Colombo Telegraph

Sinhala Buddhist Bigotry Root Cause Of Strife In Sri Lanka

Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

Bringing Lord Buddha’s Philosophy to Shame and Disrepute

I believe Sinhala Buddhist bigotry is the root cause of strife in Sri Lanka. If it were not, there will be recognition and respect for everyone’s rights, not a denial of those rights. This bigotry in the name of Sinhala Buddhism, no doubt bringing disrepute and shame to Lord Buddha’s philosophy and causing yet more strife in this beautiful island is a vexing question true Buddhists must now address.

The island would have been spared an ethnic conflict that has still not been resolved, due to years of deception, procrastination and bluff on the part of Sinhala Buddhist governments, with no end in sight- all because of Sinhala Buddhist bigotry.

Sinhala Buddhist governments have shown us that they have absolutely no will to act. What is keeping this conflict from being resolved? It is this bigotry..

If not for this bigotry, the Tamil and the Sinhala nation, with Muslims happy where ever they choose to belong, will be prospering. Imagine the advancement each country would be making helping each other.

Sinhala Buddhism is two faced, it is a paradox that puzzles me.

Take Sinhala Buddhists, the polity and their leaders, they pray to Hindu Gods very religiously, but unashamedly demonstrate Sinhala Buddhist characteristics of intolerance and hegemony over Tamils influenced by ultranationalists and Buddhist fundamentalists that are here, and those that have come and gone like Anangarika Dharmapala who thrived on messages of hate towards Tamils and Moors.

Keep in mind that this bigotry prevails in an island where great statesmen like Ponnambalam Ramanathan, true patriots of the soil, were born of Thamil ilk. Sir Ponnambalam though a devout Hindu, was it is said, responsible for the “revival of Buddhism” and he treated all “Ceylonese” alike.

“Ramanathan was elected representing the educated Ceylonese to the Legislative Council of Ceylon by a sweeping majority In 1911,  …he was the very first candidate to be elected to the Legislature of the country by an all-Ceylon electorate.”

It was Sir Ponnambalam, who undertook a rather risky trip to Whitehall during the 1st world war to plead the case and successfully secure the release of two Sinhalese leaders who had been sentenced to be executed by the Governor for their role in the riots against the Muslim community, where “several prominent Sinhala leaders like D. S. Senanayake, D. R. Wijewardena, Dr. Cassius Pereira, E. T. De Silva, F.R. Dias Bandaranaike, H. Amarasuriya, A.H. Molamure and several others were  imprisoned “, with Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike siding with the governor:

“So articulate were his arguments that he succeeded in having the governor transferred and the head of Military recalled from Ceylon. He eventually managed to get all the leaders released from prison. When he came back to Ceylon victoriously, there were thousands to welcome him,” this as quoted by the author of Wikipedia.

It must not be forgotten when Sir Pon. was received at the Colombo port when he returned, Sinhalese leaders wishing to express their respect and gratitude, among them, Sir John Kotalawala, pulled the horse drawn carriage he was driven in, all the way to his home after the fashion of a Hindu Temple chariot.

It is said: “some of the top families, of Sinhalese aristocracy, had no qualms about drawing his carriage through the streets of Colombo virtually carrying him on their backs. Sinhala leaders took turns to pull the carriage.”

This act of rescuing  the Sinhala leaders from the clutches of sure death and imprisonment, so overwhelmed the Sinhala people, that D.S Senanayake the first Ceylonese Prime Minister, called Ramanathan “the greatest Ceylonese of all times’, while Sir Baron Jayatilaka, the Head of the Cabinet in the State Council referred to him as ‘the greatest man Ceylon has produced during the past 50 years.’ words that should remain engraved in our hearts not just in Wikipedia.

Sir Pon’s words, here quoted, bring me to tears, he wrote:

 “Take the Sinhala Nation. I have served the race all my life. In my twenty eighth year I entered the Legislative Council and never once have I thought myself to be a member of the Tamil Community only – I supported the Sinhalese interest and every other interest and treated every subject with the same sympathy and desire to do the best for all the communities. I knew through and through the men and women of the Sinhalese communities of all classes. They have all the characteristic of a great people they are decidedly considerate and peaceful.”

