White flags

There was someone new outside Batticaloa’s Zion Evangelical Church on Easter Sunday.

The small congregation recognised him immediately as an outsider. They welcomed him into the church.

The service began with a blessing of the young people. They’re released from the main service for Sunday school just as the outsider begins pacing by the entrance. A nervous few members of the congregation try bringing him outside, asking him what’s wrong.

Their questions will remain unanswered. He detonates.

The Easter attacks have lifted the veil on Sri Lanka’s violent past and its volatile present.

Seven explosions have left lifeless bodies in a state so unrecognisable the death toll keeps changing.

In the days that follow, politicians wipe their hands of previous knowledge, they offer ties to the Christchurch massacre without proof and authorities publish incorrect photos of wanted men and women, some apologise, some resign.

Among the chaos, men and women from every faith don white, mark streets of the dead with white flags, sing blessings and bury their dead.

The Muslim community keep watch of their homes, their mosques, their businesses as they’re damaged by mobs through the night. Muslim journalists are threatened and held accountable for the actions of extremists whose actions don’t align with their faith teachings. Women are told to refrain from wearing their niqab, hijab and burqa. They’re told not to attend prayers at local masjid.

Acts of terror cannot be justified so searching for answers is a fruitless task. Why, is the resounding question. Why Sri Lanka? Why Christians? Why Muslims? Why us.

The country’s civil war only ended in May of 2009. Even then, peacetime is interrupted with violence and tensions driven by people looking to stamp out the minority religions. But most people breathe a sigh of relief. The bombs have stopped.

The country starts rebuilding itself. Locals fill the bullet holes which punctured their walls, they elect new leaders, The tourism industry starts to flourish.

Sri Lanka is ranked the number one country to travel to and foreigners start posting photos of white sand beaches, smiling locals, exquisite architecture, crowded train rides, colourful markets, white Buddhist temples, intricate kovil and grand churches.

And then the bombing starts again.

We rush back into the same routine. We, who have left this country, now in colder yet somehow warmer parts of the world, we make the same calls to our loved ones to check if they’re alive.

If we’re lucky, we breathe sighs of relief when our own aren’t part of the death toll.

I am lucky. This time.

Photos by Amalini De Sayra

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