Last weekend, I was in Dambulla. A chance conversation at a local shop whilst having lunch revealed to us that the very mosque that had been vandalised by a violent mob was just behind us. It was barricaded and there was a lone policeman seated on the opposite side of the road watching over the alley entrance.
My initial reaction on reading about the incidents that were unfolding in Dambulla were of disbelief and shock. I learnt very quickly that I was not alone in this expression. Many were equally outraged at what can easily and without doubt be termed religious extremism and bigotry. The physical violence, the derogatory and racist language employed by some of the monks was appalling. What was more startling were the anti-Muslim, Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist Facebook groups that emerged and subsequently attracted thousands of active members.
The mosque was subsequently declared an illegal structure but what confused me and many others were the contradictory statements that followed. Questions were asked as how a structure that has by multiple accounts of residents in the area, been present and used for decades and for which deeds are available, is now considered illegal and unauthorised.
The actions in Dambulla are reflective of the dominant ideology of the Sri Lankan state which a majority of the majority community in Sri Lanka subscribe to. Many in the majority might not agree with what the monks did the other day but many do believe that this country is Sinhala Budhdhist. Many who voiced their outrage against what happened have stated that this militant religious extremism can very quickly and very seriously undermine Sri Lanka’s post-war reconciliation. I beg to differ. Much needs to be said about the reconciliation process that is underway in Sri Lanka which under intense scrutiny will appear to be almost non-existent.
Walking away from the mosque in Dambulla, I still could not comprehend what happened fully nor the horror that had unfolded. This was not based on ignorance but rather a sense of shame. This shame is still prevalent and only serves to make stronger my existing qualms and deeply uncomfortable reservations of identifying myself as a Sri Lankan, Sinhala Buddhist within this existing framework.