It was heard last week that a novice monk had been sexually assaulted and admitted to the Matara general hospital. But the temple, the hospital, the police and all other responsible authorities took very good care to cover up the incident. Newspapers that usually sensationalize the incidents of sexual assaults on women and children were totally silent on this act of violence. Why?
Perhaps, it is better for the young monk’s anonymity not to get into a media uproar. Yet, total silent is not healthy either. While the Buddhist temples are known to restrain and tame sexual desire, there are also numerous stories about sexual misconduct at temples and their environs. Unless those ‘misconducts’ reach the point where the victims are required to hospitalize, such incidents get hidden behind the loud sounds of “sadu” in ritual chanting. The criminals hidden under yellow robes continue to find the safety of those sacred robes.
One exits the Southern Express Way at its end at Matara, to little village called “Godagama” in which the temple in question is located. The temple is Paththarama. This monastery, to be sure, is not responsible for a shameless crime committed by two monks and a layman. The abbot and the other monks residing at the temple should not be held exclusively responsible for this. Yet, incidents of this nature that routinely take place bring so much disgrace upon Buddhist temples. Such criminal acts must not be covered up by the sound of ‘Saadu’, the ritual chanting. Sin is sin no matter where it happens.
Story of the Hospital
The novice monk, 14, was violently raped and a hospitalization could not be avoided. On May 16th he was brought to the Matara general hospital. The doctor at outpatient unit diagnosed that the young monk had been sexually assaulted. Since he was referred to the Unit on sex-related illnesses, the hospitalization was temporally avoided. An important medical officer at the hospital has his ‘private practice’ joint in front of the temple, Paththaramaya, and it is quite natural that he wanted to ‘help’ the temple. That was another reason as to why the young monk was not admitted to the hospital right away on the first day.
Even though the young monk was sent back to the temple, there was nothing the temple could do. Even at the risk of being ashamed, the monk was eventually admitted to the hospital. Then, the news reached the ear of the monk’s mother.
The Mother’s Story
“This is my elder son. I have two other children. My husband does not live with us. It is difficult for me to raise three children all by myself. That is why I gave my son away to the temple. I thought he would be fed well and educated. But a mother cannot bear what has happened to him.”
“I was told by the temple that my son was in the hospital but didn’t tell why. That was a Sunday. May 22nd. I went to the hospital on that very day. What had happened to him was something difficult to talk about and also to look at. My poor child! Three people are involved in this crime.”
“I told the police about this. But the police took three days to record my complaint. The chief monk at the temple pleaded me not to make the incident public. He said he would kill himself if I did. It was I who should commit suicide. Anyway, when they couldn’t avoid it any longer they[accused] handed themselves to the police on May 29th. They had been remanded by the courts. On June 6th, they were brought to the courts again. We are poor people. We cannot fight legal battles with powerful people. But my child needs justice from the courts because we are powerless people.”
“Everyone sided with the temple after incident. We were left alone. I am disappointed with all the temples now. I am disappointed in all the monks. I have decided not to keep my son in robe anymore.”
No matter how powerless she is us, a mother would do anything on behalf her son. This lonely woman is speaking up against the temple and against the injustice done to her son. But she only has her own courage to support her – the courage of a mother.
This novice monk has been living at two other temples before coming to this temple in the month of May. He came there to learn Pali and Sanskrit from Manthinda monastery at Matara. But only thing he got to learn was lessons of sex from the two senior monks. A layman who teaches at the monastery has also joined the monks in abusing the novice. Even thought they have been remanded, some argue that they might have handed themselves to get better safety in the remand custody.
There is no an iota of doubt that these three people have been committing similar crimes for a long time. At some temples, this ‘Dharma’ of sexual misconduct is increasingly common. Those young monks who become victims turn into perpetrators themselves when they grow up. When such incidents get out of hand and lead to harm and violence, they are secretly solved within the temples. These things, however, need to be discussed openly and seriously in our society. The monk perpetrators and monk victims are both parts of a greater tragedy. These things must not be ignored in the name of religion or the Buddhist order.
Poor parents who are unable feed their children donate them to temples need to consider that they might be putting their children at risk. What kind of service these young monks can do to the religion, the Order and the country in future, when their childhood is robbed and they are sexually abused?
What will happen to the fourteen year old novice monk crushed under the grip of three adult men? These adult monks will be freed one day and return to the temple. If not, some other temple will take them back. What will happen then to the younger monks living at those temples? There is no end to this problem. If this young victim disrobes in future, his mother will have to explain why he did so to her neighbors. If the villagers get to know the real reasons for disrobing, how would they treat the child? Wouldn’t they stigmatize him? It is more than likely that this family will suffer further.
Those monks, who are running around to re-erect Mahinda Rajapaksa’s fallen political body, must come forward to face real issues wrecking their Sasana- the Buddhist order. Their priority should be to protect the Sasana for the future. They can only do so by treating novice monks with kindness and love. Those young boys donated to temples because of the poverty of their parents are not sex toys for perverse monks. It is sad that some monk-teachers try out Kama Sutra in the guise of teaching Pali and Sanskrit.
The courts will decide the punishments for the criminal monks of Matara. But renovation of this decadent temple culture belongs to leading monks and responsible lay Buddhists. Time to take up that responsibility has arrived. Not only the parliament[state], but the temple also has to change.
Buddhists rise up to save the lives of novice monks at temples!
*This article was originally published in Sinhala language weekly Ravaya newspaper on June 5th, 2016. Translated by Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi.