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The past few weeks have seen a rise in incidents and publicly expressed sentiments against the Muslim community by groups who claim to represent the rights of Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Expressing concerns of undue place given to Muslims in Sri Lanka – from entrance to the Law College to issuing Halal certification to even increase in Muslim population and property ownership by Muslims, groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya have taken it upon themselves to educate the Sinhala Buddhists on these concerns. While these groups declare to be non violent, speeches given by them at various rallies, defamatory references to individuals and the attacks on Muslim owned businesses in the past few weeks give the impression of a situation of vigilante groups gathering strength.

It is in this context that Social Indicator, the survey research unit of the Centre for Policy Alternatives created an online questionnaire to gauge the views of people on this issue. The questionnaire was open for responses on Typeform from April 3 – April 11 2013. The questionnaire was answered by 975 respondents who fall into the age categories below. The questionnaire can be accessed here and the complete dataset here.

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Looking at the results of the survey, it is evident that most respondents do not share the opinion of groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena and believe that their activities should be banned. Faith in law enforcement is low, with around 40% of respondents believing that vigilante groups engaging in raids and attacks on private property would never be arrested. 75% believe that the Defence Secretary’s association with the Bodu Bala Sena have strengthened the power of the group to continue their vigilante activities.

With regard to the highly controversial Halal issue, majority do not believe it is the win-win solution as claimed by those who were involved in arriving at this decision. 40% of respondents believe that it is unfair by people who buy only Halal products while around 30% believe that this decision is only a temporary solution that would aggravate the anti Muslim issue further.

It is interesting to note that more than 60% of respondents believe that the Media should not give a voice to groups like the Bodu Bala Sena. With majority of respondents labelling groups like the BBS as ‘intolerant’, on the issue of Mobitel including a song (for sale) by the BBS in their mTunes library, around 42% believe that Mobitel should remove the song from their library, that people should not have anything to with businesses that support groups like the BBS and that calling for a boycott of Mobitel is necessary to send a clear message that people will not tolerate anyone supporting groups like the BBS.

What the future holds for the country with the present activities of vigilante groups going from strength to strength is a hotly debated topic today. Majority of respondents thinks that the anti Muslim sentiments being expressed should be taken very seriously. More than 75% of respondents also believe that it is realistic to think that Sri Lanka might see another Black July.

Please note that the results of this survey cannot be generalised to Sri Lanka or a specific community.

Clicking on any of the charts below will allow you to share the selected infographic across social media sites and also allow you to embed them on websites and blogs.

Thank you to the 975 individuals who took the time to answer this questionnaire.

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This short video shows a scene where a Muslim owned business establishment was attacked by a mob (which included Buddhist Monks) on March 28th. 17 persons were arrested 3 days later and on April 2nd were “warned and released by the Magistrate” after the parties involved agreed to settle the case.
Describe in one word your opinion about the actions of the authorities in this specific case.

Q4 Wordle

Click here for larger image.

More than 950 respondents answered the final question What in your view should be the response of the Government regarding the activities and demands of groups like the Bodu Bala Sena?”. All relevant answers can be viewed in the Scribd document below. Respondents called for the Government to take strict action against those who engage in hate speech, vigilante activities and threaten the peace of the country. Most respondents also very strongly condemned the Bodu Bala Sena and their activities and believed that they should be banned. Freedom of expression is also discussed by some, where they believe that everyone should be allowed to express their opinion but the line must be firmly drawn when they infringe upon the beliefs and rights of people, whether they belong to a majority group or minority group. No one should be above the law and it is high time the Government acted against these divisive groups before they gather more strength.

Q10. What in your view should be the response of the Government regarding the activities and demands of gro…

  • Jon

    I believe that 114 Maldivian Moslems were deported from Sri Lanka recently. They were apparently stirring trouble by proselytising, a crime within Islam when Christians are accused of doing the same.
    Religious tolerance is a two-way street and proselytising for religious purposes is an extremely political issue and should not be encouraged in a society recovering from a recent religio/sectarian civil war.

