13 November, 2019

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The Mosque Issue: Intolerance At Its Worst

By Visakha and Venetia – both Buddhists –

‘Unity within diversity’. In Tamil, there is a proverb that says ‘if the wall remains you can do your drawings’. (Suwaar irunthalthan chithiram varyalam)

This recent unsavoury and unacceptable issue of the attack on the mosque in Dambulla shames the Sri Lankan community, which for generations has lived with tolerance towards each others’ places of worship. The operative phrase being “tolerant towards each others’ place of worship” should be considered mindfully because this has not been the case where ethnic tolerance is concerned. This incident also reinforces the phenomena of a deeply fragmented society where the rifts and wounds are getting deeper and wider. This fragmentation is an epidemic which has all dimensions – religious, cultural, class, caste, wealth, cultural and political. The common good is not considered in the long term and short term petty gains are the order of the day.

Most tragic for Buddhism is that the word of the Buddha and tolerance which is innate in the Buddha Dhamma is totally misrepresented by a minority of Buddhists, especially a few (not all) of the yellow robed representatives, who are but intolerant beings masquerading under a shroud of sanctimony.

Let us look at the incident proper and the laws and policies governing this incident. In the Sunday Times Javid Yusuf gives an excellent summary on the challenges.

What happened to awaken the monks after 50 years since the mosque was built in 1963? Mr Yusuf brings down the violations to three offences under the Penal Code and one under Fundamental Rights. One must add however that the Police standing by complicit to this crime gives vent to another offence against the establishment which is dereliction of duty. Sri Lankans never learn as memories are extremely short. The horrors of “83 too were caused by state dereliction of duty by not stopping such grave atrocities, which is tantamount to state driven violence.

Let us look back at 2010 and the deliberations on the ban of NEW places of worship.

From UCA News “Sri Lanka’s religious community welcomes a construction ban on illegal places of worship. Prime Minister Disanayaka Mudiyanselage Jayaratne, who also heads the Buddha Sasana Ministry and is Religious Affairs Minister, announced the ban on June 23, saying all new places of worship need government approval, or they will be declared illegal and building work suspended. He said the move was to promote and protect religious harmony. He made the decision following a high number of complaints about illegal construction of religious places.

Placing statues on corners close to roads and worshiping them is a threat to religious harmony. There are existing regulations regarding the building of a religious place, he said.

The PM wants Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya to enforce these rules and stop illegal construction to maintain good relations among religions” “The decision applies to all religions,”

Father Shantha Sagara Hettiarachchi, editor of Catholic weekly Gnanarthapradeepaya (Light of Wisdom) said he welcomes the PM’s decision if it does apply to all religions. “Although we try to respect the law when we build churches, we face too many problems,” he said.

Assaji Thero, Executive Secretary of Inter-religious Peace Foundation was more positive about the decision.“There are enough religious places in the country. There are even 12,000 temples without Buddhist monks,” he said. “It is a good decision,” he told.

Shivashri Dharmaraja Kurukkal, a Hindu priest said illegal constructions are wrong. We have to respect the government and follow its rules, he said

Applications for construction should be referred to a committee appointed by the Religious Affairs Ministry secretary after the relevant local authorities grant approval.”

In the case of the mosque, what prevented the Inamaluwe priest from taking this back to such a Committee as mentioned above? After all removing of a place of worship existing for 50 years is far more serious than erecting a new one. Even if there was no such Committee, this could have been taken through legal channels. Also what is the profound definition of a sacred area? Is only one religion sacred?

Could it be that the mosque incident is part of a bizarre tangled web of events in connection with the attempted amendment to the Town and Country Planning Ordinance which was proposed and then rejected by court? The amendment would have given vast powers to the Minister of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs to declare and do any changes as deemed by him to private land as the subject of the original ordinance is private land.

To quote the Lakbima “The amendment  allows for the declaration of ‘Protection Areas,’ ‘Conservation Areas,’ ‘Architectural or Historic Areas’ and ‘Sacred Areas.’ The Minister of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs-who is also the Prime Minister–may gazette any area of land within any municipal, urban development or trunk road development area under one of these categories.