There should never be a rule that stops anyone from praying in a Hindu Temple if they have faith in the existence of God, a higher principle, embodied in all its divine glory in the Hindu deity that resides there. Guruvayoor Temple in Kerala (which prohibits non-Hindus, but allows Buddhists) or any other place of worship however sacrosanct, should not be an exception

Even a Buddhist President’s  wife who was (is?) of the Catholic faith should have the right to enter because these are essentially man made rules, God had nothing to do with it. I am talking of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s encounter at the Guruvayoor temple some years back, where the temple was sanitized after he had been to the temple with the first lady.

But what I can’t understand for the life of me, is the hypocrisy of the same President who is forever praying at Hindu Temples in India and in Sri Lanka including Jaffna but espouses the Sinhala Buddhist supremacist philosophy for political gain.

In Sri Lanka politicians feel a need to do exactly that to survive and Rajapaksa is doing exactly that, immersing himself in Sinhala Buddhist triumphalism over Tamils to facilitate his intense desire to stay in power, promoting  ‘nepotism’ and perpetuating his dynasty. Otherwise how does one explain this duplicity i.e. praying to Hindu Gods and subscribing to and promoting extreme Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism, intolerance and violence by not only allowing the BBS ultra radicals to propagate their dirty and disgusting ideology, but also to inflict violence against other communities.

This bigotry that turned into violence against Tamils became a festering wound that turned Tamils to take up arms to fight back in the name of self preservation of their race, identity, culture, language and heritage. It’s this Sinhala Buddhist bigotry that wants to destroy a race, pretending that Sri Lanka is for all communities. In the name of integration Sinhala Buddhist leaders want to obliterate the Tamil Nation.

This schizophrenic tendency, this duplicity, this bigotry, has been a part of the makeup of Sinhala politicians from yester year right until now. These men and women some of whom were baptized Christians, abandoned the faith and became the ‘protectors of Buddhism’ and changed what was a secular constitution to one that gave Buddhism preeminence over all other, resulting in the Buddhist Sangha (the clergy) anointed as the “keepers of Buddhism” in the so called “land of the Buddha”…” the only Buddhist state in the world, which they have to preserve forever.” This is the rhetoric that we get and this is what is preached to the Sinhala Buddhist people. The monks being venerated and given special privileges and allowed to “meddle” in and even control every aspect of governance.

To make this lie that Sri Lanka is entirely Sinhala Buddhist they persist in this bigotry.

It is the very bigoted Sinhala Buddhist leaders who passed the ‘Citizenship Act’, disenfranchising million or so Indian Plantation Tamils to reduce the voting strength of Tamils and who by the ‘Sinhala only Act’, played the racist card, for obtaining votes over their opponents.

They did this ditching the welfare of and removing from the political equation, a section of the citizenry, dominant in two provinces, the North and the East of the island, who spoke only Thamil, a language more ancient than Sinhala or Buddhism, with a rich heritage. Their bigotry made them second class in every possible way.

Using their Sinhala Buddhist stranglehold on power, due the numerical strength they enjoy in parliament taking the island as a whole entity, these bigoted politicians, did everything to crush the Tamils, exploiting the obvious weakness  in a unitary system when there are clearly “two nations who have divided between them the possession of the island.” The existence of two nations since ancient times is  documented by Hugh Cleghorn, the first British Colonial Secretary to Ceylon in 1799,  who wrote there were essentially “two different nations” in the island:

“Two different nations from a very ancient period, have divided between them the possessions of the island: First the Cinhalese (Singhalese) inhabiting the interior of the country in its southern and western parts from the river Wallowe to that of Chilaw, and secondly the Malabars (Tamils), who possess the northern and eastern districts.  These two nations differ in their religions, language and manners.”

Hugh Cleghorn

The first Colonial Secretary to Ceylon in 1799

It is sheer bigotry not to accept that the island has indeed two nations existing side by side.

