where the faithful are supposed to gather for worship, they will never visit, unless it is to have a good time or a meeting place for new romance. Not even on Poya days (once a month) do they come for worship, but for a rendezvous. In fact, you can always find the best liquor sales in all bars and sales outlets including heavy demand for illicit brew, a day prior to Poya day to stock up, and this explains how they spend their most holy day. You will never hear of new converts to Buddhism, unlike to many of the other faiths. The congregation of Buddhist converts to other faiths keeps increasing day by day. Even Buddhist monks have decamped in spite of all that they have to loose. So go figure out what is going wrong with your own religion, instead of blaming others. Can Gnanasara’s effervescence solve the problem?

      • 3

        Wow, we have hit a sensitive spot haven’t we? That always happens when you tell the truth.

      • 4


        Sri lanka, eventully will be full of Mosques and churces. Because both Christians and muslims have money. but, Sri lanka will never be christianized or islamized..

        buddhist are becoming not spiritual. but, buddhism stays there.

        If christian churches can make the world christian, then the western world should be full of devoted christians.

      • 1

        Marwan, Buddhism is not a religion who forced anything on it’s follower’s. There is no restriction’s or rules. Buddhism neither create a person who become a slave nor a monster of his/her religion. Buddhism create a peaceful, carefree, freethinker. Going to a temple daily,weekly,monthly, once a year, once in a lifetime or never,is upto the follower. There are no rules. As a buddhist,I am going to the temple only twice in a year, on my b’day and the beginning of the year. It is b’cos not that I want to go these two days, but b’cos my wife insist me to go with her. My faith is in my mind. I keep five precepts and live peacefully as much as I can. That’s my religion. So you simply can’t take a decision about buddhist’s in SL by counting the number’s attending to the temples in SL.

        And liquor shops or sales it is upto the government take action. In muslim countries they can control everything because their religion controls their political activities and social behaviours. And if you do not hear any converts to buddhism, you should be happy about it. And about the decamp of budhist monks too. Because they might become christians,hindus or muslims. But I doubt it. If a person ditch buddhism after he/she really learned it, he might become an atheist, but not embrace any other religion.

        So don’t worry Ven.Gnanasara is on in a vain attempt to save buddism in SL. Vn. Gnansara also will decamp pretty soon. And any religious place is a meeting place. We are humans man. Except muslims becuse their women not allow into the mosques,all the other religious places could be a place where two young boy and a girl see each other first time. I can’t believe that you never looked at a pretty young girl in a hindu kovil or in a church. Then it could be because you are suffering from a disease or you were under very strict parents.

  • 4

    Millions of Temples, Kovils, Churches and mosques can be built, but you need people to go worship in them, occupy them, beutify them. Nothing can be FORCED.

  • 4

    Building Buddhist Temples in places where there are no Buddhists is to Antagonise the Hindus!! IS WRONG
    This is what I have been saying and those who speak for the Peace and Future for the country too says.!!

    The Racists who are NOT for Peace Or Prosperity will always blow up their Racists Trumpets immediately REJECTING IT.
    CANT WE STEP BACKWARDS 6 DECADES Before THE ERA OF RACIST BANDA who destroyed the Harmony,
    and reach out to Srilankans to LIVE HARMONIOUSLY AND PROSPEROUSLY!! Like our Srilanka used to be??

    I guess THEN the people understood and Respected each other’s Languages and Religions ,

  • 2

    Dont worry, we build the temple first and then build the village and then we convert all the low caste tamils to Buddhism, It is the Sinhalese master plan.

  • 2

    Nice one..

    It is all bad Sinhala Buddhists who put the spanner in the Yahapalana good work.

    Y PM Batalanada Ranil wants to down grade Buddhism from the Constitution and introduce his own version .

    He has now become a Vellala and goes even to Tripathi to worship.

    And the TNA vellala Kid Abraham says that is the only way our inhabitants can have reconciliation.

    Muslims in the East are in total harmony with Peace Jehan to try and stop Buddha Statutes appearing in even old historical Buddhist archeology sites.

    Christians build the biggest Xmas Tree in Abithathayas own Megapolis, despite protests from the Catholic cardinal in Colombo.

    My former Catholic mates who now go to God’s kingdom on the weekends say , Sinhala Buddhists are the main beneficiaries from healing sessions of Reverend X.

    They get rid of their permanent disabilities even right on stage in front of the whole congregation. every weekend.

    wonder why Batalanada Ranil , the PM who my Elders tell me is from a strong Anglican family goes to worship Tripathi?.

    Has he become a Vegen too?..

    • 4

      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      You don’t seem to type here that often, What’s the matter with you, are you busy being busy? Are busy playing handicap?

      Are you making a fortune paid in backhanders using your old contacts who have now switched their loyalty from MR to MS?

      If true I am happy for you.

      Do you know where the stolen puskola pot (palm leaf manuscripts) from the Jaffna Public Library are being stored?

      If you are a true Buddhist you will go to any extend to find them. Since you are not I am not sure if I am talking to the right person.

