By Emil van der Poorten –
The emergence of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) on Sri Lanka’s landscape has been a very logical political development given the Sri Lanka government’s constant and consistent use of red herrings, animate (as in the case of the Buddhist priest leading the BBS, the racists – in the form of Udaya Gamanpilla and Wimal Weerawansa) and inanimate as in the case of the hate material either issued or leaked to the public and media from time to time. The purpose? Simply to divert the attention of Sri Lankans from the REAL issues of the day.
To repeat: all of this is intended to confuse a gullible population and conceal whatever facts might be evident. If nothing else, there is a consistency to all of this: it has fed on malice against “the other” since the time of independence from the British Raj and even before.
The military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE/”Tigers”) left a vacuum in the matter of a communal target because successive Sri Lankan governments had, very successfully, made the terms “Tamils” and “Tigers” interchangeable in the minds of the Sri Lankan nation – particularly the Sinhalese Buddhists. What is left of the Tamils sans a physical presence such as the Tigers, hardly produces enough grist for the unprincipled racist mill of our current regime, having long passed its “best before” date.
As ham-handed as the efforts have been, I have little doubt in my mind that they are already successful, will become even more so and spawn off-shoots of similar virulence as the days go by. Particularly given a cowed and frightened population – frightened of being “disappeared” as the last couple of three-wheeler drivers whose services I’ve used assured me would be the fate of anyone being critical of this lot. This is an endeavour that will, doubtless, be very successful for one major reason: it caters to the lowest common denominator – venting one’s frustrations on the least powerful segments of the population in a situation where there is no law and order and those usually responsible for safeguarding the weak and helpless are conspicuous by their absence or, worse yet, complicit in the conduct of the law-breakers. The treatment of the BBC crew covering the BBS rally at Maharagama by the storm troopers of that organization should give pause to anyone doubting the potential for mob violence by these supporters of the “territorial/religious integrity” of the land we live in. More important yet is the fact that the police present actively supported the goons in seeking to take the BBC crew hostage!
As one with no affiliation to any formal religious entity, I would be stupid not to consider the current Sri Lankan “reality” as having implications for such as myself. Given the new religious fundamentalism that Sri Lanka is giving birth to, the simple reality is that for every action by the Bodhu Bala Senas of this land there will be a reaction from victimized religious groups, fundamentalist or otherwise, because they are left with little other choice. Those of us consciously rejecting formal religious affiliation or being seen as doing so will, in the end, be permitted the least leeway by those who wear their “faith” on their sleeves. We could well end up between the jaws of that particular vice. Not a fate to be anticipated with much glee!
You might well ask, “So what? You’ve chosen to criticize and oppose the bullying criminals and those who believe in violence as the solution to the problems of this country and yet another set of enemies shouldn’t make too much of a difference, should it?”
Before I deal with this contention, though, a couple of facts need to be recorded.
One of these is that those who have no formal affiliation to any of the recognized religions in Sri Lanka – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and their many branches and off-shoots – are going to be targets whenever the harassment of the current “other” minority has run out of steam. Also, those who owe no affiliation to Temple, Church, Kovil or Mosque will, thanks to the very nature of the country, be the ultimate minority. And in a country that has made Majoritarianism a virtual religion, this is a bad place to be. After all, aren’t those of no identified religious affiliation easiest to identify as belonging to “the other,” particularly since every adherent to denominational religion is able to differentiate themselves from the free-thinkers, atheists and agnostics, “jointly and severally” as the old legal expression has it? All denominational religionists could well be united against a common enemy – those not declaring allegiance to any of their faiths. The ideal “common enemy,” if you will.
In all reality, being a target of “militant Buddhists,” (no matter how dichotomous the term!), those who believe in Jihad being the solution to the problems of the world, the adherents of the Hindutva or those who believe that heresy of any kind should be dealt with by burning at the stake is NOT going to be fun!
Throughout history we’ve had the phenomenon of minorities being persecuted because of their geographic location, beliefs or some other superficial factor. It seems that, in relatively modern times, particularly since the advent of Christianity, the primary targets have been those in a minority insofar as religious affiliation is concerned. That these have, more often than not, been ethno-religious groups is also a fact. What is symptomatic of the Sri Lankan reality is that there also appears to be no acceptance of the fact that a citizen may NOT belong to one or the other of the formal religious groups. The next time anyone reading this column has the opportunity to do so, it would be salutary to check any government (or other?) form requiring personal identification because you will NOT find provision for entering “Agnostic,” “Atheist,” “Free-thinker” or any such term!
Welcome to the Sri Lankan version of the New World (Dis)order! One that does not recognize the fact that the vast majority of the world’s population does not adhere to any formal religion!