By C. Wijeyawickrema –
Colombo crowd’s Friday Forum is worried about “Muslim hunting” in Sri Lanka. As usual this mostly retired-elite group is in a tunnel. Not a word about the Ulamas working like Taliban agents in Sri Lanka. Aasad Saaly does a better job in his consideration of the other side of the Halal certification issue. FF wants to blame the Bodu Bala Sena and that is all. I do not know how many parents of the Friday Forum’s (FF) Sinhala Buddhist members sent them to a village/town Temple Sunday school when they were young children. I also do not know how many of them had heard the story of a colonial governor expressing his embarrassment when (in the 1880s) the Sinhala representative of the then Legislative Council had voted against the resolution to make Vesak a public holiday in Ceylon. The Sinhala rep who was a Christian said that one week of Christmas holidays was enough for all in Ceylon. No Forum can become a “useful” entity unless it at least gives the impression to the public (in this case Colombo English-speaking crowd) that it knows what it is talking about. Otherwise, the perception of people will be that FF is nothing but a weekend gathering of a wine and cheese party.
Sri Lanka’s history and a geography cannot be ignored. How can it (FF) forget even the most recent past? Think of the dark days of CBK who is now coming back to talk about bad MPs forgetting that she was the one who first made Mervyn Silva, the thug, an MP! With her two chief disciples Mangala Samaraweera and S. B. Dissanayake, organizing white lotus peace parades in Colombo, ridiculing the village boys and girls sacrificing their lives in the North, Sinhala Buddhists were hiding their faces in fear and shame! It was the late Ven. Gangodavila Soma, reminiscent of the earlier times of the Anagarika Dharmapala who came forward to pump oxygen to a dying and discriminated community of Sinhala Buddhists. There was no lay man or woman with a backbone to help boost Buddhist morale, and Ven. Soma said he had nothing to lose. He became an unstoppable national force which a shrewd converted evangelical businessman like Lalith Kotalawala was able to foresee. The others saw the true value of Ven. Soma Movement only after Ven. Soma’s tragic death, reminding people the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence of things. Ven. Soma’s funeral proved that Buddhists are becoming a disciplined-organized, and if necessary Malcolm X-like force.
Three entities tried to claim Ven. Soma’s dowry. Chandrika tried to bribe Ven. Soma’s mother and take a photograph with her. JVP demonstrators found Buddhist monks waiting on roadsides with pirith nuul. Ultimately, it was Mahinda Rajapakse who could benefit from Ven. Soma’s effort. MR won because of the Sinhala Buddhist vote. A president is the president all ethnic groups. But it does not mean he should ignore Sinhala Buddhists at the expense of so-called ethnic harmony or interfaith labels. Ali Jinna once told Gandhi, “Mr. Gandhi you worship cow but we eat cow, so how can we become friends?” Similarly one God-based religions and Buddhism cannot be same as Buddhists do not believe in a God. Since Buddhist never harmed or interfered with other religions, what the government was expected to do was to protect Buddhism from harm perpetrated by other religions came from the West. Buddhists did not ask to make Buddhism the state religion. For example, when D. S. Senanayake, on the advice of Ivor Jennings said that there is no Pali stanza saying “Aanduwa Saranam Gachchami” (I take refuge of the government), Buddhist position was clearly laid out thus:
“The Buddhists wish—and quite rightly—that in this country where they form 70 percent of the population, Buddhism should be recognized as the predominant religion of the people. In the rest of the world, Ceylon is regarded as essentially a Buddhist country, and they want this claim established here as well…They will not be content to remain in the position of inferiority to which they have been reduced by 450 years of foreign occupation… They have no desire to make Buddhism the State religion—in spite of the cry raised by self-seeking politicians— but they want the State to help them rehabilitate themselves and undo some, at least, of the injustices perpetrated against them during the days of their subjection.”
(From a speech by Professor Gunapala Malalasekera, President of the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress, printed in Times of Ceylon,January 15, 1956, reproduced on page 196 of the book, Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation by W. H. Wriggins, Princeton Univ. Press, 1960, p. 196).
