Over the past fortnight, Sri Lanka has witnessed a surge in violence targeting Muslims, their properties, and places of worship. It prompted President Maithripala Sirisena to declare an island-wide state of emergency on March 6. Curfew was imposed and the army deployed in some of the areas worst-hit by the violence. However, attacks on Muslims continue and appear to be spreading geographically too. A Muslim-owned restaurant in Putallam district was attacked, for instance, in the early hours of March 11.
The current wave of violence was reportedly sparked by an incident of road rage involving a Sinhalese truck driver and a group of Muslim men in Kandy district in the central highlands on February 22. The latter assaulted the Sinhalese driver, which resulted in his death at a hospital a few days later. The day after his death, Sinhalese mobs went on a rampage, attacking Muslims, and burning their homes, shops, and vehicles. The violence has since spread to other districts.
Sri Lanka is a multiethnic, multilingual and multireligious country. Sinhalese constitute the majority (74 percent) and are mainly Buddhist; Tamils are the largest minority and are largely Hindu. The island’s second largest minority is the Muslim community, which comprises 9 percent of the population. Unlike Sinhalese and Tamils, who draw their identity from their ethnicity, religion determines the identity of Sri Lanka’s Muslims.