The amendment, therefore, expands the scope of a minister’s powers from declaring just urban development areas to other categories. But while ‘Protection Area,’ ‘Conservation Area’ and ‘Architectural or Historic Area’ are defined in the bill (albeit shoddily), the term ‘Sacred Area’ is not. This effectively means that if the Minister of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs declares an area to be ‘Sacred,’ anybody disputing this in court will not have recourse to a legal definition.

Thus, if a person’s private property (regardless of whether or not there is a building on it) is gazetted as a ‘Sacred Area’ and that person seeks legal redress, even a reasonable judge would be constrained to point out that nothing could be done in the absence of a definition. How would one argue that one’s property is not ‘sacred’ if the law does not explain what ‘sacred’ means?”

The principal law prohibits any person (unless he holds a permit) from erecting, re-erecting, demolishing, altering or repairing any structure in that area; laying out, constructing, widening, extending or closing, attempting to lay out, construct, widen, extend or close any road in that area; or developing any land in that area, subdividing, conveying, assigning or otherwise disposing of or dealing with any such land in such a manner as to constitute any part of the land into a separate holding.

Therefore according to the principal law one cannot build nor demolish a structure without going through the proper process. According to recent articles in the news a Kali temple in this area too has been demolished.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives did extremely well to bring these anomalies to the notice of the Supreme Court and get the amendment withdrawn and in an ever diminishing landscape of good governance a little bit of faith in the court process is restored. The ruling also respected devolution and the need to get the approval of Provincial Councils especially with regard to land matters as a “Listed” activity, before such amendments are passed.

Whatever the reason, violence has no place in society on the part of anyone. Breaking of the Bamien Buddha statues in Afghanistan, nor the attacks on churches, nor Jihad, nor the demolition of the kali temple can and should be tolerated. We should all be mindful that the enemy of peace is not really conflict but the resulting violence. Let us as a nation condemn such attacks and request the Government to resolve this in a manner befitting a country with a history of well over 2500 years.

As Amartya Sen said about natural disasters “the shape of assistance one gives during one disaster shapes the next” in the same vein the process employed to resolve social conflict will shape events in the future. So the state and the community should act responsibly to keep Sri Lanka out of conflict. The Maha Sangha Sabha should also take appropriate action against the errant priest.

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Latest comments

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    Don’t allow these Muslim [Edited out] to breed like rabbits and take over our country.

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      @lal
      Are you another moda sinhalaya exactly vilified by other religious communities to singhalese?

      Do you know the consequence to your comments, dont be an ignorant selfish fool.

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    The Muslim community must stop being cowardly like its dishonest and dis-honourable politicians! Javid Yusuf should file a case against the Dambulla monk.
    The Dambulla Muslims must file a case against the monk and have the law take its course. He should be found guilty and jailed.
    Rauf Hakeem is a power hungry coward who is trying to make a back room deal with the racist Rajapakse in order to keep his ministerial post. MR has the horrible racist Jathik Hela Urumaya at his side.
    Muslims of Lanka must now rise up, stop being cowards and fight for their right legally. The Tamils tried to do that but were hi-jacked by that megalomaniac Prabakaran. Now its the turn of the Muslim brothers brothers and sisters to confront the racism of the Rajapakse regime. Lanka.

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      Jude….

      no need for muslim and buddhist fights..

      You are trying to start unwanted issues…of one monks action in to a bigger one…

      I think The muslims should be grateful that no such fights exists in SL as appose to the worldwide dislike of muslims else where in the world including USA and UK… where they are not respected enough!

      SL is the only country in the world that I have come across where people of all religions live peacefully….

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    I don’t understand how Dambulla or Sri Lanka became sacred when Lord Buddha didn’t even mention anything of Sri Lanka in any of his sermons neither did he visit Sri Lanka. Birth place of Buddhism is in state of Orissa, India. We do not see any of those monks living in those Ashramams behave as these thug monks in Sri Lanka. The monks living in Orissa harvest and cultivate what they require and distribute among the poor what is extra. In Sri Lanka it is the public who feeds these lazy and high cholesterol monks. Even the weight differs. The Orissa middle aged monks’ average weight is between 60-75 Kgs. We will not find a single middle aged monk in Sri Lanka who is less than 70 Kgs.

    We all know that there were Yaksha, Naaga and many other tribes with demon and animal names living in Sri Lanka during the beginning of Sri Lanka’s history or from the time of mating of Vijayan (Indian) and Quveni from Yaksha tribe of Sri Lanka.

