Deportation of a Tamil Evangelist
News dated 24.03.2023 (Eelanadu) states evangelist Paul Thinakaran who came to Jaffna with his group on a speaking engagement, has been ordered to return to Colombo and warned of imminent arrest unless he complied. What is unfortunate is that one of the reporters who broke the story is prominent in exposing Buddhist encroachments on Hindu temples. He reported Thinakaran’s deportation without asking the relevant questions that any discerning reporter should ask: whether the deportation is legal.
As reported, Thinakaran had come on a business visa and immigration authorities say he is not allowed to preach. But preaching is his business. Immigration authorities exceeded their authority. They even ordered him to return to Colombo without addressing the Assemblies of God Pastors’ Conference [of AoG, Pastors] on Friday as scheduled. He was told he would be arrested if he spoke.
Ambivalence of Tamils in using Past Atrocities to Tear Down ICCPR Article 18
Indeed, according to Article 18 of ICCPR which Sri Lanka has acceded to, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Are we in Jaffna not to have this right? We Tamils complain a lot, rightly, about our rights being abridged: disappearances, land rights, police rights and, yes, right to religion as Hindu Temples are made into Buddhist temples. The list is long.
So why is there no noise from our Tamil political establishment about our right to religion being abridged by blocking the Thinakaran visit? Is it because the majority are quite happy to suppress sermons from Thinakaran? While resenting Gnanasara Thero’s efforts at converting Hindu areas into Buddhist areas?
I asked a reporter why he failed to show his usual discernment in reporting on Ganasara Thero. He responded that Christianity came in by force. How easy it is to forget that Saint Sambanthar killed 800o Jains who refused to convert to the Saiva Region. That King Changili killed 600 Roman Catholics who refused his order to revert, and beheaded his own son and nephew (with the two missionaries who preached to them) for becoming Christians (Hence the name Chemmany – Red Soil – for the road by Chankili’s Palace).
We must not forget that we no longer live in a lawless world where the powerful like the Portuguese, Sambanthar and Sankili control our religion. We live in times of the law. Article 18 of the ICCPR must prevail and we cannot appeal to our savage past for precedence.
The answer to the silence of our reporters and Tamil elders lies in the late Professor K. Sivathamby’s assertion: The Christians in Jaffna live sidelined and oppressed [In the original in Tamil, ஒடுங்கியும் ஒடுக்கப்பட்டவர்களாகவும் வாழ்கிறார்கள்;].
The backdrop to this deportation of Thinakaran, by unfortunate coincidence, is the call by Maravanpulavu Sachithananthan, who is closely allied with the militant Hindu organization from India, the RSS, to boycott the visit to Jaffna of Tamil evangelist Paul Thinakaran. Indian news agencies say that he gathered 500 signatures to say there would be riots if he spoke. The communalist press said there were posters against the visit everywhere in Jaffna, although I, living in Jaffna, hardly saw any. The police and Maravanpulavu were working in collusion to suppress Christians.
Thinakaran had visited President Ranil Wickremesinghe the previous day, gifted him the figure of “Praying Hands,” and prayed with him for his success and for Sri Lanka, before flying to Jaffna. So, the President has no objections to a Christian praying for him. In Jaffna, posters proclaiming the arrival of Thinakaran on the school’s board were plastered over with boycott notices at Angel International School in Manipay which challenges many local schools by providing a superior education. The police did not intervene.
Instead, immigration officials seem to have been manipulated. Three of them arrived at the airport from Colombo and warned Thinakaran to leave. They held him up at the airport taking their passports away. The police came on Friday morning to the AoG Church on Rasavinthottam Road where Thinakaran was to address AoG Ministers. He was ordered not to speak although such speaking is his business and compliant with his visa conditions.
Facing these goon tactics, Thinakaran as a last resort contacted the President who declined to intervene saying that religious riots had been threatened. When goons threaten the innocent, whom do the police arrest? The goons or the innocent?
When goons like the police and immigration officials try to take away a fundamental right saying unless you comply we will bash you up or deport you, the President should use his authority to stop the thuggery and not hide behind stopping violence. His reaction seems like his uncle JR Jayewardene’s during July 1983 – utterly cowardly in my opinion.
So, scared by how the situation was developing, the AoG’s senior pastor Sam Rajasooriyar issued a statement on Friday saying that Thinakaran did not come to convert anyone! It was as if converting someone was against the law. It was like some Jews denying their Jewish identity under Hitler. By issuing the statement, Pastor Rajasooriar gave up our fundamental rights under ICCPR, conceding the Buddhist and Hindu nationalist view that conversion is unlawful.
A National Heritage of Choosing Religion
Under ICCPR’s Article 18, we have the right to choose our religion. President Wickremesinghe came from an Anglican family and is now a Buddhist. People down our road, Chemmany Road Nallur, include orphans in a Pentecostal orphanage. Many who used to come to our Anglican Church of St. James’, now pass by our Church and attend the Four Square Gospel Church on the other side of the Church. There they receive more dignity than in our parish with greater acceptability regardless of their caste whereas members of the Pariah and Pallah castes barricaded a road between Nayanmarkaddu and Ariyalai from where people from both castes come to church, had a fight throwing rocks at each other in 2004. The reason was prohibited love between two cross-caste individuals.
The lower-castes have social mobility in these new churches as they dress better and in western clothes, and are treated better. Although Pentecostal Churches like Four-Square and AoG have largely low-caste congregations, as their parishioners are gentrified and go abroad, they send back money to help the children with school supplies and even cash handovers. Others in the locality would be stuck at the old Practising school where I started which now has only 30 students and is open only because if it is shut the expensive land donated to the Church by Sankili’s Queen has to be returned to our Church under the terms of the take-over act – something the Hindutvas at the Ministry cannot bring themselves to do.