These bigots did not rest until they adopted laws and policies, undermining and systematically destroying the Tamil Nation’s identity, nationhood, homeland and fundamental rights, making way for an unwritten law that only a Sinhala Buddhist can be head of state, turning the island named Ceylon, that was secular in nature to Sri Lanka, establishing in the island a Sinhala Buddhist hegemony that continues to this day.

In an article “Sinhala Buddhist Ethno Nationalism – Masquerading as Civic Nationalism – Destruction of Hindu Temples in Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka, Neiminathan, the author talks of the ways in which these “fundamentalist” politicians “institutionalised racism ” since independence.

Neiminathan lists the number of pacts that the “Buddhist fundamentalists and members of the Maha Sanga were successful in scuttling preventing any progress towards solving the national question.”:

In 1957, SWRD Bandaranaike, the then Prime Minister and leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, negotiated an agreement with S J V Chelvanayakam, the leader of the Federal Party. In 1965 Dudley Senanayake, the Prime Minister and leader of the United National Party, entered into an agreement with S J V Chelvanayakam. Subsequently, in 1984, when J R Jayawardane of the United National Party was in power as President of the country he convened an all party conference to find a solution. Again, in 1987 the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement was entered into between President J R Jayawardane and the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi……”he wrote.

Sinhala Buddhist bigotry by the JVP, JHU and the extremists  belonging to the government were responsible in most part for the breakdown of the Norwegian brokered peace talks, in the 2nd round of talks the government party maintaining both the terms of the peace talks and the ceasefire agreement were in breach of the Sri Lankan constitution.

Further in the earlier rounds, the rejection of the ISGA proposal put forward by the LTTE without giving it due consideration, the government’s refusal to fulfil its promise to work toward federalism, the arming by the Sri Lankan government of Paramilitary forces who were instigating violence, the numerous ceasefire violations, the government’s refusal to dismantle High Security Zones, the failure of the Monitoring Mission and their disengagement and the abrogation of the ceasefire by President Rajapaksa pointed to bigotry none else.  But the blame is put on Tamils and the LTTE whose response was always a result of this bigotry.

At every turn you could see Sinhala Buddhist bigotry in action.

Apart from the Citizenship Act and the Sinhala Only Act, the Parliamentary Elections (amendment) Act, the Srima – Sastri pact, the Sinhala army attack on Satayagrahis in 1961, the many pogroms unleashed by the Sinhala Buddhist state and its thugs against Tamils, burning of the Jaffna library  and the destruction of ancient manuscripts, takeover of, and the occupation and bombing of Hindu Temples and the desecration of churches, the illegally framed two new Republican constitutions, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Regulations , the standardisation policy,  the 6th amendment, the demerging of the North and East and breaking the1987 Indo- Sri Lanka pact, the proscription of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the banning of the TRO, the scuttling of the PTOMS, were all acts of bigotry to undermine the Tamil nation.

The 18th amendment to the constitution and the Divineguma Bill now made law, both making the President and his brothers kings of the Sinhala nation as well as the Tamil nation together with nepotism, graft and the alleged misuse of funds in the North and East under the pretext of infrastructure development, the continuing occupation of the North and East by the Military, its massive expansion and its economic activity and  interference in Tamil civilian activity, affecting the security and livelihood of the Tamil nation, the deliberate manipulation of the demography in the North and East, the erection of Buddha statues in the Tamil country, changing Tamil place names into Sinhala, the land grabs, forced colonisation, the unsatisfactory highly minimalist 13th amendment and the powerless Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils operating with no real teeth or funds, the climate of impunity with no accountability for Mass atrocity crimes, disappearances, torture, detention without charge, rape and sexual violence against Tamil women, are  all acts driven by or as a result of Sinhala Buddhist bigotry, issues that put in jeopardy any hope of “remedial justice” and the chance of a political settlement that would meet the aspirations of Tamils.

