26 September, 2017

Are Religious Conversions Taking Place In Sri Lanka?

By Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

The ascendance of polarising faith-based organisations, ostensibly to protect their respective religions from poaching by other religions, in Sri Lanka after the end of the civil war in May 2009 adds to the complexity of peace building and nation building. The Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force in English) in Sri Lanka was established in 2012 following the footsteps of the anti-Muslim campaign of the 969 movement in Myanmar. The founder of the 969 movement, Ashin Wirathu, visited Sri Lanka on the invitation of the BBS in 2014; the BBS was close to the then President Rajapaksa who is suspected to have instigated its establishment. The Siva Senai (Shiva’s Force in English) was established in October 2016 following the footsteps of Shiv Sena of Mumbai / Maharashtra in India. Though Siva Senai denies any formal affiliation to Shiv Sena, the choice of similar name for the new organisation in Sri Lanka casts doubt on such denial. In the same way as Shiv Sena doubles-up as a Hindu cum Marathi nationalist organisation, the Siva Senai also appears to be a Hindu cum Tamil nationalist organisation. The founder of the Siva Senai had told the The Hindu and New Indian Express newspapers of India that they are concerned about “Sinhala-Buddhist colonisation” and religious “conversion” taking place in the country.  The key objective of both the BBS and Siva Senai faith-based organisations is to clamour for the enactment of an anti-conversion law in Sri Lanka.

The common complaint or grievance of both the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Siva Senai (SS) is that Buddhists and Hindus are being converted to Christianity through material and spiritual inducements. It has been alleged that the mushrooming of western-funded Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Sri Lanka during the course of the civil war has intensified such religious conversions both in the conflict-affected Eastern and Northern Provinces as well as elsewhere. The BBS also carries-out a hate campaign against the people of Islamic faith due to their relatively higher birth rate, among other reasons. While the birth rates of Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu Sri Lankans have declined to the levels of developed countries in the past three decades, the birth rate of Sri Lankans following the Islamic faith remains significantly higher. The BBS has instigated violence against Muslims in Aluthgama town in June 2014, which resulted in the death of two young Muslim men and burning down of an up-market clothing store owned by a Muslim in Panadura (a suburb of Colombo), and was probably behind scores of attacks on Churches and Mosques in various parts of the country.

However, the BBS has negligible public support among the Buddhist population in the country. The BBS is a registered political party, which contested the parliamentary elections in few districts in August 2015 and secured just 135 votes in the Colombo District (if I remember correctly). This should be a lesson to the Siva Senai if at all it has any political aspirations in the future.

The objective of this op-ed is to find out whether there have been religious conversions taking place in Sri Lanka during the course of the civil war. There are four major religions practiced in Sri Lanka, viz. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam (in alphabetical order).

After the Census of 1981, the latest Census of 2012 was the only one which covered the entire country. Between 1981 and 2012 Census could not be undertaken in all parts of the country due to the civil wars in the southern as well as the eastern and northern parts of the country. The 1991 Census was cancelled by the then government because the country was undergoing two insurgencies during the 1980s; the southern insurgency between 1987 and 1989 and the eastern and northern insurgency from 1983 onwards. The 2001 Census was undertaken in seventeen out of twenty-five districts, except the eight districts in the Eastern and Northern Provinces. Therefore, after 1981, only the 2012 Census has comparable data for the entire country. It is important to be aware that the Census 2012 was in fact undertaken only in March 2013 because of printing errors in the original Census form; probably because of other political reason/s as well.

The growth rate of the population following the Islamic faith in the country has been the highest between 1981 and 2012, followed by Buddhists, Christians, and the Hindus in descending order. The growth rate of the Buddhist population was 38.72% from 10,288,328 in 1981 to 14,272,056 in 2012; the growth rate of Christian population was 37.29% from 1,130,567 in 1981 to 1,552,161 in 2012; the growth rate of Hindu population was just 11.47% from 2,297,806 in 1981 to 2,561,299 in 2012; and the growth rate of Islamic population was the highest 75.41% from 1,121,715 in 1981 to 1,967,523 in 2012. (See Table 1)religious-composition-of-population-in-sri-lanka-census-1981-2012religious-composition-of-population-in-sri-lanka-census-1981-2012religious-composition-of-population-in-sri-lanka-census-1981-2012

Island-wide, while the share of the Buddhists in the total population has increased marginally and the share of the Islamic population has increased significantly, the share of the Christians (Roman Catholics plus other Christians) has remained static and the share of the Hindus in the total population has declined significantly between 1981 and 2012. The share of people of Buddhist faith in the total population increased marginally from 69.30% in 1981 to 70.10% in 2012; the share of people of Christian faith(s) increased negligibly from 7.61% in 1981 to 7.62% in 2012; the share of people of Hindu faith declined significantly from 15.48% in 1981 to 12.58% in 2012; and the share of people of Islamic faith increased significantly from 7.56% in 1981 to 9.66% in 2012. (See Table 1)

Historically, people from Buddhist and Hindu faiths have converted to various Christian faiths from the time of the Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka beginning in 1505 either out of their own choice (due to marriage, for example) or as a result of material and/or spiritual inducements by different churches. In the post-1977 period relatively lesser number of Buddhists and Hindus have also converted to Islamic faith either out of their own choice (due to marriage, for example) or in order to migrate for employment in the Middle-Eastern countries, which prefer people of Islamic faith over people of other faiths.

In addition to the foregoing inter-faith conversions, there are also intra-faith conversions taking place within the people of Christian faiths. For example, a growing number of Catholics are converting to Evangelical Christianity, which is a worldwide phenomenon. For example, while the growth rate of the Roman Catholic (RC) population in Sri Lanka was just 23.20% between 1981 and 2012, the growth rate of non-RC population was 172.30% during the same period; whereas the RC population increased from 1,023,713 in 1981 to 1,261,194 in 2012, the non-RC population increased from 106,854 in 1981 to 290,967 in 2012. (See Table 2)

As a corollary, the share of Roman Catholics out of the total Christian population in Sri Lanka declined from 90.55% in 1981 to 81.25% in 2012. In contrast, the share of other Christian denominations doubled from 9.45% in 1981 to 18.75% in 2012. (Table 2)

The Table 3 catalogues all the districts in which Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Islamic faith people are in majority in descending order of share of the total district population, according to the Census undertaken in 1981 and 2012.

