23 October, 2017

No Equality Without Secularism

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

On 22 May I was privileged to chair a Jaffna Managers’ Forum meeting where Lal Wijenayake, Chairman of the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms, came to consult the public. It was an immense success. Assisted by Yuresha Fernando and Winston Pathirajah, he won applause. Charged words should be avoided he said. For example, there is plenty of support for “power sharing” but instead if federalism or unitary is used, the changes will not pass.

The only opposition was to retaining §9 of the present constitution: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).”

Wijenayake then read §10: “Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice;” and  then §14(1) (e): “Every citizen is entitled to the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

His interpretation that §10 and §14(1)(e) safeguard everyone from §9 was roundly rejected since having “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” does not mean equality when the government takes funds from the common pool to foster Buddhism.

Wijenayake then tried another explanation: it is like UNESCO spending common funds to foster cultures under threat. But then, Buddhism is not a culture under threat and indeed is threatening other religions in destroying Hindu temples and churches.

He tried again: Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had said there is no harm. But even Tamil Roman Catholics did not accept his leadership, especially after he showed himself willing to go along with the Rajapakses on their questionable projects such as the removal of the Chief Justice.

M.K. Sivajilingam had the last word saying this new constitution might be old toddy in a new pila (a serving dish made of the palmyra leaf).

President Over-stepping Boundaries

On Good Friday, a day of fasting for Christians, I received an sms from President Sirisena:

“May this Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawn upon all Sri Lankans an era of sustainability and prosperity.” 

Sustain what? The corruption we voted to break free of is sustained even by the President’s and PM’s admission. We certainly do not want their sustenance of corruption to be sustained.

And “Tamil New Year”?  It is a Hindu astrological event. Our religious festivals are for us to define – not for the majority to tell us. A similar imposition is claiming Thai Pongal – a Hindu Vellala Harvest Festival for the Sun God – as uniquely Tamil. I felt euphoria over the 2015 elections. However, my hopes have dimmed since the President announced that

“The government will not go ahead with any task opposed by [the] Mahasangha which provided correct guidance and advice for better governance throughout our proud history of thousands of years.” (PMD News, 21.01.2016).

We voted directly for Sirisena as President, not as the Vicar of the Mahasangha. If the Mahasangha wants to rule us then they should stand for elections. Recall that it was the Sangha that consoled Duttagemenu when he was depressed after killing many Tamils. Advised the Sangha, Tamils are “not to be more esteemed than beasts”! (Mahavamsa, Chapter. 25: 98, 103, 107-112). Was it on this ancient Sangha advice that the President promised that

“military commanders who led a successful campaign to crush separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 should not be humiliated by bringing them to courts”? (Economy Next, 12.10.2016).

I doubt Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims want to be ruled by the Mahasangha, considering that since Duttagemunu’s time, they have been at the forefront of communalism.  The President ended a speech, wishing us the “Blessings of the Triple Gem” meaning the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Most minorities in Sri Lanka do not take refuge in the teachings of the Sangha and would dissociate themselves from Dharma, which means caste-duty.

Equally unsettling is the President’s speech on

“the importance of making Sri Lanka a centre to spread the message of Theravada Buddhism to the world” (PMD News, 08.08.2016).

Cultural Imperialism

Cultural imperialism is not just the President’s. While Tamils stingingly decry Sinhalese cultural expansion, we are silent on expansion within the community; like the imposition of the Tamil New Year and Thai Pongal, despite their calendric and astrological undertones antithetical to Christianity and Islam. To Hindus, faith in Jesus claiming

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (St. John 14:6),

is not contradictory to simultaneous faith in Siva or Sai Baba or any other claimant to godhead. They therefore welcome anyone who accepts all gods, and are hostile to someone insisting on only his God. For example, in Jaffna most events begin with the lighting of the lamp, topped with Murugan’s cockerel, and adorning holy ash, blessed by an Iyer – for Christians and Muslims to take part is considered sacrilegious. To not participate is seen as an insult to Hindus, making life difficult for the holdouts who are invariably in minority. Religion must be kept out of public spaces.

