Word On The Tamil Street


How are Tamils reacting to the end of war? I’ve been watching the flag convoys thru town and them seem to be mostly Sinhala and Muslim. Which is fine, but I wondered how the Tamils feel. So I called a few friends and walked around the Tamil parts of town. Most people were scared to talk, certainly not on camera. On camera they say that if Mahinda does what he says and Tamils have rights it’ll be good. Off camera, they are hurting for their relatives in the north, believe that Prabhakaran may be alive and worry about the flag convoys running thru town.

Trishaw Johnny

I called up a trilingual friend and picked him up in what turned out to be a pretty Sinhalese Buddhist neighborhood. We drove to Kochikade to have a look around that more Tamil hood. So we’re walking around and peeps basically won’t talk, certainly not to the camera. Gave a trishaw driver my ID and explained this that and the other and his opinion is still somewhere between the lines. He says Prabha isn’t dead. He said there was good and bad on both side. Between the lines he seemed a bit bummed that LTTE had got thrashed.

Barside Chatties

Then we went round the corner to Kotahena and caught some bit tipsy guys getting out of a bar and having a chat on the street. They were quite excited and, in my opinion, lovely. They were Sinhala, one mentioned from Matara, and spoke of how all races should be as one and how expats should come back here and build. Matara fellow was very clear to say ‘we love them’, as in Tamil people and that we are together. I mentioned that Tamil people don’t have full rights and are in camps. They said we need to give it time. They also said they understood how they must feel right now. They were quite sweet. And a bit drunk.

Garland Seller

Spoke to a fellow selling flower garlands and a man hanging about. He said the war is incomplete. Tamil people still don’t have equal rights. Can’t say if Prabhakaran is living or dead.  But if he’s alive or dead, should give Tamils equal rights. When they see Tamil people they see different, at checkpoints.

Of Mahinda’s speech, if he does what he’s talking good. If everyone can go where they want, which Tamils can’t do. If it goes like this, the country will be good. All should be in peace. Again, he was clearly not comfortable. These seems to be the rote reply. I’m really not sure what he or the other people who talked truly feel. He said the people with flags were wrong. The right way is to be at home and celebrate. Not going around, showing and disturbing other, mocking others. Wrong it seems.

Another guy in that hood also spoke, as YouTubed below

Lassi Lady

Popped round the corner to get some samosas and sweet lassi. A flag convoy passed with a faux coffin for Prabhakaran.

She said, ‘You don’t celebrate when someone dies’. I asked her what race she was and said mixed. I asked if I could film an interview and she said no.

Hood Friend

Off the record, the Tamil friend I was with says many Tamils are not happy, they are just keeping quiet. Prabhakaran was a leader, whatever’s said, and many seemed to feel that he protected Tamils up there. Now they’re not sure. Certainly all or even most Tamils don’t support most of the LTTE, but I’m just repeating.

Mostly, he said that people are really concerned about their families in the north who are suffering. He told me a friends relative was raped and basically disappeared. This is a tertiary source and I can’t confirm, but I’m sure there’s at least one story of this. I should add the Army is extremely professional on the whole, in my experience.

There are also stories that Prabha has escaped with a cadre of 3000 hard core fighters or something. There are also rumours that the flag convoys have smashed up Tamil house and people. This is serious and I checked as much as I could and found nothing of the sort. Let me know.

Wellawatte Friend

Also called a friend in Wellawatte and actually took notes. These are the notes:

Wellawatte is tense.

Mahinda’s speech: Didn’t like speech, pouring oil and flame. This is time to celebrate, not about peace. What I feel, educated ppl, who regard humanity, they never go for these cheap celebrations, they stay home, worry about lives lost, pray. That’s not patriotic. Sri Lankans should be Sri Lankan. If you have the freedom to celebrate, Tamils have the freedom to mourn. They should have respect for everyone.

Still ashes over flame. The flame is covered with ash. Whoever can come and fan it, it will burn out. You remember 1983. If something happens somewhere, it will become a big flame. That’s what people are expecting.

However, during 83 who saved us, the sinhalese people. My fathers friends. They had conflict with the neighbors, they fought them, they sent us to batti with security.

I do not see sinhalese or tamils, only those who have humanitarian instincts and who don’t have. Whoever have good mind and heart care for people in the hospitals and IDPs.

