26 October, 2021


Let Us Move On

By Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr Ranga Kalansooriya

My mind started debating with itself after reading the thought provoking piece by our senior and most respected colleague Latheef Farook that referred in detail to my previous column on the harmony between Sinhala Buddhists and Muslims. In fact two particular recent incidents, specifically from Sinhala Buddhist side, prompted me adding these thoughts to the deliberation with Mr. Latheef.

Before getting into those two incidents let me comment on some particular points of Mr. Latheef. He has correctly detailed the historical background to the issue, but should we repeat this over and over again? We are very well aware of the fact that the racist political leaders are responsible to the ethno-religious tension in this country that galvanized into a fully-fledged war between two ethnic communities (though someone could argue otherwise claiming that it was not an ethnic war, my explanation would be totally different). I honestly think that we should stop this blame game and strategically think of the future searching for ways and means to rectify the situation since continuation of these accusations would not bring any result, rather deepen the mistrust through an unpleasant debate. Of course, we should not forget it as the lessons from the past should be the foundation for future.

I mostly like his critical analysis on the role of the religious leaders. The two incidents those I was referring to were, in fact, about the role of these religious representatives who has immense power in shaping the minds of their blind followers. These two incidents depict two different aspects of Sinhala Buddhist mindset on ethnic reconciliation.

One incident happened in the historic university of Nalanda in the State of Bihar in India early this week when a group of Sri Lankan Buddhists visited the site. A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk who was residing in that area was explaining the historical value of the former educational cum monasterial complex but slowly crossed the limit and started stereotype rhetoric against the Muslims referring to the devastating attack by the Turkish leader Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193 that caused a major setback to Buddhism in India.

While alarming the Sinhala Buddhist listeners about alleged threats from the ‘over-populated’ Muslims, the monk was referring to a series of doctored statistics which were far beyond reality. The Sinhalese will soon become a minority in Sri Lanka, he alarmed with some hypothetical numbers. The usual rhetoric against Muslim businesses was repeated requesting them not to step into those shops. He wanted the devotees to carry this message to their villagers and spread it among the peers. A few of us felt extensively uncomfortable but the average rural pilgrimages were nodding to this ‘preaching.’

Rapid expansion of population is a common global allegation against Muslims. Nonetheless, so called visible expansion of families does not reflect in the official census and statistics, at least in the Sri Lankan context. According to a media report published in The Island on March 18, 2013 Director, Population Census and Demography Division of the Department of Census and Statistics, Indu Bandara has stated that the Sinhala and Muslim populations had increased at the rate of 1.04 and 1.87 per cent respectively between 1981 and 2012, but it was not a threat to Sinhala people contrary to claims being made in some quarters to that effect. The 66 percent of Sinhalese in 1881 has reached 74.9 percent by 2012 according to the department – probably nearly an eight percent increase while Muslims have grown by 2.5 percent during the same period. But I don’t think Sinhalese or any other non-Muslim community is mentally prepared to accept these scientific statistics. They would argue citing the number of members in a Muslim family they know comparing to their own.

These allegations are predominantly based on mistrust and lack of understanding. Have we attempted at least to provide the true picture of these allegations from our own respective sides? The simple answer is No. We always stick to a blame game and confine ourselves in criticizing our opportunistic politicians and stop there. But again I admire Mr Farooq’s brave words against his own religious leadership in this regard.

The other reference I wanted to make is a statement published in our sister paper Sunday Times last week by Most Venerable Thirikunamale Ananda Maha Nayaka Thera of Sri Dharmarakshita Chapter of Amarapura Nikaya. The well learned chief priest highlighted the urgent need of building a reconciliation bridge between different ethnic communities in the country parallel to the economic development. His thoughts were total opposite to those of the monk I met in Nalanda – a clear reflection of a true son of The Buddha with a deep understanding on the issue.

Hailing from Trincomalee and still a frequent visitor to the area to look after his ailing mother, the Maha Nayaka Thera possesses a sound knowledge on the dynamics of the highly complex nature of the eastern region. Most importantly his remarks are further vital as he belongs to a strong Sinhala Buddhist sector in different aspects. Ananda Maha Nayaka Thera is a leading figure of the Sinhala language advocacy group Hela Howula initiated by Cumaratunga Munidasa. Furthermore, he is a contemporary and a Sasana-brother of the late Gangodawila Soma Thera who at his late stage became controversial due to his nationalistic ideologies. I happened to be a student of both these monks – Soma Thera and later Ananda Maha Nayaka Thera.

