When sorrows come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions was used by Claudius in Shakespeare play, Hamlet, Act IV Scene. What this means is that when disasters occur, they do not happen alone but many other calamities occur simultaneously to compound human tragedy. This is exactly the pathetic situation Sri Lanka government finds itself right now.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa government is engaged in fighting a do or die battle in multiple fronts. Firstly, the daunting battle to beat the COVID-19 virus which is playing havoc on all fronts. As of January 02, the number of infected cases stands at 64,983 and the dead at 826.
Secondly, the daunting task of repaying foreign loans amounting to USD 5 bn in 2021. Like the beggar with the begging bowl, the government is on a pilgrimage around the globe to look for lenders like the IMF, World Bank and other lending agencies. USD 5 bn is no small change when Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves stand at USD 5.5 bn now. Before the change of government in November 2019 the foreign reserves stood at USD 7.5 bn. Apparently, the government used the foreign reserves to settle foreign loans that fell due in 2020. External Debt of Sri Lanka increased to USD 51.61 bn in the third quarter of 2020 from USD 50.81 bn in the second quarter of 2020. The country’s Nominal GDP was reported at USD 21.1 bn in Mar 2020. As of 30 November 2020, Sri Lanka with USD 4,549 bn in foreign reserves ranked at 96 out of 194 countries. Thus, the financial health of the country is in terrible shape like the Coronavirus.
The Rajapaksa government while fighting a do or die battle to contain pandemic COVID-19, has wittingly or unwittingly opened a second front against not against the Muslims but the Hindu Tamils living in the North East. Scores of Hindu Temples and places considered holy to the Hindus are under siege by the pan Sinhala–Buddhist Presidential Task Force and the archaeology Department.
The PTF was appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last June 2020 that comprised Buddhist monks and the head of the Derana media network. The Gazette notification claimed that “There is a growing danger that these heritages are becoming degraded with time due to natural and man-made action. Since many of the archaeology Heritages in the Eastern Province are based on the Buddhist religious background and associated with those places of worship, it has been recognized that the guidance and patronage of the Venerable Maha Sangha are still needed in the identification and management of those heritages”, The PTF was also asked to “identify sites of archaeological importance in the Eastern Province to the Buddhists in order to “preserve the historical heritage of Sri Lanka” in the island’s eastern province. The gazette notification came after the President met with the Buddhist Maha Sanga in Kandy last year.
The Sri Lankan military sent a high-level delegation to the Eastern province last month, including the war crimes accused army head and Defence Secretary, where they pledged to establish a naval sub-unit to protect Buddhist sites.
The Eastern province, the traditional habitat of the Tamil speaking people has come under decades of intense Sinhalization and colonization from state-sponsored settlement schemes. In recent years, the state has used the guise of ‘archaeology’ to take over vast areas of lands in the North-East and mark them as ‘Buddhist sites’.
The US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 said that the construction of such sites and Buddhist statues in non-Buddhist areas in the North-East, despite objections from locals and leading civil society with the perception of “Buddhist Sinhalese religious and cultural imperialism”.
Tamils have also voiced fears about further appropriation of land by the state through the task force, as the gazette announced the body would be able to “identify the extent of land that should be allocated for such archaeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally”.
“The Presidential Task Force on Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province may issue instructions or request that all Government Officers and other persons requesting assistance in the provision of services comply with such instructions,” the gazette concluded.
The eleven members of the pan Sinhala-Buddhist Task Force on Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province include:
1. Archaeological Chakravarthi Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero
2. The Chief Prelate for the Northern and Eastern two Provinces, Chief Sanganayake of Thamankaduwa Direction, and Chief Incumbent of Arisimalai Aranya, Ven. Panamure Thilakawansha Thero
3. Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunaratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Defense
4. Dr. Senarath Bandara Dissanayake, Director-General of Archaeology
5. Ms. Chandra Herath, Land Commissioner General
6. Ms. A.L.S.C. Perera, Surveyor General
7. Prof. Raj Kumar Somadeva, Senior Lecturer, University of Kelaniya
8. Prof. Kapila Gunawardena, Medical Faculty, University of Peradeniya
9. Deshabandu Thennakoon, Senior DIG, Western Province
10. H.E.M.W.G. Dissanayake, Provincial Land Commissioner, Eastern Province
11. Dilith Jayaweera, Chairman of Derana Media Network
The PTF is headed by Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunaratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. He led the 53rd Division during the war and is accused of committing war crimes.
