Trincomalee, Sri Lanka – Fathima Rameez had been teaching at Shanmuga Hindu Ladies College for five years and never feared for her safety in Trincomalee, a port city on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka.
But that all changed on April 24.
Early that morning, near the school, four men tried to attack another Muslim teacher with sticks.
When Rameez arrived at work, 150 Hindu protesters were outside the school demanding five female Muslim teachers stop wearing their abaya robes.
“Send the Muslim teachers away,” they chanted, “wearing abayas destroys Hindu culture.”
Some yelled racial epithets at Rameez.
The protest led to hate speech on Facebook and inflamed ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka’s eastern province.
There were also some counterdemonstrations.
More than two months later, the issue has not been resolved.
Anti-Muslim violence has grown in Sri Lanka over the past five years, but the perpetrators have mainly been hardliners from the majority Sinhala Buddhist population.
In March, Sinhala mobs rampaged through central Kandy district for four days, destroying Muslim homes, shops and mosques. Those attacks started with false stories by Sinhalese nationalists about Muslim birth rates and wealth, analysts said.
During Sri Lanka’s civil war, which ended in 2009, communal violence between Muslims, who consider themselves to be a distinct ethnic group in Sri Lanka, and Tamils was common.
While most Tamils are Hindus, a minority are Christian, and Tamil leaders have traditionally reinforced a secular identity to maintain solidarity.
The violence subsided after the war ended, but lingering tensions have helped drive the emerge