Challenging Hannah Beech on the Gintota Disturbances in November 2017: A Clarification

Gerald Peiris,

I was in error (albeit an inaccuracy regarding the date) when I said in my earlier message to you that there was no attack on the Muslims in Gintota on 12 November 2017. There was, in fact, a riot which began several days later.

Initial unrest was triggered off by a traffic accident along the Galle-Colombo highway on 12 November involving a motorcyclist (Sinhalese) and two pedestrians (a Muslim woman and her daughter) which ended with police mediation and the motorcyclist made to pay Rs. 25,000 as compensation to the victims (treated for minor injuries as ‘OPD patients’ at Galle).

Two days later there was a well attended meeting of local Buddhist and Muslim community leaders with both sides pledging commitment to peaceful coexistence. Despite this there had been several acts of aggression (displays of machismo) by Muslim youth in parts of Gintota (which, as you know well enough, is a suburb of Galle about 10 km from the city centre) later that day and on the 13th and 14th. Bringing in the STF and police reinforcements and the declaration of a curfew, however, had brought the situation well under control. Three days later (17 November) a mob had arrived in Gintota from outside (16 of whom were arrested and placed in remand custody), and gone on a rampage of looting and damaging Muslim shop-fronts, stoning residences and a mosque.*

The overall damage has been exaggerated beyond belief in news reports and articles such as the one you have reproduced in Thuppahi that contain statements such as those listed below.

  • Buddhist “abbots” sitting cross-legged in their monasteries while interacting with others. (They hardly   ever sit that way (the writer must have been influenced by pictures of Samadhi statues of the Buddha and his disciples).
  • Buddhist monks instigating the riot is a fabrication.
  • There was never any Molotov Cocktails being thrown at a mosque.
  • “the country’s Sinhalese majority marauding through the village (sic.)” never happened.
  • There is [also]
  • There is [also] this story of Ven. Sitagu Sayadaw relating in one of his public sermons his version(not found in any of our chronicles) of Dutu Gamunu’s exploits (161-137 BC) in order to illustrate how killing ‘infidel’ in order to safeguard the Dhamma is justifiable. This has been referred to in several recent writings as evidence of a rising tide of Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Sitagu did make a brief visit to SL, but not as a state guest – an honour he did receive in the US during the Obama administration when the president referred to him as a “great teacher of a great religious tradition”. Likewise, the comparison of Galagodaaththe Gnanasara and other monks in the Buddhist lunatic fringe in SL with Ashin Wirathu is far fetched because, unlike Wirathu who was closely associated with the military establishment in Myanmar, and was the most prominent leader of the “Saffron Revolution” of 2007 in that country, Gnanasara and others of his ilk have had no link whatever with the security forces here and have all along been ardent critics of the government in office.

Two other observations of marginal relevance which I like to place on record. Throughout the recent past (even under the Mahinda Rajapaksa-led government which was evicted from office in January 2015) payment of compensation for ethnic riot victims has been quite generous and prompt when compared to those who have suffered as a result of floods, droughts, landslides, military blunders etc. This, as witnessed in earlier conflagrations such as those that occurred in Dharga Town (Aluthgama) and Grandpass, has resulted in a tendency on the part of the riot victims to exaggerate their losses − dilapidated carcasses of vehicles being set on fire, ramshackle dwellings being wilfully damaged and relate tales of anguish and fear especially to external “fact finders” who come to trouble-spots with preconceived notions and find what they are looking for.  At the same time, during economic recessions featured by spiralling unemployment, it is quite easy to gather a mob of youth attracted by both various manifestations of “frustration aggression” (participation in crime, drug addiction, suicide, etc.) as well as opportunities for looting in situations of inadequate law enforcement – shops, remember, usually have commodities (including durable consumer goods including electrical equipment) which have-nots like to have.

*** ***


The Endnote in the Hannah Beech article in the New York Times indicates that Dharisha Basiansz  was one of her principal sources. Thus it is up to Bastiansz, as well as other defenders of the realm who are focused on resisting Sinhala chauvinism, to present rebuttals of Gerald Peiriss essay.


Peiris, Gerald 2017  “A Study of Contemporary Buddhist-Muslim Relations in Sri Lanka,” 14 September 2017,

Holt, John 2017 “John Holt rebuts Gerald Peiris: A Focus on Buddhist Extremism,” 30 September2017,

Gunatilleke, Gehan 2015 The Chronic and the Acute: Post-War Religious Violence in Sri Lanka, Equitas & ICES

Farzana Haniffa et al 2015 Where Have All the Neighbours Gone? Aluthgama Riots and its Aftermath: A Fact Finding Mission to Aluthgama, Dharga Town, Valipanna and Beruwela, Law & Society Trust

Gerald Peiris 2019 Challenging Hannah Beech: The Strangulation of the Rohingyas, 1948-2019″, 21 July 2019,

1 Comment

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One response to “Challenging Hannah Beech on the Gintota Disturbances in November 2017: A Clarification

  1. Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi

    Writer constantly refers to a popular phrase, ‘ Sinhala Chauvinism” and its outstandingly and a sweeping generalization, lacks academic credence I am afraid. The writer must explain counter narrative positions of White Chauvinism, and the like. Objectification of such gross generalizations is part of the problem of the academics and activists who both dwell in well intended terrains of socio-political discourse. But I am warning all of us that we are also part of the problem that we desire to resolve, so is the case of the good writer, Thuppahi, my friend and colleague.

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