Thus, the comments of Ananda Maha Nayaka Thera should be considered as deriving from the strong Sinhala Buddhist schools of thought. Highlighting the role of religious leaders in building ethno-religious harmony in the east, the Maha Nayaka Thera focuses on five points in his statement.

The first is the unequal distribution of development that fuel ethnic mistrust among communities and affect the reconciliation process. We are aware of the ulterior motives of the development projects in the east mainly in the coastal belt since the war ended in 2009. Personal commercial gains over-rode the regional and geo-political priorities depriving the needs of the people. Some leading politicians of the day made colossal benefits out of these development projects.

The second point that Maha Nayaka Thera points out is the presence of political groups who are undermining the reconciliation process at the expense of their own political gains. I am sure these political groups he was referring to are predominantly ethnic based ones. Then he talks about the language issue arguing the fact that the people of the area should be able to communicate with their governing systems in their own language, an issue that had fueled the country’s ethnic conflict as well.

The argument he was raising on the foreign funded radical religious groups has become a concern even for moderate Muslims all over the world. As they criticize the West and Israel against their hidden agendas (predominantly on the Palestine issue), the moderate Muslims should equally bother about these foreign funding agencies (or sometime countries) as well as their radical beneficiaries. The Sinhala Buddhists would generalize those radicals as average Muslims, thus misunderstand and mistrust may develop. To my mind moderates from both communities should be mobilized in addressing radicalism in both sides. The then state sponsored Sinhala Buddhist radicalism (I do not buy the claim that those elements were sponsored by Norway as claimed by Mr Farook) are now being dealt under the law of the land, but I have no idea as to how the state could deal with Muslim radicalism which is an undeniable global phenomenon.

The last point that the Maha Nayaka Thera was referring to was the protection of the Buddhist archeological sites in the East, a point of serious concern that could spark ethno-religious tension within seconds. The government, basically the archeological department needs to intervene and resolve this issue with solid alternatives to the new settlers before those concerns develop into flares of ethno-religious hatred.

Nevertheless, as Maha Nayaka Thera pointed out, this could not be the sole responsibility of the government in power or the politicians. Religious leaders and civil society should join hands in taking the first step, he says – true colours of a courageous Buddhist leader.

In fact, the Maha Nayaka Thera has displayed his willingness to take the leadership in such a process, a timely move by a Sinhala Buddhist religious leader. We know of many such Buddhist clergy who would join this effort. What we need a similar leadership from other religious leaders, mainly the Muslims and Tamils. I think the Church is already there. As Mr Farook strongly argued the Muslim religious leadership should be united and strengthened if we are to succeed in this road. But it is not my prerogative to comment in that particular aspect of Muslim religious leadership. The only claim that I can make is that we have strong Sinhala Buddhist leaders of clergy who are ready to walk on the path of reconciliation, if you do.

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  • 2

    Dr Ranga Kalansooriya

    RE: Let Us Move On

    “Before getting into those two incidents let me comment on some particular points of Mr. Latheef. He has correctly detailed the historical background to the issue, but should we repeat this over and over again? “

    Yes, we should move on, but should not forget the past. However, mechanisms should be put i n lace to prevent such recurrence.

    Unfortunately none of the criminals have been apprehended.


    Is this Yahapalanaya?

  • 2

    Yes Ranga Kalansuriya, we should take every opportunity to establish Reconciliation, among our various Ethnic Communities.

    We May be unpopular among the Majority Community, but it is wonderful to witness the Rapport we get from the Minorities, when we actively try to Build Bridges!

    The Biggest Hindrance to Reconciliation seems to be the Attitude of the Majority of Buddhist Monks, who often use the Phrase ‘They are Breeding like Flies’.

    • 3


      “The Biggest Hindrance to Reconciliation seems to be the Attitude of the Majority of Buddhist Monks,”

      Do you evidence and proof that they are “Buddhist” monks, as per the teachings of the Enlightened Buddha?

    • 1

      Can you kindly let Hamlet correct it to ‘majority of those wearing saffron robes’?
      Then, that will be true of India as well.

      Interestingly, the view on breeding of Muslims is common to both categories.

      • 1

        Thank you Amarasiri and SJ; I agree, must have been a Slight Lapse of Insight.