All in all, I think there is danger here and that this Tamil uneasiness must be addressed for the country to develop as it needs to. As one. There is something to celebrate, but there is so much to mourn that I personally don’t feel it. There is a real danger in these flag convoys in that one terrorist attack could set them off into something worse. But I don’t believe that and I believe that we have come a long way since 1983. I also know that our armed forces are professional and can secure the city.

However, Tamils are A) scared to speak and B) frightening themselves with rumor because they don’t trust the information getting out. These are all functions of the crackdown on freedom of speech and media, basically fear. Beyond that, they are hurting because their relatives are hurting. However, they seem to hold hope of equal rights and freedom. I have the same hope, in time, but we have a lot of work to do before we can all celebrate in earnest.

Uploading the actual video interviews now. Will post.

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29 Comments »

RE
2009-05-20 18:20:18

Finally!
All this time I’ve been hearing what the Sinhalese have been feeling… and NOTHING about the Tamils.
Thank you for this Indi… I’m a Sinhalese who’s a bit more open-minded than the majority who’s going on about how peace has come to the island which in my opinion is BULLSHIT! We have such a long way to go for that. And if the Tamils are still feeling scared and somewhat oppressed then it’s obvious that peace-building is going to take way more time and effort than what people think. People call me unpatriotic… but I’d like to think of it as being a realist about the situation at hand.

I sure hope we’ll be able to look into this with a more open mind. We CANNOT lose this opportunity for peace building to a bunch of ignorant nationalistic extremists!

 
2009-05-20 20:10:52

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ModGamaya
2009-05-20 20:51:47

Isn’t the term “Trishaw Johnny” offensive?

 
2009-05-20 21:03:14

Problem is way the war was sold. There was the occasional PR statement that the war was against terrorists, not Tamils, however deeds did not match words. Remember the phrase “..all terrorists are Tamil..” that was used to justify a crackdown on the population, in for example the case of the evictions from the lodges. The message that many received was that it was a war against the Tamils. Now the Tamils have lost, what next? seems to be the question in their minds.

I think the Tamils will be happy just to have their normal rights back, which means a removal of the emergency regulations, checkpoints etc . I don’t think devolution is a solution, they will be happy (and all of us better off) just to return to the constitution and the rule of law . Getting back to the original Westminster constitution of 1948 would be ideal, but even this constitution would do for a start.

 
2009-05-20 21:11:41

Great post. Personally, I feel there is great cause to be happy. Very happy. A long long war and a lot of killing has come to an end. Yes, there was suferring, yes there is suffering, but this can change sooner rather than later now that the was has ended.

To what extent I should express that happiness is another matter. I celebrated with like-minded friends, including Tamil Sri Lankans, over a quiet drink and a meal.

 
2009-05-20 22:14:12

Here’s my two cents…

I’ve been involved in organizing donation collection campaigns with a certain media institution last few weeks, and we appointed individual agents to collect a list of items from several private and government offices in Colombo and suburbs. From the feedback I got from these agents, majority of those who donated were Sinhalese. Many Tamils actively ignored donating anything for the IDP’s. If they were only concerned about the suffering people at IDP camps, but not about the dieing LTTE leaders; they would have played an active role in these donations. But it didn’t happened that way.

Most Tamils reacted to the situation in last few weeks as reacting to something happening in another country.

I don’t believe in the idea that “every Tamil is a terrorist” or “every Terrorist is a Tamil”. We recently saw many Sinhala terrorist working closely with the LTTE.

To be very optimistic; I would like to believe that Tamils are still feeling a bit unsecured. That’s understandable. Now the government and the Sinhalese people have a duty to revoke this unsecured feeling from the Tamil people. And I honestly believe the Tamil people will let go their ethnocentric ego and accept the hands of friendship.

Trust is a mutual transaction. You can’t give trust to somebody; if they don’t trust us back. I honestly believe, Tamil people whould make the first move. Someone from the Tamil community (a blogger may be) should rise up and say “OK; now the LTTE is gone, and we are willing to live in harmony with Sinhalese”. I have blogged about this many times; but still I’m surprised to see no voice from the Tamil community is willing to say these few words clear and loud enough.

2009-05-21 01:02:22

Vic…what do you mean no Tamil blogger has said those words loud and clear????

 
2009-05-23 12:23:21

VIC: Dude, what planet do you live on?

