30 October, 2020

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Legacies Of Impunity

By Dharisha Bastians –

Dharisha Bastians

Dharisha Bastians

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-  Because I was not a Jew – Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

Bible burning and church razing – that is the horrific legacy of 18 months of carte blanche for extremist forces masquerading as Buddhist religious movements. It is the bequest of unchecked hate speech from public platforms of the Bodu Bala Sena and the Sihala Ravaya which has coloured the teachings and the discourse in every Buddhist temple, from the smallest villages to the largest towns across the island.

Religious tensions had been simmering in the tourist town of Hikkaduwa over the Christmas season, with leading Buddhist monks in the area demanding the closure of two Christian churches in the area on grounds that they were ‘unauthorised’. The tension had led to three churches in Southern Sri Lanka being attacked on Christmas Eve. Assemblies of God Hikkaduwa had been one of them. So when Police turned up at the church last Saturday to inform the Pastor Chinthaka Prasanna that a protest against them had been planned for the next day, members of the congregation decided it would be prudent to take certain precautions.

Gathering inside the small hall at which Sunday services are held, some members of the congregation locked themselves inside. The main gate had also been locked and reinforced. At 8 a.m., Sunday service commenced as usual. Upon request, the police had assured Pastor Chinthaka that religious services could continue as usual because police officers would be deployed for protection of the church premises.

Mob attack

But during the service, when a mob of about 250 persons descended upon Baddegama Road where the church is situated, only three policemen were standing guard outside the premises. Three wheelers carrying loudspeakers were blaring anti-Christian slogans. Buddhist monks who had formed an organisation calling itself the Hela Bodhu Pawura were leading the demonstrators. Young children, clad in white Daham Pasal costume carried large Buddhist flags at the front of the procession. Men and women, also wearing white as is customary for visits to the temple were among the unruly Sunday crowd.

Led by the saffron robed, these devotees of Gautama Buddha whose philosophy was one of peace, love and non violence laid siege to the Christian church. When they found the main gate could not be breached, the mob crashed in through the side entrance. They broke the church roof, demolished windows and equipment and forced worshippers to flee.

Pastor Chinthaka who had led some members of his congregation to his home adjoining the church for refuge, claims he was forced out by Buddhist monks who threatened him with death unless steps were taken to close the church. Not even the few policemen stationed to protect the premises against the mob attack had been spared. Rough-housed and verbally insulted by the monks, these officers offered weak and ineffectual resistance as young men in saffron robes vandalised the church.

When the crowd moved on to the Calvary Free Church a short distance away where the Sunday services were just concluding, police personnel managed to stall an invasion of the premises by holding the demonstrators off until the remaining congregation could be safely moved out of the church. Moments later, the mob had moved in for its second onslaught. Teenage monks ripped religious writings off church walls and smashed chairs and pews inside the church. Gathering Bibles, hymnals and other religious material, the mob laid them out in the church garden and set them on fire. The crowd cheered.

Predictably, not a single arrest was made, despite the number of crimes committed by the mob and even though ample photographic and video evidence is available to identify perpetrators. But this should come as no surprise after the events of the past year. After Dambulla, Pepiliyana, Grandpass and now Hikkaduwa, scenes of saffron splashed violence met with the impotence of men in khaki have grown in eerie familiarity. Every attack against religious minorities that goes unpunished spurs on another. Each attack is greater in intensity and audacity than the last.

Broadening the net

Hardline ethno-religious groups commenced the latest cycle of religious intolerance with the storming of the Dambulla mosque and rampant Islamophobia that manifested itself in pseudo controversies like the Halal certification. A thriving culture of impunity for violence in word and deed against religious minorities has encouraged these groups to widen their net. Evangelical Christians whose proselytising campaigns have irked sections of the Buddhist population for years are their latest target. Just as it was with whipping up sentiment against Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, extremist groups have found it childishly simple to exploit certain inherent prejudices within the Buddhist community to inflame passions against the Christians. Their campaigns against Christian churches – especially in the Southern Province – have found an outpouring of support from local government officials and top regional law enforcement officials.