        It could also have been the number of extra Keystrokes needed for the Clarification, as I usually do!

  • 7

    The absence of any public protest on the arrest and remanding of several monks, is quite illustrative. There is no monolithic entity named Sinhala-Buddhists that works to a pre-determined agenda. It is the politicians ,who have created this illusion and committed unforgettable crimes in it’s name.

    MR has alluded that the Pancha Maha Balavegaya is under attack by the present government. To him the GMOA members/leadership are the present day Vedas! He does not have the honesty to say that he and his family are under the microscope for what they have been alleged to have done during their mis-rule. I donot think there will be whimper in a Sinhala-Buddhist context even if MR is arrested tomorrow and jailed!

    The cliche that Tamil children are being educated in Tamil with Sinhala tax payers money, is a new myth being spread and given voice to by one ‘Vibhushana’ in Colombo Telegraph. This is no different to the baseless allegations made against the Tamils by the likes of Cyril Mathew as a prelude to introducing the pernicious standardization scheme for university admissions. This no different to the Sinhala-Buddhist cliche the minorities have come to believe without question.

    We should as a people, stop parroting illusions created by our politicians( & their agents) and believing in an uncritical blind way their cliches, if we are to reconcile and progress.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 1

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran:
    “This is no different to the baseless allegations made against the Tamils by the likes of Cyril Mathew as a prelude to introducing the pernicious standardization scheme for university admissions.”
    Is this post-history (meaning non-history), like in postmodernism, post feminism etc.?

    Cyril Matthew was not on the scene when standardization came about in 1970-71 under the UF regime led by Mrs B.
    What triggered it was the unusually large number of Tamils qualifying for Engineering– thanks to private tutoring in Jaffna at the time.
    There was an understandable public outcry based on the suspicion that Tamil examiners were favouring Tamil candidates. Investigations showed that the charge was baseless, but standardization was in place already. Then came the the District Quota System.

    In 1978, JRJ introduced a merit quota but that was minor consolation. Cyril Matthew did not stir trouble.
    When in 1982, some mischievous academics started a campaign against Tamil lecturers, accusing them of favouritism, CM backed the Sinhala racist case, which again proved to be baseless.

    Cyril Matthew was the hatchet man for JRJ (whom the TNA helped in 1977 to win heavily).
    CM was a Tamil-basher in parliament and relished the anti-Tamil mass violence in 1977 & 1983. He was there with Gamini D to oversee the burning of the Jaffna Library. Sadly for him, JRJ dropped him when he ceased to be useful.

    Accuracy in detail may do some good in the narration of history.

    • 3


      Please note that I have used the word ‘Prelude’. Cyril Mathew did the preparatory anti-Tamil groundwork. I quote below some of the nasty statements referring to the ‘ Dangers’ facing the Sinhalese by Cyril Mathew in 1970. He thereafter, justified the standardization scheme in parliament as a Minister in JR’s government.

      Written By: Cyril Mathew in February 1970

      Instead of taking steps to relieve the up-country villagers of the sufferings they have endured for untold years, it has instead granted a secure and well-planned political freedom to these 300,000 or so Tamils who are living on the plantations, in the centre of our country, who don’t even speak Sinhalese but only know the Tamil language. By thus enjoying political rights, the foreign Indians will, in the future, become the majority race and subdue the up-country Sinhalese.

      The Indian trade unions always expect that the state will grant their members citizenship rights on humanitarian grounds.

      In fact, the local population, the Sinhala peasants who are living in the up-country areas, deserve to enjoy these human rights more than do the Indians, who speak a strange language, observe strange religious and cultural practices and who were deposited in the central part of the country by the British without so much as a ’by your leave’. Not for any reason should they be allowed to take even one step that will permit them to trample on the Sinhala Buddhist culture of the up-country Sinhalese and strengthen their power in the up-country areas …

      — From Sinhalayage Adisi Hatura (‘The Unseen enemy of the Sinhalese’), by Cyril Mathew, 1970. Chapter 1 (“The Indo-Ceylon (Implementations) Pact”) (reproduced in “The Mathew Doctrine.” Race & Class, XXVI, 1 (1984). pp.129-130.)

