Muslim-Sinhala Relations in Kandy: An Ethnographic Note

Gerald Peiris in Kandy, in Email Note dated 25th January 2021:**

“Yes, Michael, ……………… I agree. There is a lot of overlap between what I have been trying to convey [in public and/or govt forums] and what young Shukra is supposed to have said (though I didn’t see her perform).

You are probably aware that downtown Kandy has a fairly large Muslim presence. I got to know some of them in the course of my fieldwork for ‘Planning for the Future of Kandy’ (2019). They were very cordial and cooperative, and fluent in Sinhala. A few of them are grandchildren (now in middle age) of my contemporaries at Kingswood in the ‘50s. Their clientele consists almost entirely of Sinhalese.

A few months before the “pogrom” of Easter Sunday [that is in April 1919] there was an unexpected spell of tension in Kandy impelled by Ven. Rathana (the only representative of his party that managed to scrap through to Parliament, a trouble-maker even in his undergraduate days) staging a Sathyagraha in the temple premises, demanding government action against a Muslim doctor in Kurunegala accused of performing abortions on Sinhalese women in a one-man demographic jihad against Sinhalese-Buddhists. I went to the downtown area that day to see what was happening and saw a very large crowd gathered there for the same purpose. After roaming about I ended up at the ‘Muslim Hotel’ (remember the popular landmark near the old clock-tower?) to have a chat with its manager whom I had come to know in the course of my field surveys. He, unlike many Muslim shopkeepers, was unperturbed but as friendly as ever. In the course of our chat he said that his daily turnover has declined but did not attribute it to ethnic rivalry. When pointedly asked whether the Sinhalese boycott his restaurant he just pointed at a few customers present and said “they are all Sinhalese”. About the drop in income, his explanation was: “not only us, the income of all the traders has gone down because people have no money”. I have heard more or less the same thing from several other Muslim traders in and around my home here on Primrose Road.

Sadly, neither Shukra’s TV performance, nor what I have stated above, are likely to have a major impact on the prevailing scenario in SL. To expect that Shukra’s goodwill represents an emerging youth response is to trivialise the appeal of the Rathana types to a segment of the Sinhalese youth – especially those in socioeconomic despair and, more generally, the geopolitical backdrop an element of which is that bigots in the Muslim political leadership receive a great deal of backing from West Asia.

Best regards


A CAUTIONARY NOTE from within a book by a Venerable South Asian scholar AJAI SAHNI in a book which he edited his book with KPS Gill: The Global Threat of Terror,” Ideological, Material & Political Linkages, New Delhi, Bulwark Books, 2002, p.204.

“South Asia has a long history, both of communal confrontation and violence, on the one hand, and of co-existence within an eclectic culture that has accepted difference, on the other. This dualism is ingrained in the unique and diverse set of practices and beliefs that particularly comprise Indian Islam. There is, consequently, a clear note of caution that must be sounded here. There has been a long and widely acknowledged process of the demonization of Islam over the years ‒ indeed, perhaps over the centuries. John Esposito rightly warns against “the temptation to view Islam through the prism of religious extremism and terrorism”, and identifies the “demonization of a great religious tradition due to the perverted actions of a minority of dissident and distorted voices” as “the real threat.”

** Note by Editor: This MEMO has been presented in public initially without seeking Gerry’s permission because of the quality and pertinence of its ethnographic reportage …and because my relationship with Gerry goes back to Ramanathan Hall days 1957-60 ,… and thereafter at the Staff Club and other facilities at Peradeniya University 1966-75. Gerry has since sent me Ajai Sahni’s note as a pertinent consideration and caution.

Also take cognizance of these items 

Michael Roberts: “Nationalist Studies and the Ceylon Studies,”  2 October 2018,

Gerald H Peiris; “A Pooja for Kandy,” 6 May 2020,,  y/

Gerald H. Peiris: “On Kandy. For Kandy,” 5 May 2020,

NOTE: Images from some “Sinha-Le” demonstrations in the recent past 


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