Members of the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province have been entrusted to:
1. Identify sites of archaeological importance in the Eastern Province,
2. Identify and implement an appropriate program for the management of archaeological heritage by conserving and restoring such identified sites and antiquities,
3. Identify the extent of land that should be allocated for such archaeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally, and
4. Preserve the cultural value of sites of archaeological importance and promote the uniqueness of Sri Lanka, both locally and internationally, and make recommendations for the promotion of such heritages.
The PTF has embarked in its unholy mission in earnest. It is ably assisted by the Archaeological Department, the three Divisional Secretaries of the Eastern provinces as well as the Sinhala-Buddhist army and Police. Wherever members of the PTF go they are flanked by the army as well as the police providing security.
It is a known fact that high-ranking army Commanders have openly proclaimed that the army is a Sinhala-Buddhist army since 98% of the force consist of Sinhala-Buddhists. It is the same Sinhala-Buddhist army that had erected Buddhist Viharas and Buddha statues all over North and East, especially the North since May, 2009.
Two days ago, Army Chief Savendra Silva, who is accused of war crimes and facing travel ban by the US government, flew to Thayidy, accompanied by a posse of Buddhist monks in the North, to lay the foundation stone for a Buddhist Vihara where there are no Buddhists. The Vihara is being constructed in a private property seized by the army during the civil war.
Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, a leader of the extremist Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force, or BBS), has argued: “This is a Sinhala Buddhist country. We have a Sinhala Buddhist culture. This is not Saudi Arabia. But you must accept the culture and behave in a manner that doesn’t harm it” (The Economist 2013,35).
Scores of villages with Tamil names are given Sinhalized titles to make it easy for the Department of Archaeology to takeover of villages claiming they were historically connected to Buddhism.
Scores of Tamil Hindu temples in the North–East have been already laid siege by the PTF and the archaeology Department under the cloak of identifying Buddhist ruins. The officials and staff of the three Districts in the Eastern Provinces have also been pressed into service.
The PTF has identified Buddhist places of importance in Thiriyai, Thennamaravadi, Kutchaveli, Kumpuruppiddy etc. Stones have been laid along the boundary lines of such lands.
The Department of Archaeology had by means of recent gazette notifications ceded the land to 7 Buddhist Organizations. The affected people have gone to the courts to assert their rights. More lands are slated to be taken over by the Department of Archaeology!
Tamil Hindus by nature are very docile and indifferent people. Generally, they don’t believe in fighting to death to defend their religion. Hinduism is not an organized religion and has no single founder or systematic approach to teaching its value system. Nor do Hindus have a simple set of rules to follow like the Ten Commandments. Unlike the Christian or Islamic traditions, which have the Bible and the Koran, Hinduism does not adhere to a single text.
Yet a common thread among all these variations is the belief in a Supreme Being and adherence to certain concepts such as Truth, dharma, and karma. And belief in the authority of the Vedas (sacred scriptures) is accepted to a large extent.
There is a commonality between Hinduism and Buddhism, they both share many beliefs and uses the same terminology and concepts yet have subtle differences as well. The fundamental belief in both Hinduism and Buddhism is that there is a continuing cycle of life, suffering, death and rebirth called samsara and that this cycle is based on karma, i.e. actions and subsequent reactions. Both Hinduism and Buddhism also share the belief that liberation from samsaracan be attained, but both pursue a different path to achieve it. In Hinduism, this liberation from samsara is called moksha after death, whereas in Buddhism it is known as nirvana in the present life itself. Another major difference is Buddhism does not believe in a soul or a creator god.
