By Laksiri Fernando –
It was shocking to see the video of a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk being attacked in Chennai Central Railway Station yesterday and this was the second such an incident within few days. This act should be condemned unhesitatingly. Of course the government can issue a travel advice and perhaps pilgrims or others can refrain from visiting Chennai or India. Some are more interested in advocating the arrest and punishing of the culprits in India. All of these may be necessary but will they solve the underlying problems? It is hardly the case. What about the similar extremists in Sri Lanka?
When the Halal issue came up and when the Muslims in general were intimidated directly by the BBS, I almost became speechless dreading the future consequences. Written or verbal opposition alone is not going to solve our problems while it may be necessary perhaps as a first step. I was more concerned about how to douse such a situation. I had already marked my opposition when particularly the Muslim mosque in Matale (and others) became attacked and if the government had taken necessary action against the ‘miscreants’ – if I may use a milder term for the culprits – the BBS would not have become such a dangerous force by now. There was a direct link between the mosque attacks and the BBS organizers.
What we have to realise is that when extremism is unleashed particularly on emotive issues of religion and ethnicity the consequences are dreadful and would not easily be controlled even if any government wants to do so. The evidence shows that the then government in July 1983 wanted to teach a ‘small lesson’ to the Tamils, but the events developed into major catastrophe completely out of control. We are in a different time period even compared to for example 1983. Things are quite transparent and news travel with images within seconds across countries. Can anyone say that the attackers of the monks in Chennai had not seen the images of BBS monks behaving violently in recent events in Sri Lanka? They most probably must have seen them. Anyway, the monks are now branded as enemies of the Tamils or minorities in Sri Lanka.
Rise of BBS
If anyone had genuine grievances against the Halal products in the market, then the judiciary was the right place to raise them. But that was not what happened. Halal was only a pretext for the BBS to unleash religious wroth against the Muslims. This is not even genuinely religious. It cannot be the case given the very clear nonviolent and tolerant principles of Buddhism. Many people have already written much on the subject in these columns. What we can see is the complete divorce between Dhamma and certain sections of Sangha. This kind of a divorce can happen in any religion. But in this case it is not even the whole of Sangha.
The BBS website and some of the video speeches posted there are very clear about their objectives. It is a neo fascist organization. The main objective of the BBS seems to be to establish Sinhala Buddhist supremacy in the country by completely overhauling the present political and social order including the existing Buddhist religious order. The Sinhala Buddhist supremacy that they talk about is of an ‘ancient kind’ compared to what is attempted by the present order of politics. That is the difference.
The most dangerous about this organization is the violence that they reveal and sure to unleash in a greater scale in the coming future. The present utterances are quite hateful and violent. It appears that they or some of their top leaders harbour some caste grievances as well. If they stick to the caste line it might not succeed as a national movement but the damage that they could cause in the meanwhile would be enormous.
There cannot be any doubt that the animosity created against the Muslim community in Sri Lanka particularly among the Buddhists is deep seated and perhaps greater than the animosity against the Hindu community. The vast difference between the two religions plus their rituals, the proximity that they live in many parts of the country and the business competition between them are some of the exacerbating factors. Of course there can be other side to it, at least, as far as the misunderstandings or prejudices are concerned but. It is however almost an established fact that the major offensives are unleashed by the majority community.
After the Halal victory against the Muslims this month, it was largely speculated that the next offensive of the BBS would be on the Hijab of the Muslim women, derogatorily called goni-billa. If that were to happen there were even warnings that Muslim organizations would strongly resist and react to defend their women.
Given the intervening events in Chennai it is more likely that the BBS might now launch an assault on the Tamil community instead of the Muslims. It is also possible that the attack on the Buddhist monks in Chennai were premeditated to provoke a backlash in Sri Lanka by the Tamil extremists. Whatever the case, the responsibility of an elected government to prevent such a situation is undisputed. This responsibility is equally valid to both Sri Lanka and India.
In respect of organized violence, the promoters are obviously the organizations. One does not need a major theoretical analysis to establish that. If there is no organized element in a situation of potential violence, that we call spontaneous violence, then the normal law and order through the police might be sufficient. But when there is clearly an organized element like the BBS today in Sri Lanka, not only the normal law and order might become insufficient but also susceptible. A situation such as this is more sensitive when two countries are involved.
Unless the government takes these matters into proper consideration and act swiftly the consequences might be disastrous to the country as well as to all communities. Sri Lanka should speak to India through the highest possible level in sorting out the bilateral matters. What might be most important is to curtail the local situation without allowing the miscreants to create conditions where another 1983 is repeated. The BSB in particular should be kept under control. If this is not done the government should take the full responsibility.
In the context of a wavering government on the issues at stake, the responsibility also rests on the opposition to demand swift action on the part of the government and the police. It is in this type of a situation that the independence of the police is of paramount importance or otherwise ‘law and order’ might succumb to the whims and fancies of the communalist politicians including the defence establishment.