In Hikkaduwa the Hela Bodu Pawra managed to co-opt the support of officials at the Divisional Secretariat and high ranking police officials in the area. Basing their claim on a circular issued by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs in October 2008, that orders the registration of all new religious centres being constructed with the Ministry with effect from the date of the circular, the Divisional Secretariat issued letters to both churches attacked last Sunday insisting they could not continue to hold services in the premises because they were in violation of the circular. However the pastors and lawyers for the two churches have argued that the churches pre-date the circular by several years.

Following discussions with senior police officials in Galle on 27 December 2013, the Christian pastors and their lawyers met with the Secretary to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs in Colombo four days later to argue their case. Ministry officials admitted they had been misinformed about the existence of the two churches and said the churches would be permitted to continue their worship services while the matter was being cleared up. Still, 10 days later unruly mobs of Buddhist protestors are permitted to take the law into their own hands. The Police Spokesman claimed eight suspects involved in the Hikkaduwa religious violence have been identified, but no arrest has been made so far.

Silence

More tellingly, four days after the Hikkaduwa horror, no word of condemnation has emerged from any political quarter. The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which is constitutionally mandated to ensure the freedom of conscience and religion for every Sri Lankan citizen has remained deafeningly silent about the complete breakdown of law and order in the southern tourist town.
This sanction by omission not only galvanises forces like the Hela Bodhu Pawra that will mobilise at the next possible opportunity but reinforces the international perception of the Sri Lankan Government as a persecutor of minorities and a Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic regime.

But the political paralysis runs much deeper. With the opposition intent on distancing itself from moderate ideologies in a bid to court Sinhala Buddhist voters who prefer the nationalistic tenor of the Rajapaksa administration, raising a voice against violent hardline movements has proven far too risky.

Karu: A lone voice

It came as a surprise therefore that at a time when the United National Party’s Catholic and Christian members have chosen stony silence; the party’s Leadership Council Chairman Karu Jayasuriya has raised a lone voice against the Hikkaduwa violence. The protestations could come perhaps from no better man. Jayasuriya’s Buddhist credentials are strong; he is beloved of the Sangha and a practicing Buddhist. In a statement filled with angst that was released to the media two days after the brutal attacks on churches in Hikkaduwa, Jayasuriya accused the hardline movements of trying to destroy Buddhism by perpetrating violence and persecution in its name. This orchestration of violence against ethnic and religious minorities is…also an attempt to destroy the concept of Buddhism as taught by Lord Buddha, who gave the world a philosophy of peace, loving kindness and non violence towards all beings.

The actions of certain extremists claim to represent all Buddhists but by their every action they only befoul and denigrate the teachings of the Buddha. The impunity these groups have come to enjoy has brought Sri Lanka to very brink of communal strife yet again,” he warned in a blazing statement against religious violence and state inaction on Tuesday.

The UNP Leadership Council Chief makes a valiant attempt to portray the main opposition as a party of pluralist values that will stand against religious fanaticism and intolerance of every kind. “As a party that believes in studying and learning from the mistakes of the past, the UNP holds firm to the values of pluralism and freedom of conscience. As standard bearers of the country’s oldest party, we will stand for the religious freedoms of all Sri Lankans. If we hold true to the concept of one Sri Lanka, then our reaction to an assault against a mosque, church or Hindu kovil cannot differ in strength to the reaction against an attack on a Buddhist temple,” Jayasuriya’s statement said.

He believed, the statement said, that the majority of Sri Lanka’s Buddhists were still moderate, peace-loving citizens who were repulsed by this spate of violence against religious minorities. At a time when every politician appears to have deserted the moderates as being irrelevant players in electoral fortunes, Jayasuriya’s words proved a true aberration.