Secularism and Religion

The human condition is to like to be like others. So when the majority impose their religion, it is awkward to be different. Even bishops feel the pressure to succumb. At a Bishop’s consecration and enthronement in the Jaffna Cathedral, the retiring diocesan bishop and the incoming bishop had a red pottu (Siva’s third eye) with a yellow pottu on top. At a confirmation service at the Church of Our Lady of Refuge a little later, the celebrants had a pottu and alathi to ward off evil spirits, and bharathanatyam (the Fifth Veda for Sudras not permitted to hear the principal four) in the sanctuary. After all that Hindu ritual, when we went up to receive, the priest saw something different and asked “Are you a Hindu?” Upon being truthfully told no, he gave us the sacrament. (I have permission, based on Pope Benedict’s dispensation to dissatisfied Anglicans, to receive at the Roman Catholic Church.)

Last week, I went to the funeral of my old Hindu master. The St. Johns principal/priest in cassock was conducting some of the ceremonies and just before igniting the pyre, placed rice in my teacher’s mouth for his journey through the netherworld. From a theological standpoint, he cannot believe in the body needing food for its journey, and simultaneously what the Church teaches, that after death there is only resurrection and judgement. A third possibility, likely the case, is that he does not believe either and wants to be nice to everyone – a valid perspective if he had not already dedicated his life to the faith of the church, “indelibly marked as Christ’s own.”

When the state is religious, minorities disappear and society becomes homogeneous but oppressive. Christianity in Jaffna is near dead. Multiculturalism is not working. It is majoritarianism in disguise. Just as in the South Buddhist monks at public events have everyone (even Marxists) bowing to them, in the North we are offered holy ash and pottus at functions. It is awkward to refuse. In the mornings, cinema-songs blare from temples as early as 4 AM. In every street corner, state land is illegally acquired to build temples. People are afraid to complain. Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has gone so far as to play the religious card by calling Jesus Christ a criminal sentenced to death.

The idea is widespread that if the South is Buddhist, then the North must be Hindu. The UGC Chairman endorsed this idea in writing to Chandrika Kumaratunga, writing that being Christian and rejecting the Hindu leader Navalar as a hero are legitimate disqualifications for positions at Jaffna University. This has affected the university badly. In the ongoing VC contest, all three finalists are Hindus. Annesley Ratnasingam of the Foreigners Council in Kassel Germany is here at the invitation of VS Radhakrishnan (State Minister, Education) and happened to run into discussions on who should be VC. He says that one candidate insisted it be a Hindu, although all three are Hindus. Implied was that the candidate from the oppressed caste does not count as Hindu. This bhaktimaan paid for a van to carry Hindu leaders to Colombo to pressure the president.

Buying Votes: Alternative to Booze

This is where we are going on our jingoist path; a path set by the President and PM who insist Buddhism be given foremost place in the new constitution, fostered by the state. My worry is buying votes through religion, which Karl Marx said is the opiate of the masses. Are the PM and President buying votes giving the Buddhist masses their opium? This opium is far more harmful than booze because it comes at the expense of minorities.

We need to be secular – leave religion out of state affairs – but free to practice our faith in private. Secularism promotes democracy, safeguards the rights of minorities, and ensures choice in religion.

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Latest comments

  • 5
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    Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

    [No Equality Without Secularism]

    Then first stop the vatican and stop preaching about the god. If you can explain why there are over 40,000 denomination to worship the one creator.

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      why there are so many sects of Buddhism to worship no creator ?

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    I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (St. John 14:6),

    Look Like devotee of Jesus was a distator. He wrote on behalf of JEsus.

    Anyway, Even Lord Buddha – Jesus followed Lord Buddha’s teachings – did not dictate to people. Instead explaind a way of life. It is not a religion as Catholism or christianity is.

    You have started with Equality and Secularism but start discussing your Tribalism, Your arrogance against Sinhala people even when you know your ancestors are from South India. YOu talk about all Indian stuff such as Vedic literature, Bharatha natyam etc., against Sinhala people who established a Buddhism based reservoir – village – Dagoba type civilization.