Out of the twenty four districts in the country in 1981, seventeen districts were Buddhist majority districts (including Trincomalee in the Eastern Province); five were Hindu majority districts (Batticaloa, Jaffna (including the present day Kilinochchi district), Mullaithivu, Nuwara Eliya, and Vavuniya); and one each of Christian (Mannar, Northern Province) and Islamic majority (Ampara, Eastern Province) district. (See Table 3) Majority means the single largest religious group in a particular district and not necessarily over fifty percent of the total district population.

In the Census 2012 there were twenty five districts in the country because a new district of Kilinochchi was carved out of the Jaffna district in 1983. Out of these twenty five districts in the country in 2012, sixteen were Buddhist majority districts (one less than in 1981 – i.e. in Trincomalee District the population of Islamic faith has overtaken both the Buddhist and Hindu populations as a proportion of the total district population); six were Hindu majority districts (one more than in 1981, which is the newly created Kilinochchi district); two were Islamic majority districts (one more than in 1981 – Ampara and Trincomalee; both in the Eastern Province); and one Christian / Catholic majority district (Mannar, Northern Province). (See Table 3)

The foregoing population data reveals that, nationally there is no evidence of religious conversions taking place in Sri Lanka. Because, if there was any considerable religious conversions taking place nationally, the share of the Christian population (RC plus non-RC) in the total population should have increased, which was not the case. However, there is evidence of intra-faith conversions taking place within the Christian population. (See Table 2)christian-population-in-sri-lankachristian-population-in-sri-lanka-census-1981-2012christian-population-in-sri-lanka-census-1981-2012

To the best of knowledge of this author, the phenomenal rise in the share of Islamic population in Sri Lanka is not due to conversions (of people from other faiths to Islam) but due to significantly higher birth rate within the Muslim community as a result of relatively lower educational level of women, early marriages, etc. Similarly, the significant drop in the share of Hindu population in the country is largely due to conflict-induced migration of Hindus to various parts of the world, especially to Europe and North America since 1983.

However, at the district-level there is evidence of religious conversions taking place in certain districts of the country. For example, in the Nuwara Eliya District (Central Province), while the Buddhist and Hindu populations increased by only 10.75% and 19.63% respectively between 1981 and 2012, the Christian population increased by 45.38% (even higher than the growth of Islamic population – 41.70% – in the same district) during the same time. (Table 1) This highest growth rate of Christians in the Nuwara Eliya District could be attributed to religious conversions. While the growth of Catholic population was only 17.95% (from 28,382 in 1981 to 33,476 in 2012) in Nuwara Eliya, the growth of non-RC Christian population was 191.94% (from just 5,312 in 1981 to 15,508 in 2012), which indicates that the conversions (if any) of Buddhist and Hindus were to non-Catholic Christianity. (See Table 2) The higher growth rate of the Christian population in Nuwara Eliya could be also due to higher birth rate among the Christians.sri-lanka-majority-religion-by-districtsri-lanka-majority-religion-by-district

In the Eastern Province, Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts could have had religious conversions between 1981 and 2012. For example, the Buddhist population in the Batticaloa District declined by 31.18% from 9,127 in 1981 to 6,281 in 2012. (Table 1) To the best of the knowledge of this author, the foregoing decline is largely due to migration of Buddhists to other districts as a result of insecurity emanating from the raging civil war and not due to conversion of Buddhists. On the other hand, while the growth of the Hindu population in Batticaloa was 54.87% between 1981 and 2012, the growth of the Christian population was 101.23% during the same period (Table 1), which indicates that conversions may have taken place. The higher growth-rate of the Christian population vis-à-vis the growth of population of other faiths (including the growth of Islamic population which was 70.11%) in Batticaloa district between 1981 and 2012 could also be due to higher birth rate among the Christian population there.

In the Trincomalee District, while the growth rates of Buddhist and Hindu populations were 20.27% and 21.77% respectively between 1981 and 2012, the growth of the Christian population was 42.89%, which indicates that religious conversions may have taken place. The foregoing conclusion is strengthened by the fact that, in both Batticaloa and Trincomalee Districts, while the growth of the Catholic population was just 24.11% and 1.33% respectively, the growth of the non-Catholic Christian population was 501.66% and 507.34% respectively between 1981 and 2012. (Table 2) The foregoing growth rates also indicate that intra-faith conversion from Catholicism to non-Catholicism is rife in Batticaloa and Trincomalee. In fact, in Batticaloa District, the Catholic (24,454) and non-Catholic (22,833) Christian populations were nearly equal in 2012.

In the Northern Province, whilst the Buddhist population declined significantly in the combined district of Jaffna and Kilinochchi and in Mannar Districts between 1981 and 2012, it soared in Mullaithivu district during the same period. The Buddhist population in the combined Jaffna-Kilinochchi District declined from 5,104 in 1981 to 3,443 in 2012; denoting (-) 32.54%. Similarly, in Mannar the Buddhist population shrunk from 3,363 in 1981 to 1,809 in 2012; denoting (-) 46.21%. In contrast, Mullaithivu District experienced phenomenal growth of the Buddhist population from just 1,060 in 1981 to 8,185 in 2012; denoting a rise of 672.17%. (Table 1) However, this was not due to religious conversions; rather it was due to intense colonisation of Buddhists in the Weli Oya Divisional Secretariat area adjoining the Trincomalee district, spearheaded by the Sri Lanka Army.