The need of the hour

In an age when politicians hailing from minority faiths are too afraid to speak out, the fight against religious bigotry will have to be championed by moderate Buddhist leaders with sufficient foresight to understand the dangers of today’s trend. Leaders who will refuse to be swayed by the expediency an enraged and insecure majority community offers.

If Jayasuriya stands up to the fray, he will be positioning himself exceedingly well, as a statesman willing to swim against the popular tide, offering Sri Lankan Buddhists a different narrative – one that is founded in Buddhist doctrine. If politicians like Jayasuriya can find the strength to galvanise the forces of moderate Buddhism from among the Sangha and the laity, it will prove the greatest challenge yet to the hate and intolerance propagated by extremist groups.

It may prove the greatest challenge also, to the hegemonic agendas of the ruling regime. The absence of alternative political discourse that challenges the kind of insular thinking that spawns extremist ethno-religious movements is helping to entrench the current political rulers. If the ideology and rhetoric of the present regime feeds prejudice and mistrust, the desperate need is for an alternative political movement that breaks them down and fosters understanding and pluralistic thinking.

Liberal alternative?

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, always quick to feel a political pulse proved she had recognised this political vacuum last week. The South Asian Policy and Research Institute, chaired by Kumaratunga organised a colloquium on religious freedom and pluralism, bringing together several scholars and experts on the issue. The UNP that is intent on trying to best the Rajapaksa administration at its own game by pandering to the baser instincts of the majority community should attempt to understand why the Government is infinitely more jittery about President Kumaratunga’s re-entry into politics than facing off against the Greens at any number of future elections. In retirement, Kumaratunga is becoming the champion of liberal causes and despite a somewhat chequered 11 year reign, is looking the part of the political alternative, even if as she claims, she has no further interest in active politics.

For reasons best known to himself, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has all the political capital and moral authority to tell the hardline monks to cease and desist – and ensure they fall in line – has chosen to look the other way. Like his predecessors before him, President Rajapaksa is choosing to pander to ancient prejudices. By sheer inaction, his Government is fanning the flames of communal strife. Perhaps the Rajapaksa administration believes that arranging a Papal visit this year will be sufficient to placate the country’s Roman Catholics. Perhaps it believes the visit will prevent the Catholics from reacting to the persecution of Christians and ensure some support for the Government at a major election. Thus far, those calculations have proven accurate.

Pluralistic response

When hardline groups took arms against Sufi shrines in Anuradhapura and Kuragala, the reaction from other Islamic sects was lukewarm at best. But these initial attacks, met with silence for the most part, paved the way for the attacks on mosques in Dambulla, Grandpass and countless smaller incidents of violence against Muslim places of worship. Similarly, it is not enough for Christians alone to be enraged by the attacks on Christian churches. Until every community can empathise and stand up for the other, the hardline groups will win every battle. With every attack that is met with silence from greater society, the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities are more gravely endangered. Once the Christians are effectively silenced, like the Muslims, will these groups come after the Catholics? And when the Catholics are suppressed, will they turn their eyes on the Hindus? And once every religious minority is put in its place, will the battle then rage over who is the better Buddhist? For there is little doubt that if current trends continue unchecked, moderate Buddhists will soon become the last religious minority, the final hurdle to be overcome and exterminated before religious fascism can rule.

Courtesy Daily FT

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Latest comments

  • 6
    5

    The need of the hour is well known, that is to restore law and order. For reasons that best serves the Rajapaksa clan that is not going to happen.

    Buddhism has failed in Sri Lanka. The caricature of a Buddhism that is so well developed and so well entrenched in Sri Lanka is nothing but a monstrous religious fascist movement. That the dastardly acts of violence against minorities are acts of minority chauvinist Sinhala Buddhist groups is just a myth. The majority Sinhala mindset is that of envy, suspicion and hatred of minorities.

    The emancipated are a minority in Sri Lanka. Therefore wholesale injustice and horrific acts of barbarism will prevail.

