Racism in Education, Religion and Neoliberalism: Empowering the anti-minority extremists?
The highly-educated and hyper-religious Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is consistently failing to apply inclusive, just, and peaceful approaches to resolving the country’s violent inter-communal clashes. The unfolding narrative of recent anti-Muslim riots in six villages scattered throughout the Kandy district, and its aftermath, is remarkably like anti-minority riots since 1915. Further instances of such violence are highly likely unless sincere attempts are made to address the proliferation of racism, particularly by educational and religious institutions, in the context of nation-building under the rule of neoliberalism.
The Unfolding Narrative
What began as a spontaneous altercation between a few individuals taking the law into their own hands to settle a road rage incident, triggered a spiral of violence against the entire life, property and places of worship of Muslims. M.G. Kumarasinghe (41) a Sinhalese lorry driver, was assaulted by three Muslim youth in a spontaneous altercation over his refusal to allow a three-wheel taxi to overtake. The assailants were apprehended, released on bail as is usual in assault cases, and then rearrested following the assault victim’s death seven days later.
As a result of postcolonial racialized minority narratives, such symptomatic violence against the Muslim minority is one among many incidents where Sri Lankans use violence with impunity to settle disputes, and such incidents do not generally spark public outrage and reprisals against those not directly involved.
The funeral of Mr. Kumarasinghe, held in a remote Ambala village in the Kandy district, attracted strangers, including politicians and media personalities. Such an elaborate display of public sympathy would not have happened if the death had no meaning in the anti-Muslim identity politics. Certainly, no evidence of such sympathy was apparent at the funeral of a Muslim person killed in the riots.
The incident in Digana was virtually unknown to most of the country’s population until forces unrelated to Kumarasinghe’s family resorted to anti-Muslim violence, which spread to other areas. Attacks continued despite the imposition of a curfew, until about a week after Kumarasinghe’s death. The locations of the attacks where Muslims are isolated among Sinhalese and Tamils seem to have a spatial logic that embodies intentional expressions of nation-building narratives.