Countering Violence with Community in the Sri Lankan Diaspora

Members of the Sri Lankan Diaspora in New York look to one another for strength and solace in the aftermath of the Easter Bombings.

Vigil 03

Ann Seymour


April 26, 2019

he crowd that assembled at Union Square Park in Manhattan on Tuesday night represented a diversity many New Yorkers may not have recognized. Christians, Muslims, Tamils, Sinhalese, Buddhists, Burghers, and Hindus had come together to hold a vigil for the victims of bombings that rippled across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, hitting a church and three luxury hotels in Colombo, and two churches in Negombo and Batticaloa. The bombings claimed 253 lives. As hundreds of Sri Lankans and their allies mourned, a veil of silence was cast over the crowd.

This year is the ten-year anniversary of the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. Despite a few outbreaks of violence, including a series of anti-Muslim riots in 2018, Sri Lanka’s past decade has been relatively peaceful compared to the preceding years of conflict. The Easter Sunday bombings were unprecedented in scale. They primarily targeted Christian victims and are thought to have been carried out by a local Muslim extremist group, Islamist National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ). Though the two religious groups have not had a history of tension within Sri Lanka, those at the vigil echoed that violence was familiar to the country.

“The violation was something that rings clearly to so many people. It has affected all communities, even though Christians were the group targeted,” said Yalini Dream, a Christian Tamil who works as a consultant and performing artist and emceed Tuesday’s vigil. Although Christians comprise 7.4% of the Sri Lankan population, many of Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious communities have been the objects of sectarian attacks.