    • 2
      0

      I second this characteristically excellent article from the meticulous Dharisha. BBS Rep has made some pertinent comments too. I would like to add that the deafening silence from the President and his ministers should be a signal for deep despair amongst all concerned citizens. DO NOT EXPECT the Sinhala-Buddhist Police or Armed Forces to intervene and keep the peace – fear and respect of the Sangha is deeply entrenched even though many in the mobs are thugs masquerading as Buddhist priests. Sri Lankan Buddhists and Sinhala-Buddhism stands naked in full view of a watching world. Take heed, this is happening on your watch.

  • 3
    5

    I was searching through the database of “the religion of peace” website.

    But none of these concocted incidents are in it!!

    In comparison to these minor attacks where NO BODY dies, Jihad attacks kill at least 100 people a day!!

  • 0
    8

    Another Sri Lankan parrot quoting Martin Niemöller.

    Quotes from the Nazi era of Germany is a trick being played by the LTTE diaspora to get the rulers of the West on side. These are not relevant to Sri Lanka in any way. Imature writers fro mSri lanka seem to copy this trend without understanding the full story.

    Though physical attacks on evangelical frauds is to be condemned, the best way to stop attacks is to stop proselatysing. How did Chintaka Prasanna, a village youth become a preacher for the anti-Christ Assembly of God? If he wants to become Christian there are other acceptable churches. Ignorantly they fall for these American fronts who want to create chaos in the country.

    Please spare us. We have read enough of the above quote through Titsaranee Gunasekera who seems to be expert at adding totally useless quotes to everything she writes. Enough is enough.

    • 4
      0

      Dross-Joker, Thank God you don’t attempt a whole article, what with your non-existent spelling and your execrable grammar it would be a penance to read. Try the vernacular channel for a change!

      • 3
        0

        Spring Koha

        “what with your non-existent spelling and your execrable grammar it would be a penance to read.”

        Pain is supposed be a liberating force.

        Just sit back and relax, you may one day attain Nibbana. Isn’t it the sole purpose of all Sri Lankans?

        More pain from Rattaran, soon comes Nibbana.

        • 1
          0

          NV I know you are teasing me. Luckily, for the record, I get my pain…and pleasure…from a delightful source that always ensures sweet Nirvana. So, I do not need any help from the pointless and mis-named Rattaran – should be more like South’thuwa. Still we have to suffer all sorts in this crowded island paradise. Well, after that little gripe, I shall resume my lotus position and continue with a few tantric exercises.

        • 0
          0

          Spring Koha (kakka0 Native vedda (karapottha) are showing cryptically that he gets information from his hymie friends!

          Keep swallowing you piece of schit, you might get closer to hell because you have no hope of nbbana in lotus or “goma” positin.

          Ha ha ha.

      • 0
        0

        Who ‘tote’ u to ‘spel’ so ‘wel’?
        Grandma Ranmenika?

  • 2
    0

    Those who claim that Sri Lanka has sovereignty over the inhabitants of the island are mistaken:

    The state has become dysfunctional over the years (since 1956) with periodic pogroms against Tamils, including genocide, and now in a climactic condition other minority interests are also threatened. Impunity for crimes against Tamils is perennial in independent Sri Lanka. Fascist regimes such as the Nazi Germany developed in similar manner starting with intolerance against minorities.

    The state of Sri Lanka is beyond redemption: A fresh start must be made with the help of the international community so that we can have civilized norms of behavior of the state.

    The so-called 2500 year old civilization has failed and decadent. A fresh clean start is in order.

  • 0
    2

    making a mountain of a molehill again ?

    how about write about some murder in malsiripura ?

  • 0
    0

    AS USUAL,YOUR BULLSHIT.DO NOT COMMENT ON WHAT YOU DO NOT KNOW

    I WONDER FROM WHERE YOU GOT YOUR FIGURE OF 100 DYING IN JIHAD
    ATTACKS EVERY DAY??? HERE IS WHAT JIHAD IS. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH KILLING.