Despite this position successive governments of Colombo ruling families used Buddhism as a platform for them to get votes and erected constitutions mentioning foremost position to Buddhism etc. As we can clearly see from the Buddhism ministry under the present prime minister, this kind of false recognition became a loss to Buddhists on five different ways: No extra benefits were given to Buddhists, but other world religious units got government office space; and international Christian groups started a propaganda campaign against Buddhists citing the constitutional words. Useless and sabotaging ministry officers did more damage than good to Buddhist institutions via government control. Temple chief monks who were independent sovereign entities unlike a Christian church became dependent on government dole for funds; villagers thought that they do not have to donate for temple maintenance now that the government is taking care of temples! While this is going on in Sri Lanka, on the other hand in Christian countries such as in USA George Bush gave all the privileges to Christian evangelists, despite the requirement of religious neutrality mentioned in the US Constitution. In UK it is Queeen’s religion. In Norway it is another Christian faith.
When a president who came to power with the Sinhala Buddhist vote could not protect even the Buddhist ruins in the East and North, when Buddhist social values and heritage was rapidly declining, Bodu Bala Sena came to speak on behalf of Buddhists. Halal issue was the match that lighted the firewood gradually accumulating all over Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka could not prevent the dynamiting of the Bamian Buddha or setting fire to ancient Buddhist manuscripts found in Afghanistan. But the government must at least be able to prevent bulldozing ancient Buddhist temples. The jokers in the Archeology Department could not stop even that. For them it was only a heap of earth. Both Christian Church and Islam organizations in the world spend millions of dollars to convert people by unethical means.
It is true that it was Gotabhaya Rajapakse who helped MahindaR to win the war. FF can have cheese and wine parties in Colombo because of that. But when it comes to civil administration, MR Administration is no different from past administrations. Corruption, inefficiency and general stupidity is continuing. It divides people either as yes men or enemies. Mahinda R is missing a great opportunity to make Sri Lanka a real Dharmishta Rajya. Mahinda Chinthanaya cannot work unless and until people are freed from crook politicians. One of the best approaches is to empower people at the village level demarcated by natural, language-blind political units with a ten-member council elected on non-party basis. Instead of the present Divineguma plan based on officialdom, which is bound to fail, village councils so selected must be allowed to decide on local affairs including education. Officers and higher governmental units must be there to help and not to decide on behalf of people. This is what one can say is the 13A Plus as from village level councils it can go upward to seven river basin regions in the island with Yalpanam as the northern river basin.
Because LLRC report created more problems to the government, Ulamas thought they can capitalize on MahindaR’s weakness to bend over backwards to please the minorities and introduce hala joke in an authoritarian manner. A Buddhist country like Sri Lanka does not need American or Navi Pillay-kind of advisors to teach on human rights. Buddhist gave women equal rights and even animals and trees their rights 2600 years ago. The problem is past politicians and present president is either not willing or not able to implement Buddhist principles. Buddhist principles are reasonable principles. For example, Muslims Ulamas can have halal but it is unreasonable to gear it toward non-Muslims. Sri Lankan Muslim women do not have to become goni billas covering their head in streets as Sri Lanka does not have sand storms. In their mosques they can cover their bodies not on public roads.
I wanted show FF that if they just isolate an issue and write complaints it will be a waste of time and energy. FF must try to be a forum wanting to help all Sri Lankans and not directing their frustration against MahindaR. For example, FF members need to watch on Youtube what Bodu Bala Sena said at the Archeological Dept meeting or in Beruwala hotel about the Buddha Bar to see both the trees as well as the forest. I challenge FF to have a meeting with BBS so that FF will not write another silly letter to the president. Otherwise FF is no different from that Tisaranee Gunasekara who spits her venom against the Rajapakse family. She throws the baby with the bath water. Judging from how it works via Youtube videos I think BBS will be the future hope of Sri Lanka.