      Anyhow Ranil said sorry in the parliament, after 35 years. What do you thing, was he sincerely making the apology or another tongue in cheek gesture?

  • 2

    Even though the West think that their form of democracy is the solution, Eventhough the christian NGOs make their living out that, the ultimate result will be something thatg no one exepcted.

    The ancient Asia, India, China etc., were very democratic. Even the autocratic – King listened if a subject accussed the king saying “the king was unjust and that is why this tradegy happned to me”. When such things happened, King always questioned his behaviour and he never hid from people or he never tried to override peoples’ power. there are so many examples in Asia where subjects accused kings and kings listened.

    Eventually, In Sri lanka, law enforcement and the govt will be powerless. Everybody will understand what muslims and christains are doing to the country.

    the ultimate result will be infront of powerless politicians’ eyes, wrongs in the country will be corrected by the people. Sri lanka will reamin buddhist whether it is spiritual or not.

    At the same time, those western countries have slid back into the stones ages. christian church will be just a building as in western countries, many middle eastern countries, and in europe etc.,

    • 1

      jimmy you really have gone soft in your upstairs go easy on the local brew before you start writing man

  • 3

    Christians in the North have complained of Hindus doing the same and that large numbers of Hindu temples are coming up on encroached state and private lands using Diaspora money.”

    Jehan PhD is continuing his tours to wedge within Tamils. When LTTE was there Christians and Hindus were very unified. North East was led by SJV. Bishop Rayappu was the one worked to bring in CV as the CM. Sumanthiran still is leader in TNA. Anything here Jehan PhD has written as Christians said is his Coolie gangs concoction. There are no ordinary Christians are claiming that Hindus are building temples in Christian’s private lands. In villages Hindus used to have a home temple in their lands. But now, when more of them are building cement houses, they are making one of the room as prayer room instead of building a separate home temple. Another reason for that is no Hindu in his/her own initiate a home temple, if one of their very older generation have had one initiated one in their living land. This doesn’t affects building a prayer room. So in reality higher numbers of prayer rooms are emerging rather than higher number of home temples coming up. So that story is not true.

    Other part of “Diaspora Money ” is Jehan PhD’s another Masterpiece Collection. Within the diaspora, there are more Christians percentage than North East. Many migrated Hindus too became Christians as they received help on refugee matters from local Churches. So the money going to North-East is more from Christians compared to the percentage of Christians back there. Christians like to build Large Churches, not home temples or Prayer room. Muslims too pretty same. This culture mainly come from their monotheistic nature of their gods. Building a home temple is not comparable to putting a Greek Buddha statue in every junction for birds to rest and drop or to show their dominance and ruling of North east. Further it is not comparable to Mangalarama, the representative of Rapist army, went into the Hindu Priest’s land and claimed it is his.

    The recent breaking of Jesus statues were done by paramilitary in the North. It has nothing to do Hindus. But the Yesterday Siva Lingam was broken by religious temptation.

    On the other hand, at the present time government leaders have shown no support for actions that are in opposition to inter ethnic and inter religious harmony. That is not true. The entire Justice Ministry’s resources are being used to harass Non Buddhist religious population because this minister is the one assigned to the so called ministry that protects Buddhism. There are two laws pending on Parliament. One is the replacement to PTA. This is said to be more harsh than PTA and seeking extensive impunity to police and army to torture and extract confession from non Buddhist plus Non Sinhala communities. Even UN has criticized government on this dupe. Jehan PhD never talked about it. Other one is anti-hate speech. This openly targets minorities and extent its hands beyond the existing powers of PTA. So there are every indications that Yahapalanaya governet, while fooling IC, is going much beyond the previous Sinhala Buddhist Chitanta government on the anti-minority activities.

  • 2

    “But those who seek to attack those of other communities on account of religious rivalries and for purposes of religious domination do not have support amongst the people.”

    Beg to differ Gehan. The support is widespread. Keep an ear to the ground. Anti Muslim sentiments has reached the Tamil hate levels that unleashed countless pogroms against the Tamils. It takes only one incident for the fire to engulf us all. National Peace Council work is just a pinprick on the ever growing minority hate giant.

  • 0

    Gnanasaraya should be in jail for aluthgama.justice delayed is justice denied.
    Let’s have justice for all.
    Walk the talk president and prime minister then you will have peace.

  • 3

    Tension my arse. You deliberately white wash and ignore Evangelical unauthorized Churches springing up everywhere in Buddhist and Hindu areas and Mosques coming up with Wahabi Saudi money in Sinhala buddhist and tamil Hindu areas. You are a US funded hypocrite to foment subtle trouble and attack only Hindus and buddhists. You are a liar and bigot hiding behind millions of us dollars

  • 3

    Let us make places of worship where people exist not in the Wanni Jungles in spaces abandoned by the SL Army.
    Similarly Christians are now going on a full scale project to get new souls for their American Evangelist masters .

    Muslims have enormous Saudi money now channelled in to madrassas.All this proves one thing that people are now terribly insecure.

    Religion has become a competition.Even Marewanapalawu Sachithananda has started a Shiv Sena branch here.He is an idiot who will do anything for money.In his youth he did research on Aquaculture.Did anyone ask Sachthananda if he was encouraging eating of flesh

    What we see today is not faith or worship it is simply political posturing to make the other faiths uneasy .
    Every idiot in the Diaspora are sending money for temples.There are more temples than homes.There is a shortage of 150 thousand houses in the Northern Province.

    But 200 thousand temples and shrines have been built.It the new houses the Sami Are (ROOM OF THE GODS) are bigger then the childrens rooms .They have no space to sleep.

    When will this competition end?

    Where were these gods when the 30 war was going on? Did they help anyone to survive?

    Waste of time waste of space!!!

    Religion is the biggest money making business in the world.So why not join the happy band?

    Even the religious NGOO are at it.Channelling money to they brethren.

    Please Join Dr .Jehan and have a five star life,but you have to become a Christian of course.

  • 2

    Jehan Perera, this is a disturbing article.

    What I found very disturbing is your Christian based attack only on Hindus and Buddhists. I do not like “in your face religiosity” and respect for local senstivities is a must to accomplish reconciliation and a a dialogue.. So if people keep building Buddhist statues or Hindu temples it is equally bad as massive mosques in non muslim areas and the unauthorized Evangelical christian buildings and churches and US style Big money spending Evangelicals traipsing all over in the name of freedom of worship. Yes I am for freedom of worship or lack thereof as well. But you are deaf and mute for example about the traditional Roman Catholic Sri Lankans who get along so well with everyone. They are really concerned about Big american money of the Mormon Church. They even illegally built a church in a residential area on Anderson Road off of Dickmans Road. How did that happen? And there are Evangelicals who go around saying there way is the only way and spending money to BUY converts that is leading even the centuries old Catholic Church to be upset. In Negombo the Mormons were accused of poaching Roman Catholics. In Kandy and Nuwara Eliya they are buying and brainwashing Tamils promising them an education and church authorized and church approved marriage.

    Muslim Wahabis are spending massive amounts of money; and even if there are only 100 muslims in an areas with 500,000 Hindu Tamils or Buddhist Sinhalese or Catholics they use Saudi money to spend and expand “in your face” Mosques. In Colombo, Evangelicals have build a 3 story Church where they spend big money seeking converts. Some of these born again zealots are so blind to other faiths that they disrespect others.

    You are being a bigoted Christian with this article. You fail to discuss honestly any of the Evangelical attempts(same in India) and Muslim attempts and spending big money that is also creating tensions.

    As for BBS and that sexually repressed maniac: I wish this government had the balls to arrest him for inciting violence. I wish the government did not worship the US and money to allow Mormon (multi billion dollar empire second only to the Vatican) and other rich Evangelicals to illegally convert houses they first rent or buy as “residences” and convert to churches in the middle of Buddhist and Hindu areas. I wish the govt had laws to control Saudi Wahabi money. I wish Buddhists become real buddhist and not statue huggers. I wish Hindus also do the same instead of Shiva Lingam worshippers. But reality is even the local Catholic Church is up in arms over Mormons and other Evangelicals because these two new groups have found most of their customers from Catholics in SL and not from Buddhists. NGO money is good for you no Jehan? When are you taking your next Business class flight at Western expense to pontificate?

    There are serious underlying tensions here in the USA between black and white and North and South. Southern whites still consider the civil war as a “northern war of aggression” , so even 150 years later deep hatreds and mistrust remains. Democrats were the party of the KKK and racism immediately after the civil war ended. The tensions are now open and this election reflected the dichotomy of thinking in the USA. So I know no matter how much the Sinhala people talk about reconciliation, there will always be deep seated resentment and adoring of Vellupillai Prabakaran by many people who feel disenfranchised or feel the war was a Sinhala war. Not sure if anything can be done except giving it time to heal and making sure no group tries to take advantage of another. Why not talk about Tamil racism and Evangelical fanaticism and Mosque building and why is that you were mute and deaf when the Muslim CM of Eastern province said Buddhist statues cannot be allowed and Wigi said the same? What if the Southern province CM or Central Province or NCP CMs said the same about Mosques which are creeping up illegally on false claims all over Buddhist areas and hindu Areas? What if they are told not to have mosques in Traditional buddhist areas where muslims have been breeding and multiplying so fast? You are so one sided because the US tells you to be so and you are blinded by your Evangelical ideology.

  • 4

    Does anyone know, in Sri Lanka, how many churches are there for every 100 Christians, how many Hindu Temples are there for every 100 Hindu, how many Mosques are there for every 100 Muslims and how many Buddhist Temples are there for every 100 Buddhists?

    Knowing that data the government can encourage equity in places of worship. We of course have to assume that all citizens patronize only one religious place of worship and that there are no Atheists. We should also assume that Sun, Moon, Tree and Animal worshippers do not need a building.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.