In 1915, riots broke out in the British colony of Ceylon, the climax of a controversy between Sinhalese Buddhists and a new clement among the commercial “Moors” (Muslims). A court ruling disappointing to the Buddhists, combined with economic complaints against Moors in this centenary of British conquest, led to a communal clash in Kandy during Wesak (Buddha's birthday) in May 1915. During the following two weeks, the riots spread to Colombo and along the west coast, greed increasingly matching creed as a prime motive.

The colonial government reacted slowly, allowing disorder to spread, and then changed to a policy of heavy repression of a presumed anti-British uprising at a time the Empire was fighting for survival.

Three months of martial law ensued, more deaths caused by police and military action than had occurred during the actual riots. Prominent citizens were arrested without cause. Shoot-on-sight orders were issued, and over 8000 were arrested and imprisoned. This colonial maladministration reflected the gap between officialdom and the colonial peoples. Little evidence of a general plot against government came to light. Since, however, headmen, monks and traders had planned anti-Moor action, especially in coastal areas, the question of conspiracy remains unsettled.

The 1915 Riots in Ceylon seriously undermined Ceylonese confidence in British justice, led to peaceful mass protests and a mission to London, and stimulated the maturation of nationalism, with independence as its objective.

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