The growth of the Christian population in Vavuniya District by 224.38% from 7,338 in 1981 to 23,803 in 2012 indicates inter-religious and intra-religious conversions. (See Tables 1 and 2) Whilst the Hindu population declined by (-) 18.35% in the combined Jaffna-Kilinochchi District and by (-) 16.82% in the Mannar District between 1981 and 2012, it increased by 82.09% in Vavuniya District. (Table 1) Whilst the decline of Hindu population in Jaffna-Kilinochchi and Mannar is due to migration of Hindus to other parts of the country as well as abroad, the rise in Hindu population in Vavuniya District is due to migration of Hindus from Jaffna-Kilinochchi to Vavuniya. The Islamic population also declined in Jaffna-Kilinochchi (-79.37%), Mannar (-43.48%), and Mullaithivu (-50.38%) Districts between 1981 and 2012 due to forcible eviction of them by the LTTE in 1990. (See Table 1)

In the Puttalam District of the North Western Province, the number of people following Islam almost tripled between 1981 and 2012 from 50,351 to 150,404; 198.71% rise. (See Table 1) This was primarily because the majority of the forcibly evicted Muslims by the LTTE from the Mannar District were internally displaced in the adjoining Puttalam District and continue to remain there. The Hindu population in Puttalam also unusually increased by 51.66% between 1981 and 2012 because of internal migration from the conflict-affected adjoining districts.

All three districts in the Southern Province is the home to largest concentration of Buddhist population in Sri Lanka; in Galle the Buddhists accounted for 93.92% of the total district population in 2012; Buddhists accounted for 96.74% of the total district population in 2012 in Hambantota; and Matara District population in 2012 was 94.14% Buddhist. In addition to the foregoing three southern districts, Moneragala (adjoining district of Hambantota) had the second largest concentration of Buddhists (94.61 in 2012) in the country. Moreover, all three southern districts had the lowest shares of Christian population in the country; viz. only 0.92% of the district population in Galle was Christian; 0.47% in Hambantota; and 0.69% in Matara. (See Table 1) However, while the Buddhist population in all three districts had modest growth rates between 1981 and 2012, the Christian population experienced 295.39% growth in Hambantota, 98.31% growth in Matara, and 93.13% growth in Galle between 1981 and 2012. (See Table 1)

All three districts in the Southern Province are outlier districts out of the total twenty five districts in the country, according to the Census 2012, by the fact that the non-Roman Catholic (RC) Christian community in each district outnumbers the Roman Catholic Christian community in the respective districts. Whilst the non-RC people accounted for 28.82%, 24.30%, and 28.76% of the total district Christian population in Galle, Hambantota, and Matara respectively in 1981, the share of non-RC Christians spectacularly shot-up to 54.62%, 59.77%, and 56.88% respectively in 2012. (See Table 2) The foregoing data reveals that the three southern districts experienced the greatest intra-faith conversions in Sri Lanka between 1981 and 2012.

The Badulla and Moneragala districts in the Uva Province appeared to have undergone religious conversions to some extent, from Hinduism to Christianity (especially to non-RC), between 1981 and 2012. The Hindu population increased negligibly by 1.01% in Badulla between 1981 and 2012 but shrunk by (-) 6.11% in Moneragala. (See Table 1) The foregoing marginal growth and shrinking of Hindu population in Badulla could be also due to internal migration.

In the Western Province, the Hindu population in Gampaha District almost doubled (98.03% growth) between 1981 and 2012 (See Table 1) because of large internal migration of Hindus from the conflict-affected districts as well as the hill country (especially from Kandy, Matale, Badulla, and Moneragala Districts).

The highlights of the foregoing statistical data are:

  1. Three southern districts are unique in two different respects: (a) The highest concentration of Buddhist population is in the southern districts – Hambantota, Moneragala (Uva Province), Matara, and Galle in descending order. (b) The non-RC Christians outnumber Roman Catholics only in the three southern districts (Galle, Hambantota, and Matara) out of the twenty-five districts in the country.
  2. The Northern Province has the largest share of Christian population (19.6%) out of its total population and the Southern Province has the lowest share of Christians (0.73) among the nine provinces in the country.
  3. The Islamic population is set to become the second largest religious group (after Buddhists) in the country by the next Census or soon thereafter.

Policy Options

The statistical data presented in this op-ed reveals that there is little evidence of inter-faith conversions taking place in Sri Lanka. The intra-faith conversions within the Christian communities are relatively more than inter-faith conversions between Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu communities in few districts of the country. Although in a number of districts of the country there is indication of probable inter-faith conversions taking place, they are not considerable to warrant any anxiety among religious groups. More importantly whatever little conversions taking place appear to be consensual and do not appear to be coercive and therefore should not be regulated by law. In short, a mountain is made out of a molehill for partisan political purposes!

  1. The Buddhist and Hindu religious authorities should reform their respective religious practices in order to be inclusive from their current hierarchical and exclusionist practices, especially in terms of caste divisions. The Buddhist and Hindu religious authorities should reform their own religious practices instead of accusing other religion/s of poaching.
  2. The policy response to the highest birth rates among the Muslim population should be to improve the educational level of the Muslim population, especially women, right across the country and prohibit child marriages taking place in the Muslim community, which are legally permitted by the Muslim Personal Law (a customary law).

*Muttukrishna Sarvananthan (Ph.D. Wales, M.Sc. Bristol, M.Sc. Salford, and B.A. (Hons) Delhi) is a Development Economist by profession and the Founder and Principal Researcher of the Point Pedro Institute of Development (http://pointpedro.org), Point Pedro, Northern Province, Sri Lanka. He was an Endeavour Research Fellow at the Monash University, Melbourne (2011 – 2012) and a Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington D.C. (2008 – 2009) who can be contacted on sarvi@pointpedro.org

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  • 7
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    Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

    The statistical data presented in this op-ed reveals that there is little evidence of inter-faith conversions taking place in Sri Lanka.

    The Islamic population is set to become the second largest religious group (after Buddhists) in the country by the next Census or soon thereafter.

    You say hardly any religious conversion in the country. Yet, muslims have become majority in certain areas and you are predicting muslims are to pass Tamils as the majority by the next census.

    If so, what is the explanation for the increase ?. Is it the muslim birh rates ?

    If you bult statistics on no of churches, no of mosques, no of kiovils built on it should be islam and christianiry which began from Zero% is inccreasing in an alarming rate.

  • 12
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    Oh Sarvanada,

    What a pathetic show of economics and logic!