Firstly, I think it’s bullshit that Tamil people aren’t donating. I know for a fact that they are. And anyway, how can you say that Tamil people as a race are not generous just because you may have come across some who don’t donate? For all you know those particular people aren’t the donating type: many people are not, whether they are Sinhala or Tamil or Marsian has nothing to do with it. Some human beings give and some give less and some don’t at all. Those are personal quirks and characteristics and has nothing to do with race. If you say you came across Tamils who didn’t donate, well I came across so many Sinhalese and Muslims and Burghers AND Tamils that didn’t donate. But I’m not going around attributing their personal choices to their entire kind now am I? And anyway Sinhalese people donating should not be treated like some amazing bonus and we shouldn’t be saying ‘Wow, the Sinhalese are so kind and generous’. It is our duty to donate and help out in any way that we can. These are our fellow citizens. There’s no Tamil or Sinhalese or any such thing, every Sri Lankan is duty bound to help the people in the IDP camps.

And what’s this about how the Tamils have to make the first move? YES they are insecure, and they have every right to be. It has been 30 years of being harassed at checkpoints, 30 years of being told their children can’t get into particular schools, 30 years of being called a Tiger, 30 years of being second best when it comes to everything from jobs to school to just simple humane treatment. Of course they’re insecure. Once again it should not be up to any one particular ethnic group, but it is the duty of everyone who is ready to say “I want to live in harmony with every law abiding Sri Lankan citizen”. It should be up to you and me and every secure Tamil person, as well as every sincere Sinhalese person. It is up to us all.

If everyone waits for the ‘other side’ to make the first move, this is not going any where. It is time for the pro active to speak for the insecure, for the fearless to speak for the fearful.

 
 
2009-05-20 22:39:54

Vic,

i too have been waiting for a blowhard such as yourself to publicly proclaim, using your real name and image, that the Singhalese need no affirmative action programs or constitutional hedges to feel secure in the continuity of their culture.

it seems more than a bit rich for someone representing what is historically the MOST insecure ethnic majority in ANY population worldwide to claim ethnocentrism on the part of Tamils as a tamil-imposed barrier to working together.

I have been rounding up donations within my family and to a person, everyone was more than willing to give–but to an organization that was transparent, accountable and had readily available financial reports. Money that won’t be siphoned off by overhead, pet projects in non-conflict zones and ‘charity’ to bikkhus. Are you sure that the organizations you worked for fit that criteria?

before, the chauvinists complained that the tamil diaspora was giving freely to humanitarian organizations that were simply LTTE fund feeders with zero accountability or transparency–now you’re asking people to donate money without explaining exactly why, how, when, where and by whom it will be spent and for what purpose. How does that make sense?

I’ll say right here, Tamils like myself are more than willing to play ball–but are you going to play by rules which enrich all or just yourself? You can’t have your love cake and eat it simultaneously–give up the cultural protectionism and the rubbishing of anything attributed to Tamils in SL history and you’ll find allies aplenty. Getting them to talk, however, requires that you show some interest in THEIR problems and not your own insecurities.

Sophist
2009-05-21 12:37:16

Nayagan, possibly an over reaction to VIC who is generally less of a blowhard in this comment than most posts. Your reaction though is a microcosm of why exactly this chasm is so difficult to bridge.

2009-05-22 14:59:41

Well said, Sophist.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
 
 
sam
2009-05-20 22:56:28

I agree with VIC in this matter. But there are lot more needed to be done. Been a Tamil in south need be “decriminalized”. Check points have to go. And so many other things too. Things won’t happen overnight. Let’s see how things will be after a good rain.

 
2009-05-21 04:43:09

Good post. Of course this is the mood one could expect among many Tamils in Colombo. Time will do a lot to heal wounds.

Would have been interesting to know what people like garland seller refer to as “equal rights”. Probably things like check point situation.

Meanwhile people have to be educated on the history of the problem (Sinhalese, Tamil & others alike). Many really don’t know history or significance of what just happened for that matter.

Now it’s a game of winning trust & course of learning history, so it will never repeat.

 
Ayla
2009-05-21 05:54:35

100% with VIC on this one.

This is one of the issues with the Tamil community . At least with the ones that live in Colombo and suburbs.

They are not the donating type. They did not donate when tsunami hit southern cities and they will not donate to their own brethren in IDP camps.

It is not racism. Its just that my people are very careful about their money. That is all.

Why do you think LTTE use force to get money from the tamil community ? Otherwise they will not give that is all.

