It’s 9:40 PM in Ampara town. Waterboard Ranga (he works at the Water Board) shows up drunk at the New Cassim Hotel (not a hotel). It’s past closing time but he complains about diabetes and they rustle up some parata and beef curry. The beef curry is lumpy because they’ve used flour to thicken it. Waterboard looks at the lumps suspiciously.
“Wanda Pethi?” he asks.
Sterilization pill. He’s asking if the fucking beef curry has sterilized him. That’s what started the Ampara riots.
Sterilization pills do not exist. If they did, they would be worth billions of dollars. If you could deliver such medication through a delicious beef curry that would be worth trillions.
That is all a bit too much objective reality for this evening. Or culture, really. The myth that Muslims are trying to sterilize Sinhalese through candy or curry is quite common.
Waterboard Ranga and his crew start trashing the place, and the cops come and arrest… the Muslim shop owner — for serving a sterilization pill, which again doesn’t exist, but whatever. They also take the beef curry into custody.
Around 11 PM, 200 Sinhala youth are transported in and start trashing more places, smashing through a mosque gate with a Defender (is it only assholes that drive that car?), beating up the muahdin, defiling the Koran.
The cops mostly sit around, casually beat the Muslims in custody, and chat with the mob. Only days later do five youth surrender themselves, accompanied by a Buddhist monk. On their court date over 2,000 people gather (including nearly 200 Buddhist monks) to support justice not being done.
The issue is not charged as a hate crime and scientists are deployed to test a lump of flour in a beef curry to see if it is a sterilization pill which A) really does not exist and B) would be worth billions of dollars if it did. The victims are urged to not pursue charges to ‘keep the peace’. Shortly afterwards, even worse rioting breaks out in Kandy.
To read the full story see the excellent reporting from DBS Jeyaraj.
This stupid and depressing incident contains within itself the eternal formula for race riots in Sri Lanka, or anywhere I guess.
Excuse + Racists + People Standing By = Race Riots
The Sri Lankan state did eventually stop the Ampara riots, and the Kandy riots that followed, but all the elements of that equation are still in place. All it takes is another excuse.
Here’s why Sri Lanka is probably going to have more race riots in the future.
If a Muslim (who is also a human) does any number of human things to a Sinhalese person, that can set off a riot. These things include murder, rape, theft, false allegations of the above, serving lumpy curry, praying too loud, looking funny, existing.
As the beef curry incident shows, any excuse will do.
No shortage. Organized racist groups like the BBS are quite active and racist monks within these groups are basically untouchable. These groups organize on social media and move quite freely within a majority Sinhalese country where their activities are not considered terrorism. Or even just not nice.
+ People Standing By
This is the most important part. For evil to triumph good people have to do nothing. Averagely shitty people can keep doing their thing.
Your average Sinhalese is a bit racist against Muslims. Maybe more than a bit. They’re not going to get off their ass and riot, but they’re not going to get off their ass and oppose it either. They might even feel a bit happy or at least justify or qualify it. And that’s enough. Your average Tamil or western person is also racist against Muslims, which doesn’t help.
Your average cop is Sinhalese. As are people in the government. They may not be rioting, but they also don’t see the organized racists as a huge problem, and they find it super annoying and politically toxic to arrest these guys, especially if they’re wearing robes. The authorities will do something if the economy and general reputation start taking a hit, but they certainly won’t be aggressive or pro-active.
= Race Riots
That’s all you need. The core ingredients are there, just pop in any random excuse to get it going.
Please prove me wrong, but unless we stamp out organized racists and reduce casual racism, we’re just one bad curry away from riots on the streets.
If you’d like to do something for peace, there’s a Walk For Unity at Independence Square from 3–6 PM. On Sunday the 25th.