    In simple words, you don’t talk like an intelligent man, Instead all these BS.

    I think More than the middle east religion which says you are the result of Creator and creator making you siffer, Buddhism say something lese.

    that is start thinking what Am I doing, Why I am doing this. Just start searching who you are and what you are looking for.

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      @Jim Softy

      Even the Bulk of present day Sinhalese would have originated from South India. Look at your surnames such as Tennakoon, Kariyawasam, senanayake and you have the audacity to tell Prof Hoole about south India. Many of the Present day Sinhalese are very much South Indian. So don’t bring your usual rubbish about Tamils going back to South India.

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        ABCD:

        Sinhala People do not deny of the things that Tamils say. On the other hand, it is the Tamils who do not have any standard, just to win the argument they talk everything.

        for example, if Tamils abd Sinhala people are one and the same, why did you people kill sinhala people for 30 years and why do you ask a separate country in our land without moving back to Tamilnadu or just living in harmony with us.

        Here, the Secularism that this guy talking is he wants freedom to convert Everybody at will to christianity/Catholics. They are building churches in every corner. Christians are also itching to convert all the Tamils to christianity and they do not have that freedom in south India. so that is what they are itching for.

        when Mannar priests were transporting suicide jackets and when the Kasippu Joseph was talkin about the Christian Angel Vellupillai pabakaran these Tamil patriots were hiding and ran away to USA.

        As far as I know Tamils are conservative and they are hindus and have faith in Brahiminism and not the middle eastern political religions which are business enterprises.

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          “why did you people kill sinhala people for 30 years and why do you ask a separate country in our land without moving back to Tamilnadu or just living in harmony with us.”

          That must be the most ignorat thing I have seen today. Educate yourself on Sri Lanka’s post independence politics before talking about the origins of the civil war.

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      Why dont you focus on Buddhism. Why the monks are in jail for rape, abuse, digging up treasure? Why 47 monks disrobed last year to come out as gays? Why are the government funding monk’s living expense while the monks are attending universities, after completing the studies, the monks disrobe and sleep with men? why did Budha leave his wife, because of his sexuality? Why budhists in Sri lanka and Myanmar are alleged of war crimes currently? Why cant the monks dress like men, instead they cross dress – shouldn’t they at least wear a blouse?

  • 9
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    An offering to the divine is a cultural tradition among all of us. It is unpleasant to read you spinning a cultural tradition into a vile theology of hatred.

    We were all Hindus. The conversion of some of us to Christianity was a historical compulsion, not an upheaval of culture.

    Some of us who allowed us to be converted reverted once the compulsion to convert no longer existed. The rest remained faithful to their new found religion.

    However, all of us continue to remain faithful to our cultural ways.

    Subjecting cultural ways of life to hasty interpretations is not prudent.

    Giving a religious twist to a cultural tradition, I am afraid, leaves a bad taste in our mouth.

    We already have enough unpleasantness to deal with. Why stack one more.

  • 1
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    My question is theoretically is there a way out of majoritarianism (have I spelt correctly? )? That there should not be majoritarianism at play has to be decided by the majority, isn’t it? Let us say, for argument’s sake, unable to get out this ‘majoritarianism’ of the majority the minority refers the matter to the UN where it will be decided by the MAJORITY of votes. OK there is ‘veto’ power for some big guns, a mechanism to counter ‘majoritarianism’ which majority of countries have agreed to.

    So as I see it until and unless God decends on earth and take matters into His own hands it is “majoritarianism” whether you like it or not.

    Soma

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      come again soma; so much gibberish I could not make a head or tail out of it!

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        I know you can’t. All in your category. That is why you people have been wasting time for the last 60 years. Get the help of a friend to understand what I have written.
        Majoritarianism is a fact of life. Accept it. Get used to it.

        Soma

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    Don’t bother once China gets going the Sangha would by hung by its own bollocks.
    It would solve all problems that non can solve.