      By granting citizenship to 300,000 Indians, with all political rights, we add their number to that of those 134,187 who have already received citizenship under the Indo-Pakistan Citizenship Act. With this expansion of figures, the up-country Sinhalese who has been waging a life-and-death struggle for many years will be completely subjugated. Thus, not only will 450,000 Indians gain special rights to employment in the plantations, but they will also be entitled to purchase land, be given land under Land Settlement Schemes and obtain employment in the state and local government sectors. They will even take power in Village Councils and other local government bodies. Finally, after balancing off the power between the Sinhalese parties, they will become the determinants of our national politics. Thereby, the ‘honour’ of converting the up-country areas, which have for over 2,500 years been a Sinhalese kingdom, to an Indian state – or rather the ‘honour’ of making Sri Lanka a part of India will belong to the United National Party …

      — From Sinhalayage Adisi Hatura (‘The Unseen enemy of the Sinhalese’), by Cyril Mathew, 1970. Chapter 1 (“The Indo-Ceylon (Implementations) Pact”) (reproduced in “The Mathew Doctrine.” Race & Class, XXVI, 1 (1984). p.130.)

      … If we genuinely come forward to keep the up-country Sinhalese from becoming a minority and to protect their rights against the Indian voters, we must know that whether Indians’ names are entered on electoral lists in an illegal manner by certain corrupt officials, or whether some bankrupt politician seeks the help of the Indian voters to keep a government that is losing its stability, in power, the results will be the same. Either way, the local Sinhalese will be totally submerged by the large number of Indians who have been registered on the voters’ lists and be reduced to the status of a minority community …

      — from Sinhalayage Adisi Hatura (‘The Unseen enemy of the Sinhalese’), by Cyril Mathew, 1970. Chapter 4 (“The four demands of the Federal Party”) (reproduced in “The Mathew Doctrine.” Race & Class, XXVI, 1 (1984). pp.130-1.)

      …the only solution to the problem which is now being faced by the Sinhalese people is that of uniting under the banner of Sinhala Buddhist culture and supporting whichever of the two parties (the UNP or the SLFP) which will openly and sincerely oppose the anti-Sinhala demands of the Federalists and the Indians …

      — from Sinhalayage Adisi Hatura (‘The Unseen enemy of the Sinhalese’), by Cyril Mathew, 1970. Chapter 4 (“The four demands of the Federal Party”) (reproduced in “The Mathew Doctrine.” Race & Class, XXVI, 1 (1984). pp.131.)

      As Sinhalese who wish for peace and development, whether we be Buddhists or of any other religion, let us pray that no massacre of the type that took place in Malaysia on 13 May 1969 in a racial riot will ever take place here.

      Any person who reads this book with care will realise that there is a systematic growth of Tamil forces in this country, in opposition to the Sinhala Buddhist culture and the political and economic background of Sri Lanka. As matters now stand, it would be useless to merely say ‘Let there be peace’. If there is to be peace, all of us Sinhalese should set out on a firm plan of action to ensure the growth and development of future generations of Sinhalese in security and to ensure the defence of our rights and aspirations against foreign powers.

      — from Sinhalayage Adisi Hatura (‘The Unseen enemy of the Sinhalese’), by Cyril Mathew, 1970. Chapter 10 (“The future of the Sinhalese”) (reproduced in “The Mathew Doctrine.” Race & Class, XXVI, 1 (1984). p.133.)

      Oh you Sinhalese, who are full of patriotism and nationalism, we pray that, just as the disaster you are preparing to leave for the future generations of Sinhalese, by permitting the governments that you have set up in your name to betray Sinhalese rights, one by one, thereby strengthening Tamil power, is very clearly visible to us, it will become as visible to you also. We pray that your political blindness will vanish, and that you may see the truth!

      Let us unite as Sinhalese to repress the threats of the Tamils!

      — from Sinhalayage Adisi Hatura (‘The Unseen enemy of the Sinhalese’), by Cyril Mathew, 1970. Chapter 10 (“The future of the Sinhalese”) (reproduced in “The Mathew Doctrine.” Race & Class, XXVI, 1 (1984). pp.133-4.)”

      The intent of my comment was to point out that mischievous elements are yet at work to thwart healing of old wounds, reconciliation, equality, rule of law, good governance and justice. I would emphasize that such elements are raising their heads in all communities.

      Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 2

    Ranga is heading in the right direction.

    We should not hate each other on religious and ethnic issues.

    The common enemy is poverty.

    The need of our times is to develop our dear mother land as a united, prosporus, and modern country where everyone can enjoy basic human rights.

    All citizens should be loyal to the mother land, which should be the common bond that keeps us together.

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