So VIC, just understand their mentality. It is not that they do not care it is just that they cannot donate their money.
It is a matter of economics and nothing else.

Indi, there are certainly quiet celebrations. Definitely not on the streets but the Jewellary, insurance, real estate ,media and Clothing tamils and Doctor and Lawyer communities of tamil lot are jubilant. Again because now Jaffna will be open for trade.
Every single person that you have spoken to are the people on the street. Just like the Sri lankan uneducated people who are celebrating on the streets these people whom you have spoken to are innocent.
They are not the million dollar tamils who are keenly awaiting for the raods to open to start trade again.

The people whom you have spoken to , their lives will not change. Now the same cannot be said with the other community.

Indi, compare oranges with oranges and not with apples.

Do you see any of the super rich sinhalease celebrating on the streets ? Or any of the educated for that matter ?
They may be quietly happy but they are not running down the streets with flags.

Speak to a couple super rich tamils that have built palaces in Colombo 6 and at the Golf course and you will find them jubilant and already making arrangements to visit , trade with Jaffna. They have to be the educated and the lot that are owners of their own business that generate millions. Not the type that make money to run their day to day life.

 
Ayla
2009-05-21 06:04:42

The only time you can tell that Tamils are unhappy is when the Tamil shops are closed Indi. That is when they are scared. The fact that you found all these people with their shops open is an extreamly good sign. The fact that they believe that they can do business on the very next days after the LTTE is defeated show their confidence in the SL govt to protect them.

Now here I am assuming that you were not in the country after the 83′ riots .

There are few sure signs to check if Tamils are afraid.

1. The Wellawatte and Petah shops will be closed either the full day or half day.

2. The Kovils will have the gates semi closed and the shops near the Kovils will be completely closed.

3. The Jewellary, Car sale and clothes shops will be closed.

4. Tamil people will not be at work.

If these 4 signs are not there then the rest is all talk.

 
2009-05-21 08:20:52

I think I see the problem here, the reason for Tamils to fear.

After ’83, they never really trusted the Sinhalese or the Govt. But, since Prabhakaran was there, they knew that the Sinhalese wouldn’t repeat the ’83 incidents for Prabhakaran would surely have retaliated. Simply put, Prabha was their leverage. Now that he’s gone, they have no assurance what’ll happen next. That what if is a big factor for them, a big worry. What if these convoys go mad and started something? is their thought…

This is where the govt need to address the problem. They first need to put a stop to all these celebrations – they can wait, there is much work to do – and ensure that the Tamils are protected. Make them feel safer. That will take time, but it can be done. And once that is done, then the rest will be easy…

 
2009-05-21 09:48:02

@Ayla, @VIC

The wealthy Tamils are insanely discreet, but they are doing a lot. Of the organizations I see sending a significant amount of aid, a lot of the ops is handled by old-family Tamils and a lot of the donations come from prominent Tamil families. They are, however, insanely discreet. They keep their work and donations anonymous.

Tamil unhappiness has more dimensions that shutting their shops. I guess I’d recommend talking to them. I can’t get any of the wealthier Tamils I hang out with to go on the record, but via mail and phone they’ve told me they feel uneasy. I would appreciate hearing from sources to the contrary.

 
Ayla
2009-05-21 10:28:50

@ Sachintha

You may have hit the nail on the head :)

@ Indi

I stand corrected. Yes, I just read the ACT profile.

Thank you for that.

 
2009-05-21 10:32:29

[...] war is incomplete until Tamils have equal rights, which I agree with. This is linked to from the prior post of interviews, but I thought I’d highlight it. He’s not being especially frank or anything, but near [...]

 
Ru
2009-05-21 10:58:33

Indi, this is why I love you.

 
good but carefull
2009-05-21 12:35:47

good job. see ppl are not fully comfortable, but its a matter of getting adjusted to the new country without ltte. Its clear from most of ppl that ppl dont need a seporate country as long as the can live peacefully, which they can under Mahinda and also with sinhalsese. Sinhalase have treated tamils well for centuries, and there is no ethinic hatred in SL at all like in certain other countries. LTTE happned, and there were reasons, the ltte is gone, so the time to solve those reasons. This awkwardness is expected, and is not a prob if govt treats IDSp and all tamils well. Mahinda can do it and will do it. There is no other leader like him in the country and hasnt been there for centuries. He has cleared the raod blcoks for tamil people, and he will make the road smoother for tamil ppl in the next phase.