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    Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole,

    RE: No Equality Without Secularism

    (300 Words)

    1. “His interpretation that §10 and §14(1)(e) safeguard everyone from §9 was roundly rejected since having “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” does not mean equality when the government takes funds from the common pool to foster Buddhism.”

    Yes. No Equality Without Secularism.

    Yes, there should separation of Religion and State.

    Remember the Sinhala, Tamils, Muslims and others are All Paras in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho. The Native Veddah Aethho did not want a special place or for any other Para-Religion.

    USA First Amendment (1791) prohibits Congress from obstructing the exercise of certain individual freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and right to petition. Its Free Exercise Clause guarantees a person’s right to hold whatever religious beliefs he or she wants, and to freely exercise that belief, and its Establishment Clause prevents the federal government from creating an official national church or favoring one set of religious beliefs over another. The amendment guarantees an individual’s right to express and to be exposed to a wide range of opinions and views. It was intended to ensure a free exchange of ideas, even unpopular ones. It also guarantees an individual’s right to physically gather or associate with others in groups for economic, political or religious purposes. Additionally, it guarantees an individual’s right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    2. “M.K. Sivajilingam had the last word saying this new constitution might be old toddy in a new pila (a serving dish made of the palmyra leaf).”

    Yes.

    3. “May this Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawn upon all Sri Lankans an era of sustainability and prosperity.”

    This is a Tamil New Year, the Sinhala latched on to it.

  • 0
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    The “veil of ignorance”

    The “veil of ignorance” is a method of determining the morality of political issues proposed in 1971 by American philosopher John Rawls in his “original position” political philosophy. It is based upon the following thought experiment: people making political decisions imagine that they know nothing about the particular talents, abilities, tastes, social class, and positions they will have within a social order. When such parties are selecting the principles for distribution of rights, positions, and resources in the society in which they will live, this “veil of ignorance” prevents them from knowing who will receive a given distribution of rights, positions, and resources in that society. For example, for a proposed society in which 50% of the population is kept in slavery, it follows that on entering the new society there is a 50% likelihood that the participant would be a slave. The idea is that parties subject to the veil of ignorance will make choices based upon moral considerations, since they will not be able to make choices based on their own self- or class-interest.

    As Rawls put it, “no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like”.[1] The idea of the thought experiment is to render obsolete those personal considerations that are morally irrelevant to the justice or injustice of principles meant to allocate the benefits of social cooperation. The veil of ignorance is part of a long tradition of thinking in terms of a social contract that includes the writings of Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Jefferson. – wikipedia

  • 3
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    Prof. Hoole should note that even His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith supported having a clause for state support for Buddhism while freedom to practise and promote other religions were permitted. He even got an assuarance from the PM to retain the same.

    What is likely to be mis-interpreted by fellows of extreme in the other camp is that in removing the standard clause the state is disabled to promote buddhism and thereby preventing the state in re-building budhhist shrines that are supposed to be broken at a rate in the North and Eastern Provinces after the rainbow revolution.

    Let there be amity amongst people and to that extent Cardinal Ranjith knows what is best. Various schools of thought should not be promoted in a manner so that minorities of minorities like us should not be crushed in the battle between two major communities.

  • 6
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    Prof:

    That religion should be a private matter and the state should be religiously secular is important and necessary. The havoc that the Sangha has wreaked has left SL at war and denied of the peace it deserves. Unelected officials should not have a say in anything to run the affairs of the govt. But politicians are not going to give up. It is their speed-train to power and prosperity.

    I honestly don’t know whether a President/PM will be fit to hold that office when his views are skewed towards a particular religion. It shows a pathetically low maturity on the understanding of public office, and what more in a multi-racial, multi-religious country. These leaders should emulate former Premier Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore in how he managed a country with such diversities. He never sought votes based on any religious belief but by running a corruption-free state. Despite continuous accusation that he stymied democracy, people continued to elect him to office with thumping majorities. It never had the natural resources SL had.