    Let me start with how shocked I was to see that a PhD in economics does not still know the difference between “growth” and “growth rate” — kind of the difference between “distance travelled” versus “speed”. The fact that Buddhists in the Central province grew 28% between 1981 and 2012 does not reflect a “growth rate of 28%”. Rather, the “growth” was 28%, amounting to roughly a simple average “growth rate” of less than 1% over the 30 year period! A compound growth rate would be a better measure, but that may be a little over the top, going by what I see in the rest of the article.

    Just a couple of other illustrative observations that should amply justify tossing this study in to the closest deep and dark hole one could find.

    You state “The foregoing population data reveals that, nationally there is no evidence of religious conversions taking place in Sri Lanka. Because, if there was any considerable religious conversions taking place nationally, the share of the Christian population (RC plus non-RC) in the total population should have increased, which was not the case.” Is it possible that among the huge number of Sri Lankans who emigrated since 1981 (especially after 1983), a disproportionately larger proportion was of Christian faith, vis-a-vis Buddhists or even Hindus. Isn’t it possible that many NGO’s and non-profits with religious associations helped in the post-war emigration with some perhaps incidental and non-intentional selection bias that favoured church-members?

    For instance, would you agree that since 1983, significantly more Parish administrators from the Tamil population migrated to the West compared to Hindu temple authorities, even despite the fact that Hindu population and temple-density (number per square mile) was disproportionately larger than the Christian population and Church-density in that community? So, if relatively more Christians migrated, and still, as you say the share of the Christian population remained static, would that not imply a relative growth in local Christian population vis-à-vis that of Hindus, that negates your view “share of the Christian population in the total population SHOULD have increased”?

    Don’t you think, as a researcher, you do need to take in to account issues such as that before making heroic-looking sweeping statements based on ill-conceived logic and analytics?

    Here is the piece that takes the cake! Challenging any Buddhist and Hindu concerns of conversion to Christianity, you pontificate “The Buddhist and Hindu religious authorities should reform their own religious practices instead of accusing other religion/s of poaching.” You also have some equally morally confident advocacy for the Islamists. Now, consider the fact that you also state that among the Christians, there is a rather distinctly aggressive inter-faith conversion, from Roman Catholics to non-RC. How come you are then shy to ADVICE with equal authority what the Roman Catholic administrators should do to stabilize their share in the population. Are the Roman Catholics also suffering from “exclusionist practices, especially in terms of caste divisions.” Or, is the phenomenal growth of the non-RC’s also a curse from “low educational level, especially women, right across the country and child marriages?”

    All I can conclude is that you are not a serious scientist – I make that observation, not just from this article, but from your previous ones (I distinctly remember the one against CM and the one against MIA, both lacking in any substantiated facts or or reason, but abundant in rotten intentions!). Training in tabulation of data (with inappropriate titles/labels to boot) does not an economist make!

    ‘Nough said, based on just a casual browse of what seemed to have passed off as a research article – but if you prefer a closer scrutiny, please let me know.

    • 5
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      Oooooh Kumar R,

      You can always be trusted to appear when Dr Sarvi publishes something. This time I partly agree with what you have written.

      “Are the Roman Catholics also suffering from “exclusionist practices, especially in terms of caste divisions.” Or, is the phenomenal growth of the non-RC’s also a curse from “low educational level, especially women, right across the country and child marriages?”

      Yes and yes. The RCs are still caste conscious and the new NRCs marry young and have more children than others.

      “So, if relatively more Christians migrated, and still, as you say the share of the Christian population remained static, would that not imply a relative growth in local Christian population vis-à-vis that of Hindus, that negates your view “share of the Christian population in the total population SHOULD have increased”?

      Yes. You have to understand that the “old” Protestants (examples CSI and Church of Ceylon) have to a large extent migrated and that the “new” Protestants (only God knows all the sects they belong to but an example is Assembly of God) are usually poor excluded low caste converts.

      “All I can conclude is that you are not a serious scientist”

      My conclusion is that Dr Sarvi did not have reliable statistics and no field study was done. He would have to study village level statistics, how the numbers of “old” and “new” congregations have developed and where the new churches are.

      • 5
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        Lonewolf,

        As for your observation,”You can always be trusted to appear when Dr Sarvi publishes something. This time I partly agree with what you have written”, I might add(to Sarva’s partial comfort I suppose) that I do not reserve my criticism to Sarva – I do that without discrimination to many other “quacks” who want to sell awful ideas on the back of their seemingly undeserving academic recognition. To name a few, Dayan, Rajiva, Rajasinghams, and yes as it came to light lately the VC aspirant Jeevan H who is suddenly turned shy to reveal his professional advancements since his appointment as Professor quarter century ago!

  • 7
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    This article is full of errors and imagination than actual facts

  • 11
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    Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

    RE: Are Religious Conversions Taking Place In Sri Lanka?

    “More importantly whatever little conversions taking place appear to be consensual and do not appear to be coercive and therefore should not be regulated by law. In short, a mountain is made out of a molehill for partisan political purposes!”

    Thanks for the write up with supporting data.

    So we have 4 Myths, aka Religions, and those who are in it want to continue the Myths and do not want to be extinct.

    Each of the religions promise salvation or salvation after death. Have any of them delivered, with substantial proof. Is all all deception?

    However, the Religions have become Clubs with club rules dictated by the Monks, Priests and Mullahs and Ulemas. Id the Myth followers follow, the are “Promised” better After life.

    “Religion is the Opium of the Masses” -Karl Marx

    We have Sinhala “Buddhist” monks running amok and molesting boys.

    We have Catholic Priests running amok and molesting alter boys.

    We have Islamic Mullahs and Ulema running horny, marrying young girls and legally raping them.

    Do we have Tamil “Hindu” Priests running amok and molesting temple girls?

  • 7
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    Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

    RE: Are Religious Conversions Taking Place In Sri Lanka?

    Why? Do people want to spend eternity in Hell? In Heaven?

    What is wrong with that? Hot in Hell? Cool in Heaven?

    Debating Religion & Politics – Forum for Discourse

    Case Study: Sam Harris Destroys Christianity with Ease – Religion Debate

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8xNQRYd8ps

  • 5
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    There is something wrong in this article. Where are the statistics for any increase of buddhist population. It shows only for the other religions. Even the way, the article is posted does not show the statistics prioperly.

