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