    It all boils down to maturity and leadership. When partisan politics is laced with immaturity why would it not be a recipe for disaster? After almost 70 years of independence, can you believe these people are still grappling with getting the act together. In fact, they have become shameful politicians without any intention of graduating into a statesman. Such a person should not merely have his mind on the next election but the future direction of the country. He may probably lose in the next election as there are more than enough hounds to haunt him but he will be honoured in history for having a backbone as a leader. What we see now are kindergarten kids sparring without gloves. Imagine the future of the country with such low-level mentality politicians.

    On the issue of a dilemma we may face when confronted with practices of religions other than our own, I belief it should be a non-issue. Bonds of friendship are the testimony of a lasting relationship. The cited example of attending a funeral and when called upon to perform “religious” practices, I would gladly do it even if it is against my own belief. Our friendship deserves that. I won’t belief that it will in anyway erode my faith in my belief. Rather, it will further affirm my strength in my belief. After all when both of us were having a cup of coffee, religion never stood in the way of our friendship. Why should it now? In his last journey, I will not want to be just an ordinary by-stander.

  • 8
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    Until I read this piece, I did not know that lighting a lamp had anything to do with Hinduism. Many cultures light lamps (or candles) to symbolise the driving out of darkness and a new beginning. A lamp is lit in India and Sri Lanka for that purpose simply because the culture has used lamps for a long time. The lamp that is used in ceremonies is ornate with symbols that are on it. I never thought of a commonly used symbol, the cock as the symbol of Murugan. The crowing cock symbolises the dawn in Indian mythology and culture. Are we to throw out all this symbolisms just to accommodate the fancies of fanatics. Many lamps simply have points at the top. I am sure that Hoole will say it is a symbol of Murugan’s lance.

    We cannot give up our customs to please the contorted minds of religious fanatics. The issue of whether there should be a state religion or not is entirely different. Hindus will agree there should not be one. It is absolutely unnecessary for any fool (the word rhymes with Hoole) to entangle it with Hinduism in the North. Tamils, Hindus as well as Christians, will be united in arguing against Buddhism as the state religion. It must be down with intellectual rigour, not with a contorted mind of a fanatic who sees caste and division in every human activity. Indeed, many Buddhists will agree that Buddhism should not be the state religion as it is a negation of Buddhism to have it as a state religion. Prince Gautama renounced his own kingdom not to have his philosophy be regarded as a state religion. It is a Mahavamsa perversion to so regard it.

    • 0
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      “We cannot give up our customs to please the contorted minds of religious fanatics.”

      That is what you did to Prof. Hoole when you asked him to crack a coconut at the campus temple and come with Siva’s ash and marks before sitting on the VC’s chair. All know what happened after that.

      Jaffna Hindus are aggressively intolerant of Christians even after all the NGO money and help that they were given in Jesus’ name. Try to write about improving that situation before asking the Buddhists not to be religiously/culturally aggressive.

      Chevalkody, meen kody, all symbolize a particular person in Tamil literature. No escaping that.

      Why not have a neutral symbol in public places and avoid symbols when there is a clear association with a group.

  • 3
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    Secularism promotes democracy, safeguards the rights of minorities, and ensures choice in religion.

    Sadhu, Sadhu! Amen! Thathaastu! Amin! So be it!

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      Western practice according to CEO Tesco It has created a monster of a christian black woman who can never be checked while at work. So your bible is true again – Lucifer and Michael and the Gita is true too- I made the caste and any mixing would bring chaos to the world. We have seen the effect of 30% reserved seat at India. Yesterday for the first time the Indians feel inferior to the Chinese (even the trolls who cast racist remarks though they are using a chinese made PC costing 1/15 of international make) in defence matters and want to purchase Submarines and aircraft carriers- the chinese are quietly smiling as in 3 years they have 3 more aircraft carriers equal and as powerful to the 10 American elephants for a couple of billion each while American cost a min of 20 billion- just like their Gas guzzlers. 3 days ago The little english people were given the warning of their life by Russian General – If you poms don’t shut up and put up we will raise you to the ground in response to Fallon and Boris. In a way Gota has done proud to himself only by bringing and selling to China and at the end he would not rule either- it would be a hybrid of Burma as it was before- and the tamils go into limbo or become rebels for US/UK and end up aimless like Kurds.