    Why the article is posted in a part of the statistics is hiding ?

    where is the statistics about buddhist population and increase over the total population ?

  • 0
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    Mainly in the plantation sector .

  • 4
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    What a pathetic show of economics and logic! Let me start with how shocked I was to see that a PhD in economics does not still know the difference between Kumar.R

    W#onder whether Harsha De Silva & Jehan Perera will read this??

  • 2
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    Dr Sarvi,

    Thank you for your op-ed.

    “In the Northern Province, whilst the Buddhist population declined significantly in the combined district of Jaffna and Kilinochchi and in Mannar Districts between 1981 and 2012, it soared in Mullaithivu district during the same period. The Buddhist population in the combined Jaffna-Kilinochchi District declined from 5,104 in 1981 to 3,443 in 2012; denoting (-) 32.54%. Similarly, in Mannar the Buddhist population shrunk from 3,363 in 1981 to 1,809 in 2012; denoting (-) 46.21%. In contrast, Mullaithivu District experienced phenomenal growth of the Buddhist population from just 1,060 in 1981 to 8,185 in 2012; denoting a rise of 672.17%. (Table 1) However, this was not due to religious conversions; rather it was due to intense colonisation of Buddhists in the Weli Oya Divisional Secretariat area adjoining the Trincomalee district, spearheaded by the Sri Lanka Army.”

    You have confirmed what I found and posted earlier as a comment. I studied statistics to locate where in the Northern Province the Sinhalese Buddhist invasion that many Tamil politicians and activists scream about is. They never provide their sources even when I request for them. Like you Mullaithivu District is the only district where I found in 2012 more Sinhalese than before. Of course there is a slight possibility of such an invasion after 2012 or that the statistics are not correct or both.

    Officially only 105 Buddhist families lived in Jaffna District in 2012.

    “The Northern Province has the largest share of Christian population (19.6%) out of its total population and the Southern Province has the lowest share of Christians (0.73) among the nine provinces in the country.”

    Add the Muslims and the province has a large minority of Christians and Muslims. This is a real problem because of the ideas of increasing Hindu dominance now expressed openly by the Sina Senai. I suspect that the local authorities use funds to support their own meaning high caste Hindus while the others are forgotten. There is a new provincial instruction to send Hindu children to the temple on Fridays. Have the Christian and Muslim children been ordered to pray by the provincial authorities?

    “The statistical data presented in this op-ed reveals that there is little evidence of inter-faith conversions taking place in Sri Lanka.”

    Maybe but my observation is that in my area many Hindus have converted and are now Protestant Christians. You should study village level statistics and identify all the new churches.

    “More importantly whatever little conversions taking place appear to be consensual and do not appear to be coercive and therefore should not be regulated by law. In short, a mountain is made out of a molehill for partisan political purposes!”

    I agree.

    “The Buddhist and Hindu religious authorities should reform their respective religious practices in order to be inclusive from their current hierarchical and exclusionist practices, especially in terms of caste divisions. The Buddhist and Hindu religious authorities should reform their own religious practices instead of accusing other religion/s of poaching.”

    I don’t know about the Buddhists but the Hindus still have the caste system that excludes many people. The excluded should be integrated but not because they are converting. The reasons should be political unity and social justice.

    “The policy response to the highest birth rates among the Muslim population should be to improve the educational level of the Muslim population, especially women, right across the country and prohibit child marriages taking place in the Muslim community, which are legally permitted by the Muslim Personal Law (a customary law).”

    I don’t think that the Muslims should be educated to have less children because they threaten the existing hegemony. The birth rate usually declines when there is more education and wealth.

  • 7
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    Another issue that is bothersome is the foreign missionaries who set up groups and take advantage of the financially less privileged segment of our society. Most of the missionaries are operating their private businesses too. Jehovahs witnesses, Mormons, Korean church etc … Are they not supervised? I know that jehovahs witnesses collect a lot of information of the households in the areas, have very detailed maps of the streets, houses, notes on the different residents who they speak to. This data is analysed by heads of missions who are generally foreigners, and then shared with their office in US. Kind of freaky operation.

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

  • 3
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    If citizens wish to discard one religion and embrace another, let them.
    Let them live in their own personal worlds with satisfaction of ultimate ‘moksha’, ‘heaven’ or ‘nirvana’.
    What is important are happiness, prosperity and righteous living.
    Let the “converters” too, be happy.

  • 1
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    Religion is the opium of the masses said Karl Marx but his economic theory has failed throughout the world as well. So oh well. If Bs and Hs feel like their faith is threatened then they need to examine themselves and see what is wrong with the casteist and hierarchical nature of their ideologies? Buddha was a revolutionary who fought against inherent insidious caste structure of Hinduism. He was called a heretic for challenging that. He was right. But look at the Siyam nikaya. What the hell is happening when you restrict admission to monkhood only to Govigamas? Where did Buddha say that?

    So if people can engage in poverty relief and spend money reaching out to people who desperately need physical comforts to just eke out a living perhaps they can compete with the evangelical American type of christianity. I am not sure about the empirical evidence this gentleman provides here but I met so many people even from Kandy and Kegalle who had converted to evangelical christianity from either B, H or RC. Why? Those people administer programs with food and benefits. Mormons do the same. Mormons are now viewed as a threat by the Lankan Catholic church. Mormons are hardworking people but they have some bizarre views on women etc but they are spreading in SL.

    So instead of fighting new ideas and new faiths why not reform and engage in proactive work? for example some Buddhist monks in border villages provided sanctuary to people during the war from tiger attacks and gave food and clothing. So basically the hierarchy needs to come down from their high horses and change and adapt with new ideas.

