Averting Another Disaster: Burmese Style Buddhist Militancy In Sri Lanka?
It is extremely frightening to see the post war landscape unfurling in Sri Lanka, amidst a gamut of unresolved issues stemming from the conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils which boiled over for 30 years.
Into this cauldron has entered another dimension. The issues that a minority (yet!) of hard-line Buddhists seem to have with Muslims – their religious and social practices.
The current skirmish that is building up seems similar to that which occured before the carnage that has resulted in Burma between the predominantly Buddhist Rakhines and the Muslim Rohingyas and Kamans. In fact the Burmese situation as of last October is similar to the way the Tamils were attacked during the Black July of ’83.
Of course no comparison exists between the socio economic status of the Muslims in Sri Lanka and the Rohingya of Myanmar. The Rohingya, of Bangladshi origins, though having lived in Myanmar for many years are not officially recognized as citizens of Myanmar, are extremely poor and disempowered. This is a stark contrast to the Muslims of Sri Lanka, who have lived in the country for the last 1000 years or more, bear a biological connection to the Sinhalese as the traders from the middle East never came with women to Sri Lanka, and were said to have been given in marriage to local women.The Muslims are also well entrenched in Sri Lankan Society, have contributed to the common culture of the land and are known to be relatively wealthy in comparison to the other communities.
So what are the current similarities to the Myanmar situation in this triangle of disharmony between the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims?
1. The Rakhines being natives of Myanmar and larger in number are the “superior race”. Same as the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka.
2. Rakhines are predominantly Buddhist and so are the Sinhalese.
3. The Burmese Military junta who do not love anybody but themselves, yet support the Buddhist Rakhines and turn a blind eye to abuses by the Rakhines against the Rohingyas. In Sri Lanka with a build up similar to a military state the Police and Forces very often turn a blind eye when offences are committed by the Sinhala Buddhists. A good example was the recent attack on a statue that was erected newly in Avissawella. The day following the dedication of the statue, it was smashed to bits. The Police stood by. There are many such deeds committed by the majority. Of course the smaller groups are not angels and quite a few incidents are triggered by the Tamils and Muslims.
4. The Burmese Monks have been the warriors in various fights the country has had over the years.They have assumed this leadership owing to the piety of the masses. The Bodu Bala Sena are also trying to assume the role of the great Buddhist warriors in Sri Lanka and are succeeding to a great extent among the gullible and uninformed Buddhists, who see little beyond the world they inhabit, surrounded by day to day Buddhist symbolism such as giving alms, going to Temple, bathing the Bo tree etc.
It was really disturbing to hear the tone of a meeting organized by Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Strong Force) last Sunday in Maharagama, a suburb off Colombo and the seat of Soma Thero, who in his lifetime advocated for fundamentalist Buddhism and was a charismatic figure, with a hysterical following before his early demise.
The language used to influence gullible Buddhists who came from all over Sri Lanka were “This is your Motherland, this is your frontier of war. It also said those who cannot stand up for wrongs committed and who take the peaceful way are but spineless.
It is shocking that this most peaceful philosophy, which has as its core, the following of the middle path, is now being used as a tool of extremism. Of course religion was mixed up with generous doses of protecting the Sinhala race.
Literature distributed had the Goals and structure of Bodu Bala Sena from Centre down to the community.There was a lot of resentment coming through about the activities of fundamentalist Christian and Muslim groups. Some of they maybe warranted.
Time and time again this hate speech was interspersed with ” we do not have anything against the traditional Muslims or Christians”. But there was an immediate contradiction as all religions other than Buddhism were lumped together and castigated.Though another frequent mention was about cleaning up the Buddhist community and bringing back Buddhist values, more was mentioned about other religions and their so called offences. There is a also a lack of clarity on terms such as Halal, Haram and Makrul.
The Way Forward in order not to see another July ’83:
1. If the government is indeed as committed as they say to peaceful existence and equity to all, IMMEDIATELY launch a Zero tolerance on Racism, discrimination and Hate Speech.
2. Police also require intensive training on communication and empowerment.
3. Form a council of religions to listen to grievances committed. This committee should comprise of all ethnicities from a variety of walks for life.
4. Redrawing the constitution , with explicit wording on the various ethnic groups.
5. The hotline granted to the Police in this regard to be answered at all times and meaningful steps taken.
6. if the government is providing any resources to Bodu Bala Sena, that should stop immediately.
7. Establish inter community dialogues all over Sri Lanka.