In this context, The Federation of Saiva (Hindu) Temples U.K. have issued a press release condemning the seizure of Hindu Temples to build Buddhist Viharas using state resources. Here are some excerpts from the press release dated 21 January 2021:
(1) Last week, at the Kurundurmalai Adi Iyanar Temple in the Mullaitivu district, a Trident was pulled out to install a statue of Buddha. A Buddhist ceremony was held by monks in the presence of State Minister Vitdura Wickramanayaka. The place was decorated with Buddhist and Army flags. Hundreds of soldiers were seen clearing the area and participating in the ceremony. This act has shocked the Hindu Tamils. Tamil leaders have strongly condemned this act as a blatant attempt to Buddhistize the traditional habitat of the Tamils.
(2) The buddhistization under the cloak of identifying Archaeological sites (read Buddhist sites) follows the Sinhalization of the North-East since independence in 1948. Because of state-aided colonization of Tamils’ traditional habitat they have been reduced to a minority in Trincomalee (33.6%) and Amparai (17.4%) Districts. Even recently under the Weli Oya (Manal Aru) scheme, a new Divisional Secretariat has been created in the Mullaitivu District. This Divisional Secretariat consists of 18 villages comprising 3,336 families (11,189 persons). The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa personally handed over the land-permits to the Sinhalese settlers in 2010.
(3) Various institutions of the Government of Sri Lanka make use of Acts of Parliament most of them enacted before the enactment of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution to undermine the powers conferred on the Provincial Councils on land. The relevant Acts are:
(I) Mahaweli Authority Act No. 23 of 1979 (as amended)
(ii) Urban Development Law No. 41 of 1978 (as amended) and Town and Country Planning Ordinance No.13 of 1946 amended by Amendment Act No. 49 of 2000
(iii) Sri Lanka Ports Authority Act No. 51 of 1979
(iv) Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005 which retains sections of the Tourism Development Act No. 14 of 1968
(v) Antiquities Act No. 24 of 1998 together with the archaeology Sites of National Importance Act No. 16 of 1900
(4) This buddhistization under the cloak of identifying Archaeological sites (read Buddhist sites) follows the Sinhalization of the North-East since independence in 1948. Even recently under the Manal Aru (renamed Weli Oya) scheme, a new Divisional Secretariat has been created in the Mullaitivu District. This Divisional Secretariat consists of 18 villages comprising 3,336 Sinhalese families totalling 11,189 persons.
(5) The Ven. Ellawala MedhanandaThero, a member of the archaeology Heritage Management Task Force, stated that the team examined and identified 2,000 sites as Buddhist heritage. This poses an imminent and ominous threat not only to Hindu places of worship but also to lands belonging to Hindu Tamils. In short, many historical Hindu temples are under siege by the different arms of the government. The government has declared virtual ‘holy war’ against Hindus and their places of worship. United and concerted action by Hindus all over the world is needed to halt the buddhistization and colonization of Hindu temples and their lands.
There are other Hindu temples the Archaeological department is claiming as Buddhist sites of importance. At Vedukkunari there is a Hindu temple called Athi Lingeswarar. The Archaeological Department is laying claim to this ancient Hindu temple as a Buddhist site. When the Hindu temple trustees resisted the take-over, the Archaeological Department filed a case against the 4 trustees and the temple priest charging them with obstructing excavation in the area. All of them were remanded by the court and two weeks elapsed before they were granted bail.
Such examples can be multiplied. Kanniya Hot wells holy to the Hindus were taken over by the archaeology Department overnight. When the authorities of the adjoining Hindu Pillayar temple wanted to demolish same to build a new one, the Archaeological department said no. However, the same department allowed a Buddhist monk to build a Buddhist Vihara and a pansala at the same site.
Now all these cases are before courts. The Hindus rightly fear more temples will be targeted for taking over under one pretext or other.
As though in response, Hindu Association, Civil Societies, Tamil National Political Parties have organized a massive long march from Poththuvil in the East to Point Pedro in the North from February 03 – February 06.
The Police have swung into action and had obtained restraining orders from courts against scores of frontline activists’ leaders, including Shanakiya Rasamanickam, MP and Thavarasa Kalaiarasan, MP both from the Batticaloa district, participating in the march. The Police is expected to approach courts in the North to obtain similar restraining orders. The excuse given by the Police is there is an imminent threat to peace and order.
It is not understood why on earth, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government facing multiple problems in several fronts, had opened another front against the Hindu Tamils.