I am surprised how bad indi’s sinhala is though. It sounded like you cant even say ‘mama iye mathara giya’ propely in past tense! hilarious accent, am sure you get wiered looks everywhere you go. Cant imagine u opted to stay there and also do things like this! Good work! But, be careful trying to interpret people of sri lanka though because lack of understanding and unabale to converse at ease in the way they converse mean you get a third party view all the time. Really appreciate you recorded these stuff, so we got to see first hand imporessons, if not ur translations into english would have killed the meaning of both sinhala and tamil in the translaton. The uneasiness in terms of language and culture that you proably feel in SL as a forigner are somwhat simmilar to what tamils feel in walking in sinhala areas, and that is the barrier is language, which was a mian reason for the conflic as well and that is something for mahinda to resolve.

 
2009-05-21 12:50:29

TBD,

How many times Sinhala politicians, people, and activists said sorry for what happened in 1983? How many Sinhalese got labeled as “traitors” for saying so?

But do we hear an acceptance from the Tamil’s end for this call for peace? Haven’t we paid enough during last 26 years? Just get the truth! It is the Sinhalese people who suffered from this war, more than the Tamils. After 83, Tamils in North was protected by LTTE (if they supported the Ealam). Tamils in Colombo was protected by the government and they never exposed to a repeat of 1983. Tamil diaspora was protected by those governments. But Sinhalese? They were mascured in the North by the LTTE. Killed in Colombo and other places with Suicide bombs. Harresed in other countries by pro-Ealam Tamil diaspora. This is the truth…

Nayagan,
Your comment sums up the type of “Tamil mentality” which I’m talking about. No further comments.

Indi,
I cannot reveal much information here; because I always like to keep my anonymity. I have three Tamil collegues working with me, who are close friends of mine and coming from very rich families. I’ve forwarded them a list of items needed in certain IDP camps and asked them to get a support from Tamil community in Colombo. You know, I wouldn’t write a comment like above; if I got a positive response from them. I’m not generalizing. Just expressing my personal experience.

As a Sinhalese; I am ready to let go all these past things. I’m sure a majority of the Sinhala community is thinking like that. OK let’s say that we Sinhalese deserved all these brutality during last 26 years, as a “settling score” for 1956 and 1983. But, why don’t Tamils feel that “it’s enough now”??? Even after the war has come to an end; why don’t we hear Tamil people crying out for friendship and unity? Do we still have to use force to put a NATIONAL flag in their homes?

2009-05-23 19:52:59

ViC

Thanks for clarifying. I agree that moderate Tamils need to start speaking up now that big bad LTTE isn’t there to silence them. This includes me by the way.

On the first point, except for Chandrika and Ranil, I don’t know of any other significant politician that said sorry. I am quite happy to stand corrected if you can provide evidence.

 
 
2009-05-21 12:53:25

Someone mentioned about talk about racism” and ethnocentrism of Tamils and Sinhalese. A few off-topic examples to think about… Why do all Tamils in Sri Lanka, support Chennai Super Kings in the IPL? :-) Why is Airtel sales so high in Wellawatte area?

N
2009-05-21 18:18:42

The bigger question is out of what part of your ass did you pull those statistics…and I use the word loosely.

2009-05-23 19:53:18

:-)

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
 
 
2009-05-22 15:12:40

I suspect Nayagam’s sentiments are not much different to those of most Tamils but VERY DIFFERENT to the vocal minority that support the LTTE.

Quick Poll:

Will you please say AYE if you think that Prabhakaran ruined a Sri Lanka where Tamils and Sinhalese lived happily and peacefully?

N
2009-05-23 04:23:58

I doubt it….but there has to be some realization that these things don’t happen overnight. In the US, African-Americans only truly got the right to vote in 1965 through the Voting Rights Act, over 150 years after the US gained independence and a 100 years after the 13th and the 15th amendments. Black voting rights are still an issue as you saw in the 2000 elections. Australia still has issues with the rights of indigenous peoples as does Canada. All countries that are highly economically developed and the so called bastions of human rights.

What VP did and this is unfortunate is he managed to take a fight for equal rights and the natural push back to the extremes. Now we need to try and bring this back to the middle ground so the fight for equal rights, self determination for everybody canbe done in a civilized manner. It will be a long, hard fight…but at least its better than blowing the crap out of each other.

 
 
TSC
2009-05-26 14:28:07

with Sach on this one…

 
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