      • 0
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        Whoa!

        ……we will raise you to the ground in response to Fallon and Boris.

        Shurely you mean raze, old chap!

        and who is Fallon and Boris (a legal firm, perchance?)

  • 2
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    Secularism promotes democracy, safeguards the rights of minorities and ensures choice of religion!

    Indeed!

    Does Secularism promote equality? How?

    If the colonial powers were secular would they have been successful in converting a substantial number of natives to their religions and to their way of life.

    Just leave aside the state. Does all religions function in a level playing field?

    Some religions are backed by internationally powerful forces –financially materially, militarily?

    Is it not the primary function of the state to safeguard the weak, to safeguard and protect the weak?

    Human rights and fundamental rights are all about protecting the weak?this

    Of course, Secularism is the ideal!

    It is the vision,

    but we must recognize the reality.we are living in an unreal world and surely we must moves towards the ideal,

    but it takes time.

    Shall we have some patience?

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    What happens when unequals are treated equally?

    Is it not discrimination.

    When equals are dealt unequally, it is wrong so is when equals are treated unequally!

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    Religion means a way of living! Not necessarily it should be based on, only in the ways mentioned in the few established ‘so-called’ religions. There are so many philosophies, thoughts and customs you can follow as your religions or you can create/have your own religion on your understandings of your practical experiences in life!

  • 0
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    Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature,the heart of a heartless world,and the soul of soulless conditions.
    It is the opium of the people.
    Karl Marx.
    The people here mean all in the country; Sinhala,Tamil,and Muslim etc.
    Religion here means Buddhism,Hinduism,Christianity and Islam.
    The people are Sovereign.
    That being so why is the opium being served only for the Buddhists by giving it the foremost place? The others are also Kanne Bonne Minisu!

  • 1
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    SRH Hoole yet again harps on the elusive Jaffna University VC-ship. He has since shown that he is no VC material. He does not possess any administrative acumen.

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      Amen!

    • 0
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      For these Devi worshipers a degree from a non-University Home Science Institute in India, clerk at Mascon’s, Douglas’ VC choice is better material for VC than any internationally recognized scholar reporting on millions of rupees.

      Who believes the imaginations of such sick minds.

  • 0
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    This is a great point, and well argued, but I’m afraid Sri Lanka or Sri Lankan leaders and politicians won’t get this concept, which is a cornerstone of the American constitution. Nearly 240 years of demonstration as to how well it works and how many religions have thrived and expanded. The Buddhist have nothing to fear.

    I have an unrelated question.

    You said…. “I have permission, based on Pope Benedict’s dispensation to dissatisfied Anglicans, to receive at the Roman Catholic Church.)” ………

    When did you become a dissatisfied Anglican? Can you write a separate article on that?
    Based on your past writings, I think you are a son or a grandson of an Anglican priest. If I’m right, this is intriguing but not totally surprising.
    Thanks

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    This is basically a stupid argument. What this Anglican is saying is you have more on your plate, I can eat more, so put some on my plate.
    This country is funded by 70% Sinhala Buddhists and they get the first say.
    The practice of royal patronage for Buddhism is at least 2300 year old. Who are these people who adopted a religion just 500 years ago or even later and that too mostly for financial benefits to demand to change that practice.

    Sinhala Catholics or Christians do not resent,at least I have not seen,New year being called Sinhala. In fact some even like to join the celebrations regardless of religion.
    Prof. Hool seem to detest New year being called Tamil because it is only celebrated by the Vellahlas. So hereafter,to please the likes of Prof. Hoole the new year should be called the Sinhala and Vellahla new year.

  • 0
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    Author,
    Why can’t you state who this bhaktimaan was, rather than being cryptic, so that people who are willing to short circuit appointment of an important administrative post are exposed, or if this had never happened the poor Hindu can defend himself or herself?

    “This bhaktimaan paid for a van to carry Hindu leaders to Colombo to pressure the president”

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