    • stanobey

      Is it a belief or an outright lie? I don’t recall seeing reading or hearing anything about Maldivian Muslims being deported for proselytizing.

      Is this another lie like….

      (a) the Islamikaranaya of Law college?
      (b) non-Muslims pay a big price for halaal certification?
      (c) Muslims wants – a Suferistan or whatever? (they actually have got it – this is a ‘Suffer’istan for them)
      (d) toffees at No-Limit make you impotent?

      Oh…dear – to think there are fools in this country who believe all this.

  • Vihan De Silva

    I belong to the 0.6% and the very few who condemn the activities of those extremists out of the 0.6% of voters.Guess I’m one of those who dared to stand against the tide. I’m starting to think that I’m too much mature for my age or something because most of my teenage friends extend their support to these groups.This is why they gain ground.Their being reinforced by politicians and blindly admired and followed by jobless youngsters,unemployed middle-aged people and other not-so busy people.If these so-called warriors start another Black July I’m sure that most of them will run away if they are asked to finish the war which they’ve begun.On that contingent moment,I will become one of those few who put their lives on the line to finish the war which these vocalists have begun.

  • Indrajith

    The results of the poll are heartening. However, only 975 responded, and even they do not seem to be a a properly representative group. I mean that when you have this sort of poll, those who know about it tend to canvas friends to be “responders”. Clearly seen in response to query on Halal certification. The responses show too many Muslims had participated; naturally, I guess. The organised anti-Halal campaign was all wrong, but it has led to organised responses!

    In other words, all this is polarizing the Sri Lankan society, and we will all have to bear the opprobrium of the World. The government is going to get us all to pay for its sins.

    Shame! Shame!

    • stanobey

      Huh? How are saying this was an ‘organised Muslim response?’

  • Humanist

    I was born to Sinhalese Buddhist parents and consider myself a humanist first. I voted for the statements that removing the halal label was unfair, that this should not have been a compromise forced on the ACJU, and that this was recognition of a vigilante group in policy making.

    This, according to Indrajith, is that “too many Muslims had participated”. Speak for yourself.

    There are enough Sinhalese Buddhists (especially in the rural areas) in the country who are tolerant of religious freedom of other ethnic groups. BBS is a fundamentalist hate group, whose main base is frustrated, small-minded urban and small town people.

    • Indrajith

      Thanks, Humanist. Your response is inspiring. I don’t mind attracting a bit of flack if the result is such a positive assertion of humanism. Yes, yours is an outlook much more in keeping with Buddhism than the hate being spewed by the BBS.

      I hope that your assertion about rural Buddhists is correct; however, are these observations of ours getting through to the non-English speaking majority? They are full of maithri, no doubt, but come election time and they don’t give us a sensible government.

      I’m sure we (and the highly sophisticated staff of the Centre for Policy Alternatives) agree on many things; how do we get all this across to the now growing generation? Our segregated education system is just not able to get positive messages through to the guys who will run our country thirty years from now.

      • Humanist

        Thanks, Indrajith. I appreciate your constructive response. My view of the rural Sinhalese comes from living and working in rural area and interacting with people there for considerable lengths of time. However, that was some years ago, so I cannot vouch for it now. The problem with groups like BBS is that it it is difficult to estimate how far and soon their virus spreads.

        I was very disturbed by the story of a 3 year old who refused to enter a Muslim shop to buy toffees because her six year old sister had been told not to – by her elocution teacher. Note that an elocution teacher is most likely to be an urban/small-town person. We do know that the JHU’s voter base has always been urban so I assume this would be the case for BBS as well.

        Getting the next generation to value the multiple cultures of this country is not an easy task, given the forces rallied against that. But there are organizations who are working with youth for peace and reconciliation. Perhaps we should make a commitment to support them instead of criticizing them? For me, a great tragedy in Sri Lanka is that individuals and organizations who do have the potential to mobilize at least as many people as the Colombo chapter of the BBS are so busy questioning one another’s motivations, agendas and credentials, that they do not build trust or make the effort to unite for the common cause of tolerance, empathy and compassion.