By Chandra Kumarage –
“Our true nationality is mankind” – H.G.Wells.
The government of President Rajapakasa is vexing eloquent that his, is a government under which democracy thrives and the rights of all peoples in the country are protected irrespective of their ethnicity, religion and language.
But what the whole world witnesses is something different. Fanatically racist forces are committing racist crimes either under the protection or acquiescence of the law enforced organs of the government and sometimes being aided and abetted by them. It was reported a few days ago in the media that a recent peaceful candle light vigil by a civil society organisation against the racist and antireligious activities of the Bodu Bala Sena had been dispersed by the police acting together with the BBS. Instead of dispersing the racist mobs the police gave them protection and took the some lawful protestors into custody. Who gives this strength and impunity to the extremist forces? How can they act the way they did in violation of the law of the land? We must remember that this tolerance of racist acts by extremist organization is perpetrated by a government which disperses the lawful and democratic dissent by the working class and civil society organisations in the country by using force and sometimes even by obtaining illegal court orders by misleading judges. No one will ever forget the way how brute force of paramilitary outfits and the police and armed goons was used to disrupt the peaceful and democratic campaign of lawyers against the universally condemned, illegal and unconstitutional impeachment and removal of the Chief Justice.
The fundamental rights to equality, conscience, and religion in the constitution of the country do not contain a proviso making Sinhala Buddhists more equal than others and that they are at liberty to attack places of worship of other citizens of the country and, commit mischief and damage to the properties and business places of those who profess other religions.
How can a government which condones and encourages such unconstitutional and outrageous acts say that they are protecting and fulfilling the rights of all Sri Lankans without any discrimination?
Racism is a peremptory norm of international law from which no derogation has been permitted. It is the duty of governments to enforce appropriate and effective legislation to prevent acts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and promote a “cultural of prevention and tolerance” and not a “cultural of reaction.” What Governments must do is to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes motivated with racism and xenophobia and not encourage those crimes for their political advantage. In Sri Lanka those who indulge in acts which amount arouse racism are made punishable under by the ICCPR Act of 2007 of Sri Lanka. One wonders as to why this law has been put to the backburner by the government and law enforcement authorities. This law enacted by this government has made provisions for the indictment and trial of those persons who arouse racism adopting new forms, including tendencies to establish policies based racial, religious, ethnic, cultural and national superiority and exclusivity.
It must be stated that so called extremist organizations have no right to victimize anyone to protect the teachings of the Buddha. Buddhism as it is used is not an ‘ism,’ meaning a religion. Buddha Dhamma in essence is diametrically opposed to religion. It calls upon its followers to train the mind, to abandon all attachments and aversion, and pursue compassion with indiscriminate detachment. Does anyone need a Balasena(armed force) to achieve those goals.
Dilanthe Withanage supposed to be the organizer of the BBS is reported in the media as saying that they are fighting for a single legal system in the country. He has stated further that,”if a Muslim has the right to marry four wives (not four women ) let the Buddhists also have that.” By that statement Withange has betrayed his claim to be a Buddhist. What he is campaigning for is not for the “protection or preservation of Buddhism” or to adhere to Buddhist tenets but a craving to acquire an un-Buddhist right unto himself which is not found in the basic teachings of the Buddha. This exposes the bona fides of the BBS and their Budhistness. Firstly if they have no anti-Islam agenda but only to win over the right enjoyed by the Muslims to marry four women, why are they attacking Muslim places of worship and commit mischief on the businesses houses of the Muslims? What they must do is to lobby the government of Sri Lanka to enact legislation to repeal the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in the case Abeysundara v. Abaysundara which struck down multiple marriages by non-Muslims in Sri Lanka by embracing Islam. It must be stated for the information of Withanage that even in India, the High Court of Kerala has recently held against multiple marriages even by Muslims except under exceptional circumstances.