    JIHAD (English pronunciation: /dʒɪˈhɑːd/; Arabic: جهاد‎ ǧihād [dʒiˈhæːd]), an Islamic term, is a religious duty of Muslims. In Arabic, the word jihād translates as a noun meaning “struggle”. The word jihad appears in 23 Quranic verses.[1] Within the context of the classical Islam, particularly the Shiahs beliefs, it refers to struggle against those who do not believe in the Abrahamic God (Allah).[2] However, the word has even wider implications.
    Jihad means “to struggle in the way of Allah”. Jihad appears 41 times in the Quran and frequently in the idiomatic expression “striving in the way of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)”.[3][4][5] A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid; the plural is mujahideen. Jihad is an important religious duty for Muslims. A minority among the Sunni scholars sometimes refer to this duty as the sixth pillar of Islam, though it occupies no such official status.[6] In Twelver Shi’a Islam, however, Jihad is one of the 10 Practices of the Religion.
    There are two commonly accepted meanings of jihad: an inner spiritual struggle and an outer physical struggle.[3] The “greater jihad” is the inner struggle by a believer to fulfill his religious duties.[3][7] This non-violent meaning is stressed by both Muslim[8] and non-Muslim[9] authors. However, there is consensus amongst Islamic scholars that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against persecution and oppression.[10]
    The “lesser jihad” is the physical struggle against the enemies of Islam.[3] This physical struggle can take a violent form or a non-violent form. The proponents of the violent form translate jihad as “holy war”,[11][12] although some Islamic studies scholars disagree.[13] The Dictionary of Islam[3] and British-American orientalist Bernard Lewis both argue jihad has a military meaning in the large majority of cases.[14] Some scholars maintain non-violent ways to struggle against the enemies of Islam. An example of this is written debate, often characterized as “jihad of the pen”.[15]
    According to the BBC, a third meaning of jihad is the struggle to build a good society.[7] In a commentary of the hadith Sahih Muslim, entitled al-Minhaj, the medieval Islamic scholar Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi stated that “one of the collective duties of the community as a whole (fard kifaya) is to lodge a valid protest, to solve problems of religion, to have knowledge of Divine Law, to command what is right and forbid wrong conduct”

    KILLINGS GO ALONG ALL AROUND THE WORLD.
    MUSLIMS ARE ENTITLED TO DEFEND THEIR PERSON PROPERTY AND MOST OF ALL
    THEIR FAITH. IS THERE ANYTHING WRONG IN THIS?

    MUSLIMS HAVE BEEN ATTACKED IN SRI LANKA; HAVE THEY RETALIATED UNTIL NOW? NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! WHY?????

    WHAT DO YOU CALL THE KILLINGS BY CHRISTIANS,TAMIL HINDUS,AND BUDDHISTS?

  • 3
    0

    Thank you Dharisha,bless you!

    Brothers and sisters in Hikkaduwa..we feel very much for you.
    ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it’- 1.Cor.12.25(Bible)

  • 0
    0

    Thank God these holy men did not go for the testicles of the Christian evangelists as they usually wont to do of their antagonists. There is no evidence of their having left behind their triple gem either.Bensen

  • 0
    0

    There are still a few things to be thankful for in Sri Lanka and three of them are Dharisha, Tisaranee and Kishali, all women interestingly enough.
    As for the absolute vermin that spout their filth against any journalist showing an ability to write lucidly in English, they epitomise what this “Sinhala Buddhist” country has descended into!
    “By their emanations you shall know them,” most of them hiding out in countries that still practice democracy and which they never cease to abuse!

  • 0
    0

    If all the persecuted minorities form a united front opposing discrimination and harassment by the majority community, it could transform the way things seem to be in Sri Lanka.

    There needs to be a more equitable balance of power which keeps checks and balances on events and policy formulation.

    Unchallenged power can corrupt and make decision-makers aloof and out of touch, which will spell eventual doom for all.

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