    Monk Mihindu’s introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka is like a cloak that these tribal people presently are wearing. Even today those tribal people are existing under the cloak of Buddhism.

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      whatever said ….SL is a buddhist country !

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    CT, there is an interview held by a reporter named Niranjala Ariyawansha from Sunday Leader with Ven. Inamaluwe Sumangala Thero. This interview has been posted on Transcurrents in DBS Jeyaraj’s Blog. However DBSJ is in the process of censoring the comments to filter the content to suit his line of biased reporting. We invite CT to post this article in your blog for a wider reader interaction.

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      Chandimal thanks for the information. This chap DBS Jeyaraj is with KP and crowd of the LTTE who double crossed VP to secure control of the LTTE and presently waiting to take control of the North. DBS J writings are all concoctions to suit the agenda of the Rajapaksa regiem. This crowd DBS J, KP, Karuna Aman, Pillayan along with the Rajapaksas are all working together with the American Zionist Forces to a set agenda.

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        the commedian of the year!!

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    The cast barriers were broken during 1970 and 80’s insurgencies in Sinhala communities and during North East war, Tamil communities. The modern Sri Lanka is born now. No more “Ratey Mahattayas, Koralay Mahattayas or even Aarachci, Nilamey, Bandara etc. If you Read new FB pages by pro Dambulla group, now all “Machanla”. Annihilating a society like what happened in 1950’s 60s, even 1983 not easy now. International society will not wait by just watching it or even tolerate it. Everybody knows what happened to Bosnia, Montenegro, and Kosovo etc. If we cannot live in peace, we must expect worst.

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    Lets face the facts – there is a small but very vocal and very powerful group of militant Sinhala Buddhists who are vitually running the country with our beloved Prez scared to pull them back in fear of a similar fate as that meted out to political leaders in the past who rode the tiger and then tried to jump off!

    It is the responsibility of every Sinhala Buddhist with a conscience to speak out against these militant monk thugs. I will do so according to my own conscience. This is NOT what the Buddha taught. Most Ven Rahula’s injunctions should be taken well to mind by these thugs masquerading as Sinhala-Buddhists.

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    TC, this DBS Jeyaraj [Edited out] handles the most critical postings discussing the critical issues in the country. He then censors the comments to concoct an unfavourable image about Sinhalese, Buddhists and in general Sri Lankan society and people. He carefully evades the questionable behaviours, issues, actions and reactions of Tamils and Muslims. In general there are Sinhalese who criticize their own people in good faith to actually highlight all the ills of the country almost exclusively perpetrated by the racist nationalistic and fundamentalist Rajapaksha regime. This Jeyaraj nincompoop posts those criticisms and then blocks comments to form a conglomeration of anti-Sinhalese anti-Buddhist sentiment in general in the world. If this persons blog site is examined one can see the trend and his ulterior motive. We request, TC to post the same articles in your blog as well so that suppressed and restricted voices may find a way out. Thanks. Thanks Gamini for understanding the situation.

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    @chandimal

    Ur ranting against dbsj is both wrong and illogical. he is one of the best journalists SL has ever produced. Most of the times he is impartial and his articles are excellent. He is not only a good journo but his is very knowledgable about the recent history of SL. He is tamil and and no one can blame him for having a soft corner for the tamils in his heart. even i do as a sinhalese. Srilankan state and sinhala majority has done a lot of harm to the tamils in SL. But u dont see much sinhala journos except few who speak for the tamils. It is sad that we sinhalese do not have journos of the caliber of DBSJ. DBSJ is tamil and he may like the seperation. I think all tamils do. But many intelligent ones have left it and they want to fix things in a better and a realistic way. After reading his articles i think of him as a tamil who has immense love for his culture and tamil ppl. Also he is a patriotic sri lankan, (real patriotic). He has never demonised sinhala ppl in his articles or manipulate comments to give such an image. actually it is the likes of u who do that. He has worked to minimize the harm done by racist monks in dambulla incident to avoid future clashes in SL. You can identify by his responses to some of his comments.

    I remember u making racist statements in DBSJ’s blog. that is why he removed ur comments. If anybody demonises sinhala ppl, it is the people like u.

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