Withanage also denies that the BBS is having an anti-Islam agenda–his group wanted “only for Buddhism to get credit for building up Sri Lankan civilization. Other religions can still be practiced” he said. It is very clear that Withanage and his colleagues have no knowledge of the essence of Buddhism and the history of Sri Lanka. It is true that the Sinhala language, arts and crafts and culture developed with the advent of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. But all that came from India. The Sinhala language that we speak evolved from the Prakrit language and Ardha Magadhi dialect of India. It is an accepted fact that the Buddha preached his Dhamma in all dialects of Northern India from the Present Bangla Desh, Bihar and a part of Utter Pradesh.The architecture, sculpture and other arts and crafts also had been introduced to India after the invasions of Greeks. The Gandhara School of Arts originally introduced those to Indian architecture, sculpture arts and craft later spread all over India. Hindu Kings of the Gupta Empire who followed the Gandhara tradition began the erection of the statues of Hindu deities according to that tradition, which was emulated the Kings of Sri Lanka. The reason for the absence of any statues of the Buddha during the Asokan era proves this fact. It is difficult to understand as to how Buddhism can claim the full credit for building of the civilisation of Sri Lanka as Withanage claims.’ It has to be accepted that all other religions and professed in Sri Lanka and their cultures have enriched the civilization of Sri Lanka.
Out of many definitions to the term ‘civilisisation’ what has been given in the Dictionary of Political Science by Joseph Dunner which is more acceptable, civilization means “The some total of intellectual, aesthetic, technological, and spiritual attainment of a particular society.” Mr. Withanage I may be well advised invite to apply this definition or any other definition of his of choice to state whether the civilization of Sri Lanka belong to Buddhists alone or to all peoples professing a multitude of religions
It is obvious that building civilizations was not the purpose of the Buddha Dhamma. Moreover violence, animosity, anger, revengefulness, bloodletting, and killing to protect the Buddha Dhamma is not found in the discourse of the Buddha. Buddha himself had exhorted that whoever seeks refuge in the Dhamma (the teachings of the Buddha)will be protected by the Dhamma which connotes that there is nothing in the Dhamma to be protected by anyone but the Dhamma will protect all who seek refuge in the Dhamma.
In addressing the Human Right Council’s debate on racism racial discrimination , xenophobia and related forms of intolerance on September 9 2102 the Sri Lankan delegate has stated inter alia that “as a people of a country which has recently emerged from a thirty year protracted terrorist conflict, it was actually aware of the manner in which racial and other monolithic ideologies could be manipulated by extremists seeking to foster fascist and separatist agendas and endanger hatred and intolerance, which pose a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. This made it more cognizant of the importance of celebrating shared cultural heritage and consolidating peace whilst denouncing racism and related intolerance.” What is happening on the ground in Sri Lanka is entirely different to what the government’s delegate has stated above. Instead of “celebrating shared cultural heritage” the authorities are condoning and even indirectly encouraging anti-religious and racist statements and activities perpetrated by extremist organizations like the BBS and RB.
BBC reported that the BBS has top-level support. According the said report President’s brother the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had been the guest of honor at a ceremony to open a new BBS training school.
Last week armed men stormed the Press of the Uthayan , a news paper that had recently been critical of the army taking over land in the country’s Tamil majority north which the military has denied. But the unanswered question is as to why the law enforcement authorities are unable to identify and arrest the perpetrators of this crime committed in an area with a very heavy armed forces and police presence.
The dominant mood of the country is one of triumphalism even four years after crushing of the Tamil LTTE, which has encouraged the triumphant Sinhalase to bring the other principal minority community before their knees. The regime feels relieved by this mood of the majority Sinhalese whose staple these days is has been triumphalism which has given them an added appetite for disserts like religious intolerance and racism. Soaring prices of commodity items and gasoline and massive increase of electricity tariffs and erosion of their freedoms are not their concern.
I wish to conclude by quoting the great German thinker Arthur Schopenhauer, “every miserable fool who has nothing to all of which he can be proud of adopts as a last resource the pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all his faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority. This is exactly what is happening in our country Sri Lanka.
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