    I did sort of lose a very close friend with whom I went to Church Xmas after visiting him at his house. His family were very loving people. He was normal RC like I used to say “kana bona” catholics. But he has changed since he became a born again Evangelical. First he tried to preach to me and when I stood strong, he stopped. But his ability to use rational logic and reason has dissipated. He has cut himself off quite a bit. I remember visiting him for the first time after a long stay in the US. I took Bob Marley CDs for him because he used love Reggae. He politely pushed my gift back and said “i dont listen to that sort of music anymore”. Then he was taking me out to dinner in his car; he put gospel music on and i did not listen and ignored it. He kept increasing the volume and asks me “have you heard this? This is the music I listen to”.. I just smiled because I knew he was brainwashed, but if he is happy then there is no reason to be sad. But I draw the line if he tries to preach and judge other faiths. and Roman Catholics in Negombo were up in arms about the large Mormon church they were planning to build.

    Not sure if it was built but because they have Billions of Dollars in money being and American business Religion, they can spend money. But Mormons are nice people and they are required to send their kids out on missionary work. You will see them wearing white short sleeved shirts and black ties and riding bicycles and trying to preach in SL too. They invite young people and throw parties. They are very controlling group and church decides who marries whom. I heard anecdotal stories about Tamil hindu girls converting and accepting Mormon(Latter Day Saints Church) faith and being able to even come to the US to study. Think about this. You are piss poor and a Estate labourer Tamil with no hope. You are treated badly because you do not happen to be high caste person.! So think about it. WTF? If I am poor and someone says “you accept my faith and seek salvation through us , we can feed you, clothe you and even send you to the USA”…. A lot of the Evangelical busybodies who ran to Sri Lanka after the Tsunami were white Americans intent on converting people. But if you give a woman who lost everything a sewing machine and food and money and in turn they are required to come to bible indoctrination(brain washing) classes why not? Hell I would too(pun intended).

    So Bs, Hs and RCs need to come down from their high horses. There are great evangelical missionary Catholics in Latin America who actually help the poor and tend to them rather than building large churches and expecting people to show up and donate. Oh by the way unlike Bs and Hs Mormons require a mandatory Tithe to the church from their paychecks and it is typically 10%. Bs and Hs do not have mandatory donations to god..Even a powerful senior minister is from a US christian group called Assembly of God and they are a very tightly knit group of people who are clannish in that sense they look after each other and they shut the door on others. They may not show it but everything is done inside their group. Nothing wrong with it as long as you can be objective and respect other religions in SL. Now the problem with Wahabi intolerant Sunni Salafists coming from KSA is that they are not tolerant of anyone else and seek converts aggressively but they too have money. Hell my driver was offered money by a Saudi Muttawa to come to the Mosque! And he was also invited to join the Mormons when he drove for the Mormon Chief in SL..

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    All you have to do is look at the Matrimonials in Sunday papers to see how even RCs use caste. WTF man WTF? What caste was Jesus? Was he Govigama or Karawa or Padu ? or was he Vellala or was he Dhobi caste?

    Ludicrous.

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    People are free to change their religion in a free country.

  • 4
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    This guy should look at Tamil population and Sinhala population separately and see whether he can say that among Tamils religious conversion has not taken place. He also does not have data about religious beliefs of Tamils who migrated to Western countries. A large chunk of Tamil Christians migrated due to the education they got in Christian schools. Even after this if Tamil Christian percentage had increased it would only show how much conversion had taken place. Religious conversion would not be taking place to the same extent in Sinhala as Sinhala Buddhists have state power and the Buddhist clergy are powerful. Tamil Hindus do not have powerful institutions and state power. Even among Sinhalese educated Sinhala Christians with connections to Burgers started fleeing SL decades ago. There is not enough data on this. But there is sufficient evidence to say in Tamil areas religious conversion into Christianity was rampant.

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      Actually the Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka are the most vulnerable people for conversion. The conversion is most often to Christianity and occasionally to Islam and very recently even to Buddhism!

      All unethical conversions should be halted, if necessary through appropriate legislation.
      Sengodan. M

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    In his rush to test the hypothesis that ” there is little evidence of inter-faith conversions taking place in Sri Lanka”, the author has involuntarily misused the terms ‘birth-rate’ and ‘growth-rate’.

    According to all the published statistics, the birth-rate has only been calculated at the national level.(17.5 births per 1000 population in 2012). There are no published birth-rates for the different religious or ethnic groups.
    However, what has been published are the fertility-rates by ethnic groups. According to the 2012 Census Report, these fertility rates are :

    Sinhalese = 2.5
    Tamil = 2.9
    Moor = 3.1
    Malay = 2.8
    Burgher = 2.5
    National = 2.6

    These figures refer to the number of children ever-born alive to ever-married women. It is left to the reader to determine as to how ‘significant’ the differences between the Moors (Muslims) and the other ethnic groups are. Is the author justified in his claim that ” … the birth rate of Sri Lankans following the Islamic faith remains significantly higher.” ?

    The author has also made reference to the ‘rates of increase’ of population size for the major religious groups between 1981 and 2012 as follows

    Buddhists = 38.72%
    Hindus = 11.47%
    Christians = 37.29%
    Muslims = 75.41%

    While pointing out the fact that the growth-rate for Muslims was the highest, the author has conveniently failed to mention that if the corresponding rate for ‘Christians’ is disaggregated into it’s mutually-exclusive components, Roman Catholics & Non-RC Christians, the following rates are obtained

    RC Christians = 23.20%
    Non-RC Christians = 172.30%

    Therefore the rate of increase of the size of the ‘Non-RC Christians’ (which includes the Evangelical Christian sects) during the period 1981 – 2012 overshadows even that of the Muslims. Does this not in any way signal the success of inter/intra religious conversions ?

    Finally (and I can almost hear the sighs of relief emanating from tired readers), the author should also be very cautious about attributing the ” … highest birth rates among the Muslim population..” to “.. the educational level of the Muslim population, especially women..”. According to data published by the Census Department, the fertility rates of women who are relatively less-educated are as follows

    Sinhalese = 3.0
    Tamil = 3.2
    Moor = 3.4
    Malay = 3.2
    Burgher = 2.9
    National = 3.1

    This raises the question as to whether the lack of education is a causal factor only in the case of Muslim females. Worse still, is the author making the classic intellectual error of confusing a high correlation between Fertility and Education with causality ?