CMS’s Heartless Attitude to the Poor: Contrast with Pentecostalist Pastor Siththa
In the alternative, the CMS schools charge Rs. 200,000 for admission (and then huge termly fees), that even some middleclass Christians cannot afford and apply instead to Hindu College in preference. The CMS, instead of finding funds for the Christian poor to study at CMS schools, has chosen to increase the salaries of the Principals and Vice Principals of the two remaining CMS schools to some Rs. 300,000 to 400,000 a month each, through an allowance in addition to what the government pays them.
Without endorsing their theology, I state that these Pentecostal churches have amazing testimonies that are unheard of in other churches (except in the Roman Catholic up to schools’ take-over and the ridding of nun-volunteers from hospital wards). For example, Pastor Siththa is an engineer a year below me at Moratuwa. After graduating, he has given up his engineering and works as an AoG Minister. Working with the low-castes, he has transformed many lives including one who was deserted by his wife for his wife-beating, attempted suicide when she left him, and tendered him with loving care to recovery from near-death. That man is now a full member of a church in the new town named Punithanagar close to Point Pedro where also Siththa’s main church is and in forming which Siththa played a big role. A whole community of scavengers has come up, transformed by clean habits, indoor toilets, etc., with some going into Christian ministry.
These new Christians and children are not being bought. They are being shown love. If that love shows them some good reason to become Christians like those who show them their love, so be it.
Can Maravanpulavu Sachithananthan show this transformative power of love from his organization?
Theoscience and a Rational View of Caste
In science, there was a long dispute as to whether light travels as a wave or in a straight line – the so-called wave- and corpuscular- theories of light. We argued and finally agreed on dual theory. I believe theology is also like that – what I call theoscience. Articles of faith can be argued out and settled without violence. Such arguments should never be taboo and are the way to enlightenment.
Consider caste. According to classical Hindu theory as expounded in the Bagavad Gita (4.13) by God Himself: “The four categories of occupations were created by me according to people’s qualities and activities.” That is, of the four castes, Brahmins (Priests), Kshatriyas (Warriors), Vaisyas (Traders) and Sudras (Workers), the people of highest quality (from previous birth) were created as Brahmins, and of lowest quality were Sudras.
Now, I can understand a Brahmin holding on to this and expecting all others to do so. For, it affirms a Brahmin’s greatness in terms of quality. But I as a Sudra (as also Maravanpulavu Sachithananthan and President Wickremesinghe)? Are we to accept that we are of low quality by and from birth as Sudras? I cannot do so in dignity, although I do not know about Sachithananthan and the President who covers up for the iniquitous actions of his immigration officials. Who indeed is to tell us Sudras that we must accept the authenticity of the Gita as God’s Holy Word whereby we are the filthiest of God’s creations in terms of quality? Not me!
Dignity – theoscience – demands that we change our religion when we do not like our religion or think another better. We Tamils were once animists, then Jains and Buddhists and are now mostly Saivites. How can Maravanpulavu Sachithananthan stop conversions away from ones religion to another in light of ICCPR (18)?
I myself am appalled by the episcopal theft, and sexual transgressions and other clerical scandals in my Anglican Church and find solace in the Roman Catholic Church’s sacraments which in my view are preserved in their pristine purity through the permanency of the Magisterium. Who is to say that I must continue as an Anglican just because I was born an Anglican? That is to violate my rights under ICCPR Article 18.
Minorities Bullied into Abandoning our Rights
The state has to stop the police and immigration officials from bullying people into giving up their entrenched right to choose their religion. We Tamils who care so much about our rights, must also concern ourselves when Tamils like Sachithananthan stamp the RSS-Boot on the rights of minorities among us to change religion. He is of course welcome to believe for himself that God created him as a filthy Sudra because the Bagavad Gita says so. As for me, no thanks.
The state has the added duty not to let Sachithananthan terrorize the Tamil people into abandoning their right to choose and change their religion as we have done for more than 2000 years.
In the meantime, as Christians are beaten down into silence, the Sri Lanka Navy, despite the Katchai Thivu agreement prohibiting other religious structures on the island, have erected a Buddhist structure, in an area from which they prohibited visitors to maintain secrecy. Buddhist monks are using this to join the pilgrimage as if to serve the needs of the enhanced navy contingent. The encirclement of Tamils under Ranil Wickremsinghe is nearly complete as he feigns noninvolvement and dissembles being on the side of nonviolence. I suppose his excuse this time would be that Gnasara Thero would cause a riot if he stops the Buddhist take-over of Katchai Thivu!
That completes the encirclement and strangulation of the Tamil people by the self-proclaimed Buddhist state.
Now those who watched in glee as Christian rights were suppressed and trampled, are in a quandary. How do they selectively demand the rule of law suddenly in Katchai Thivu?
I also wonder about the Sinhalese (English?) press. How come they failed to cover these major developments? Tamil newspapers also decline to publish anything about Hindu encroachments on Christian rights saying they want to be neutral. I suppose those who want minority suppression not brought out, take comfort in learning from each other from claiming to be neutral although Tamil newspapers are loudly vocal in proclaiming Ganasara Thero’s encroachments where they feel no urge to be neutral.
Thank God for whichever newspaper that publishes this. It deserves a medal for its service to humanity and to minorities.