Read TGTE’s publication Remedial Justice for Tamils: Justice delayed, Justice Denied, International Investigation Now:

Sinhala Buddhist bigotry has always been the obstacle to any progress in negotiating a political settlement between the Tamil nation and the Sinhala nation:

Up until now the Sri Lankan government has not come up with any offer towards that end. Rajapaksa’s disingenuous schemes  such as the APRC which never officially published its report on a political solution is absolute bigotry on his part, never offering a just political solution worth discussing. Now once again for the umpteenth time the government is expecting the TNA to participate in a Parliamentary Select Committee, “to discuss the national question” without revealing its plans for “devolution” or “power sharing”: The TNA both provincial and parliamentary have jointly decided not to have any dialogue  with the government and has refused to participate unless Rajapaksa comes up with constructive proposals and  “until it made public” its plans.

In a discussion on  “The violent side of Sri Lankan Buddhism” that Aljazeera English: The Stream had, the BBS spokesmen claimed that Buddhism in Sri Lanka is under threat. Is it really? And to clear the many misconceptions in the programme I commented:

“Let me correct the misconception that Sinhala Buddhist violence is something new, rare, incidental or sporadic, directed at ethnicities that are a ‘minority’, that Sri Lanka is the epitome of tolerance and that there is presently peace. That seemed to be the impression that viewers would take with them, listening to Palitha Kohone at al, hopefully not; but this is not Aljazeera or the anchor’s fault. Most Sri Lankan Sinhala Buddhist monks do not practice Buddha’s teachings, they bring out the worst baser instincts that you can find in man. They bring shame to Buddha. They are not monks, they are racist chauvinist pigs, they are the most intolerant and inhuman of people, hiding behind saffron robes. They are very, very ordinary, not the Dalai Lama variety that the world knows of. I would categorically state that they were and are the cause of and the propagators of ethnic strife in the island. It was a Buddhist monk Somarama Thero who killed Sinhala Buddhist Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike (Banda), the first assassin ever since the British colonizers left the island. You may ask why Banda was killed? Because Banda signed a pact with a Tamil political party to allow ‘reasonable use of Tamil as a working language’. This was after Banda passed the oppressive ‘Sinhala Only Act’ intended to crush the Tamil Nation (by the way Tamils are not minorities at all, in the North and Eastern provinces they were the majority, the demography is and was being intentionally manipulated by forced colonisation of Tamil lands, another misnomer that needs correcting). Banda was forced to abrogate the pact allowing ‘reasonable use of Tamil’ due to massive protests organised and led by monks! Another monk Buddharakita Thero convinced Somarama that Banda might also agree to federalism for Tamils, so he shot him. The British left a unitary constitution behind that reduced the Tamil people, who had a kingdom of their own before the colonisers came, to a paltry position that they had to ask the Sinhalese for what was rightfully theirs. From then on the oppression, persecution, discrimination and marginalisation of Tamils began with violent and genocidal acts perpetrated against them, instigated and promoted by Sinhala Buddhist monks and by Sinhala Buddhist politicians who played the racist card to stay in power, which continues until now!

In this comment above are some anecdotes in our epic story of betrayal at the hands of Sinhala Buddhist bigotry.

And don’t for a moment think that Sinhala Buddhism is Buddhism at all.  What was written about Lord Buddha in the Mahavamsa that he was violent towards the “Yakkas” and chased them away is a lie.

I will tell you a true story that depicts the True Buddha. A very telling dialogue between Lord Buddha and some monks in John Drew, a British poet’s book ‘The Buddha at Kamakura’ serves as a message to true Buddhists: and bigots:

“All is Harmony, the monks reported. Religious Strife has been eliminated.

How? Asked the Buddha.

Non-Buddhists have been converted they said.

How? Asked the Buddha.

Those who refused were locked away in camps. Others fled or were exiled.

The Buddha said: Some Non-Buddhists Remain.

Impossible, said the monks. Who are they?

Those who did all this, said the Buddha.”

I would say learn from this Sinhala Buddhist bigots and heed this True Buddhists of the island of Sri Lanka and stand up for Buddhism!

Reference: Sinhala army attack on Satyagrahis

‘National Ideology’ in a Buddhist Country – Kanishka Goonewardena, 30 October 2007

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