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    Dr Sarvananthan has addressed a relevant social issue.He has apparently limited his analysis to 1981 and 2012 censuses which he is entitled to as the article is his opinion on a social issue. It is a pity that attacks are being made even questioning his credentials etc.Conversion is a sensitive issue in our Society.Those with wisdom and responsible, should encourage such articles and contribute in a constructive way with insights, facts and figures which will lead to a healthy dialogue and influence Society. No writer is perfect however intellectually matured they may be and hence will carry in their articles weakness.Addressing the weak areas in an intellectual manner is more profitable to society.
    Some of the religions are evangelistic fundamentally while others are not.That is the bottom line of conversion.In this post modern era ,how should we as sri lankans address this.Dr Sarvananthan should be commended for raising this issue.

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    Kumar R,

    I am sorry that you continue in this misguidedly vindictive streak. To be fair to Dr. Sarvananda, he has been willing, as a Tamil, to take a stand during the 2002 peace process, go to Jaffna University and criticise the Tigers’ approach to peace. He is certainly not the cheap quack you make him out to be. Your criticism would carry greater weight if your language is civilised.

    You are further dragging Jeevan Hoole unnecessarily into this. His credentials have been amply examined in this country. Peradeniya appointed him senior professor and he has made several applications to the University of Jaffna and the USAB upheld his plea and ordered the University of Jaffna to appoint him senior professor of computer science in 2006, which Prof. Kumaravadivel, now on the UGC, tried to undermine by going to the Appeal Court (but did not get a verdict because Hoole was not in the country then). Kumaravadivel’s plea was not about Hoole’s academic credentials, but to reverse the USAB’s order.

    You have not answered the question I raised earlier:

    Do you deny that you were the man with a long-standing conflict of interest appointed by Vasanthi Arasaratnam to the selection board (after arbitrarily taking out Prof. Tharmaratnam) to satiate the vindictiveness of both yourselves? Are you both not abusing power unconscionably to deny the students and young staff of Jaffna University his experience and services which would be hard to obtain after his retirement?

    The Council disagreed with the selection board which rejected him and in mid-July and ordered it to take a fresh look, which is virtually a reprimand. The VC and the selection board have since played hide and seek with the Council’s order. With so much stacked against Hoole in this corrupt academic environment, are you still feeling nervous about the next council meeting on 12th November, conveniently shifted to Vavuniya?

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      Erasmus,

      Despite the likelihood that the reader interest on this particular blog is now minimal, I felt that your comment deserves a detailed response, even if it is only for just for the sole purpose of clearing some misconceptions.

      Please read through, and see if the civility as you know it dictates at the least an apology for your misguided conclusions!

      First things first.

      Q1: “Do you deny that you were the man with a long-standing conflict of interest appointed by Vasanthi Arasaratnam to the selection board (after arbitrarily taking out Prof. Tharmaratnam) to satiate the vindictiveness of both yourselves?” – ABSOLUTELY! YES – I DENY!! I will be more than willing to offer a huge public apology if you could even provide the tiniest of evidence to establish otherwise.
      You are barking up the wrong tree. If you or Jeevan have some gripe against Vasanthi or the one she in your view inappropriately appointed, please take it up with him, with Vasanthi, or their superiors, perhaps going all the way to the legal authorities if necessary. Are you and Jeevan truly incapable of even that?

      Q2: “Are you both not abusing power unconscionably to deny the students and young staff of Jaffna University his experience and services which would be hard to obtain after his retirement?”
      NOT ME! I frankly have no rights, responsibilities or authority or any direct dealings in any matters connected with Jaffna University. PERIOD. Again, show some reliable evidence to your claim and I will be more than happy to publicly apologize to you.

      Now, let me ask you – if Jeevan is such a rare talent that could do wonders as you seem confident, then I have a suggestion. Why not take responsibility as the VC or Head of the relevant academic curriculum at Peradeniya, Colombo or even greater Institutions that serve a much wider swath of Sri Lankan intelligentsia than just the Jaffna University? Don’t you think Jeevan should be first a Sri Lankan, and then a Tamil, and not the other way around? Let us know if either you or Jeevan think otherwise. With senior administrative role at such larger educational institutions he possibly would be able to do much more to Jaffna students than being just in the faculty of Jaffna campus.

      Come to think of it, an even more relevant question may be “why are those institutions not in a mad scramble fighting to get him appointed in their respective faculties”?

      Q3: “Are you still feeling nervous about the next council meeting on 12th November” A very categorical NO. You know why? I wasn’t even aware of this council meeting – it is totally out of my radar! And, as Dayan would say, I really don’t give a “rats’ ass”! As I said before, you are barking up the wrong tree!

      As for your presumed Sherlock-Holm skills, all I can say is, please don’t give up your day job!

      I don’t know why you guys rush to assumptions. You think you have identified me, Jeevan thinks so too. Dayan frequently announced how sure he was about my identity, Rajasingham went a step further, divining what is inside my pants. And, you guys have the gall to preach “civility.” Why don’t you “intelligentsia” stick to actually what you know, what you are truly capable of doing and keep to discussing the subject matter at hand without these stupid diversions. That would be civil.

      Extending the discussion on “civility,” please go back and follow my comments in chronological order that were in Jeevan’s article couple of weeks ago. You will see that my initial comment politely suggested that a description of his recent professional history would dispel any misgivings and would be helpful in harnessing the public support he deserves on his plea (the intent of Jeevan’s article).

      Jeevan’s response was two-fold, neither becoming for a truly educated.

      First, that it was “beneath him” to do? What exactly is “beneath him?” especially given that he felt it was O.K. for him to make a public appeal to the readership for help, while berating everyone connected to the University admin stating from Chandrika donkey’s years ago through the current VC and her appointees. Why exactly is it then “beneath him” to tell us what besides the degrees he earned a quarter century ago entitles him to the position he is now seeking? Civility is not measured merely on how harsh the words sound – civility is better served by simplicity, sincerity and particularly humility; not puerile conceit, arrogance or contempt!

      If the paper qualifications and other credentials he has already submitted to the authorities should be sufficient, and that is of no business of the readership here, don’t you think that then he should limit his appeal processes to within the authorities – and not plead to the readership in this forum!

