By Malinda Seneviratne –
‘Buddhist Questioning Bodu Bala Sena’
Among those who were opposed to the vigil, I recognized two, a young man who was associated with the Sihala Urumaya way back in 2000 and another young man whom I’ve had on occasion associated with professionally. I also found out that Dilanthe Withanage, spokesperson for the BBS was also present (he did a lot of talking –with the police, to the cameras and to his political opponents). There were also several bikkhus who did a lot of talking. They were agitated, but not more and not less than their opposites were agitated. If I were to caricature, I would say the only difference was that the former spoke in Sinhala and the latter in English (I heard the F-word, several times).
I was more surprised, I must admit, when I took in the ‘attendees’. I had expected the crowd, even if it was small, to be made up of a majority of Buddhists from all walks of life. I can’t be blamed for expecting this because this was supposed to be an event organized by ‘Buddhists’. There must have been Buddhists. Some claimed they were and I have no reason to doubt them. But there were non-Buddhists in proportions that were a fair distance away from national ratios. There is nothing wrong in non-Buddhists taking part in such a vigil. In fact, even if one counted out legitimate fears of and opposition to the BBS as reason to attend, it is certainly legitimate (and laudable) that non-Buddhists decided to stand with Buddhists on an issue like this.
My Muslim friend wrote, ‘What’s the ugliest thing in uniform? – a biased cop. I saw one today declaring pompously that everyone gathered at the vigil was either Muslim, Catholic or Tamil. My foot ached to give him a well-directed kick in that sweet spot right in the groove!’ I heard that too. The Police Officer can’t be faulted if he wondered how a ‘Buddhists against BBS’ event had so many non-Buddhists. It was a sweeping generalization nevertheless and the ethno-religious composition is anyway not relevant to the matter of peaceful, democratic action, even if there was nothing innocent in intent and design.
He may have not heard this, but someone referred to the anti-BBS ‘Buddhists’ as ‘Nightclub Buddhists’. Strange juxtaposition and descriptive, yes, but it also raised questions of social status, class, lifestyle etc. A Buddhist is a Buddhist, whether he/she wears white or black, a sil redda or jeans, but clothes mark and they mark well. This was no Buddhist Cross-section, that much was apparent to me.
There were good people there. There were people who were angry. There were people talking past each other. There were people who refused to see the make-up of who they stood with. I came to stand with a certain group against the BBS. Had I come earlier, I am pretty sure I would not have lit a candle, because people make the cause and that too is something I take into account. I would have gone away.