      Second, not unlike you, Jeevan invokes his sadly-mistaken Sherlock-Holmish skills to divine about my friends! How dare he? Or you?!

      If you re-read those responses you will see how feathers got ruffled from there on, if it must, to the edges of civility.

      The kicker was this. In one of his responses/comments, Jeevan, exasperated by what he perceives as unjustifiable road-blocks from all corners in his path to the “justice” of his imagination, moans that the time seems ripe for another “insurgency”! Wow! Really?! He was not moved to that kind of thinking when the State promoted and protected hooligans who terrorized Tamils in Colombo periodically from 1957 through 1983. He was not concerned when the Government forces repeatedly terrorized Tamil civilians up until they were bombed to smithereens under the famous “zero civilian” motif in 2009 on the excuse of fighting LTTE. He wasn’t moved when the State shoved thousands of civilians into barbed-wire pig-pens, robbing them of not just their properties, but their most fundamental dignity as well. Jeevan was willing to work with the State under every one of the Sri Lanka regimes over time and to help buffer any international admonishments. Only now, when he feels some imagined invisible hand is blocking Jeevan’s personal interest he feels the time is ripe for an insurgency? Not hypocritical of the highest order?!

      Now, somewhat briefly, on Muthu’s study. It is a TERRIBLE study on many counts. Let me point out one fundamental issue that should suffice to make my case.

      The sole basis of Muthu’s assessment is the change in share of different population between two end periods – starting in 1981 and ending in 2012. That method may have some slight validity if the population trends had not met with any significant, unusual interruptions over that time period that would significantly alter shares of different population segments in the different locales to different degrees.

      Is that fundamental premise even remotely true?

      Between 1981 and 2012 there were several unusual and massively disproportionate relocations of different religious segments of the Sri Lankan population. That includes, the asylum-based migration that followed 1983 riots; LTTE-forced eviction of the peninsular population to the mainland; desperate boat –smuggled emigration to India and Southern Asia Pacific and the West; substantial loss of shore-based population in various parts affected by the tsunami; relocation of malayagam Tamils away from the traditional hill country, voluntary or otherwise; let alone the still-to-be determined largescale massacre of targeted population feared to be at a genocidal scale; and State-assisted establishment of Sinhala colonies, independent of whether as economic necessity or for political expediency.

      Do you not think that these events affected different segments of the population differently? Would you then still say that the simplified, growth measured at merely two end-periods spanning more than quarter of a century is a valid measure to make any assessment that Muthu is pretending to measure.

      As a Reverend has noted in his comments above, yes indeed it is a serious matter that is worthy of a study – but it deserves a serious study, not a sloppy effort combined with extremely presumptuous over-confident proclamations. There are established statistically valid procedures to make these studies –assessments to gain insights of social significance. My point is that one cannot be serious if he thinks he could make some Excel based tables of grade-school arithmetic and expect to uncover deep seated insights to such serious questions, via simple tabulation of the nature the Muthu presents, ignoring fundamental shifts underneath. What is even worse is that he goes on to promulgate earth-shattering policy prescriptions as to how Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim religious heads of the country could solve the fundamental crisis amongst them. All I can say is that “extremely presumptuous” is still a gross understatement is describing this research and this researcher!

      One last point.

      Can you imagine a qualified doctor or an engineer making such a mundane, unsubstantiated, unscientific assessment of a serious situation and following that up with a way-over the-top “I know-it-all” prescription accompanied by a grossly-undeserved air of authority?

      This article is foot noted with the credentials worthy of a very senior, experienced researcher, and perhaps a mentor. Do you seriously think the article does even the remotest of justice to that? My fear is that, this article may be taken far more seriously than it deserves (it truly deserves zilch! If you are not convinced, please get some peer-review from an established, independent social scientist of some repute). I am fearful that the conclusions and prescriptions may end up being cited and taken too seriously by policy makers and researchers in other fields, less initiated to methods of Social science – and that could be quite damaging. Hence my response to the article in very harsh-tones, only to alert and to highlight the absurdity of the article. It is that civic responsibility that dwarfed the civility-in-tone consideration.

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        Erasmus,

        No more “gung-ho” on the civility issue – ha?

        It is this empty rhetoric, self-promotions and stupid baseless assumptions of conspiracies that has been the bane of the society! If only one would develop self-confidence, sincerity, and the courage to admit one’s errors and blunders, you and I would perhaps see eye-to-eye.

        Now that I know you are incapable of apologizing, at least to that “Vasanthi appointee” ( the one you were moaning about) for wrongly attributing my writing to him, I can only hope this issue gets discussed at your upcoming Vavunia council meeting!

        God bless the distressed society and you too, while you strive to get a broader understanding on civility!

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    Regrettably, an exercise in futility.Bensen

  • 4
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    Your contention that the reason for the increase in Muslim population is due to early marriage has me perplexed as the following statistics which I got from Wikepedia giving figures under the caption “Marriageable age in the United States of America”speak otherwise

    MINIMUM MARRIAGEABLE AGE (with Parental consent) in the US for the following States:
    Alabama: 16
    Alaska:16
    Arizona:16
    Colorado:16
    Connecticut:16
    Georgia:15
    Idaho:15
    Massachussets :12 to 14 (maybe effective as law is not amended)
    Missisipi: 15 for Females and 17 for Males
    New Hampshire: 13 for Females and 14 for Males
    Texas:16
    Tennesee:16

    Wont Massachussets (12 to 14) Georgia(15)New Hampshire (13& 14) then be considered as “child marriages” ?
    With all these permitted laws allowing early marriage the birth rate in the above States are relatively low.
    So is the early marriage by one community the reason for higher birth rate is a question we have to ask ourselves?

    The ideal solution for all other communities(except the Muslims) is to produce more and more children and throw away the FPA proposals to the wind and ensure that the birth rate proportion ratio is maintained.

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    I lived in Batticaloa for nearly 30 years and saw religious conversion a lot from Hindus to Christianity. I believe this is spreading all over south. The poor are victims. The Buddhist monks should work on this rather than speaking politics even though it may a little late.

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