By Vishwamithra –
“If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” ~Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Kandy was burning. The pinnacle of the teachings of the greatest Teacher in human history who preached ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence) is being desecrated and the shame and ignominy that burning has caused have become our contemptible DNA. Sinhalese Buddhists once again have come out of their disguise, resorted to marauding the streets of Maha Nuwara and its suburbs like barbarians, searching for Muslims, a people of another faith. Religion in the hands of pagans is just another deadly device to hurl at those who don’t believe in the same faith. In a macabre spectacle of treachery and religious dishonesty, what has moved our people towards sublime heights has been replaced by gory intent to kill and torture, to maim and murder and to impose their faith on others. Muslims are no less responsible. What have we become? After 70 years of Independence from Colonial rulers, we managed to introduce in the 1972 Constitution, drafted and consummated by Dr. Colvin R de Silva, one of the most scholarly advocates of secularism, a clause that rendered Buddhism a ‘special place’, thereby creating a discriminatory socio-religious machination amongst a people who were used to harmonious coexistence.
However, since the ’56 Transformation, instigated by SWRD Bandaranaike, another Oxford liberal whose political expediency subordinated all his liberal mindedness to his empty rhetoric and created socio-ethnic hysteria that gave rise to a feeling of false superiority of race, the rate at which ethnic violence erupted in Ceylon increased. A mentality of ‘the land, the race and the faith’ (Rata, Deya, Samaya) then took over the collective psyche of Sinhalese Buddhists whose imaginary ‘Aryan’ origins as propagated by the likes of Anagarika Dharmapala, a zealot of no mean influence on the majority who was living with minority mindset. This mindset was primarily attributable to the fear of Tamils in South India, namely Tamil Nadu State. This cagey existence is utterly vulnerable and could be easily exploited by sinister politicians whose aims are much more deceptive and diabolical. That is precisely what has happened to our Sinhalese Buddhist community. When the fear of Tamils in the North is coupled with the jealousy of Muslims in the East and the rest of the country, the consequential stream of ‘aggressive indifference’ towards decency and fundamental values creates all this mayhem and ethnic cleansing of Sri Lankan kind.
No person on the soil of this country could keep quiet about violent treatment of fellow citizens in the same land. Such ‘aggressive indifference’ towards decency and fundamental values results in macabre killings and inhuman torture. Sinhalese Buddhists, over a period of time, especially after 1956, have shown uncanny and remarkable ability to indulge in these racial riots as an expression of misplaced patriotism. Anyone who speaks against such wanton ethnic-based killings is being branded traitorous and betrayers of ‘our thing’. This cocoon-mindset is a product of a steady dose of hate-filled ethno-superiority complex. Innocent women and men are drawn into this vortex of ‘the land, the race and the faith’. And when feelings are driven to an intense extent of ethnic hatred, all sublime teachings of the Buddha are forgotten and the base animal instincts of humankind overwhelm the brittle minds of these men and women of the faith. That is the basic calculus of this developing human spectacle.
The base instincts of humanity have overwhelmed the wiser quarters; political expediency has deadened the nuanced aspects of the human race and created a crack in the fabric of socio-ethnic harmony. The Teldeniya riots and its rapid spread over the Kandy district, specifically in areas where Muslim communities are more prevalent, were another growing cancer which was curbed quite speedily whereas such riots in 1983 could not be averted.
The Rajapaksas have no right whatsoever to speak about such situations as pious leaders of a nation. With their willing and ready nod, many ethnic riots were initiated and a destructive mode of governance was unleashed. Well-known thugs and socially malignant elements were wrapped in saffron robes and let loose on an otherwise placid people. The immense danger and damage that is caused to this placid mind of a village woman who worships the tiny Buddha statue that is in her tiny shrine room cannot be disregarded as a mere contusion caused by a thorny creep. This woman’s faith in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha is too strong to be waived off by Islam Fundamentalism. Her allegiance to the Dharma, as she sees and understands it, cannot be subjected to judgment by zealots of another faith. Yet her faith is invariably entangled with the superficial aspects of popular Buddhism which has been a product of adulteration and contamination by generations of Dusseela Bikkhus (corrupt clergy) and ambitious politicians who use these Dusseela Bikkhus to gain their ends.
This close affiliation between ruler-politicians and Buddhist Clergy has been a constant in our history. While this unbreakable bond, more often than not, has had very beneficial effects on the ruler and consequently on the subject people, sometimes has led to irreversible conditioning of the minds and hearts of them. This conditioning, perpetrated over centuries of rule, has in fact produced a warped sense of patriotism which manifestly rejects the fresh and openness of mind. The brutal truth is this same ruler-priest combination has not been present not only in Ceylon, but was in fact had been a primary driving force in the so-called developed world long before the dawn of liberal democracy. The cloak of religious cover has managed to conceal many a sin of the ruler whilst the Monk/priest clans have abused the relationship to enrich themselves and their kith and kin.
The cycle continued with an ironclad combination between corrupt rulers and corrupting clergy. However, with the advent of liberal democracy- though it is more an evolution rather than an advent- in the developed world, direct influence of religion on democratically elected leaders began diminishing at a faster rate than it could afford to. When religion is confined to Temples, Churches, Mosques and Kovils, the ruling clans began sustaining their rule over matters of government affairs more freely and with a secular approach to resolution of emerging economic and political problems. The emergence of fundamentalism may be partly due to this historical evolution of the relationship between religion and government. Future historians and political scientists will argue this case and arrive at more plausible conclusions. Yet what has been evident in the world over the last two centuries have proven that the more economically advanced nations have done so by being more secular than religious in the execution of their policies and principles.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka cannot be counted to be amongst these enlightened nations. We have chosen to follow the Indian model in pursuing power along the lines of division than unity. Polarization has been willfully enunciated in the daily performance of political life. The rush to Kataragama to wash their sins off their souls and bodies is one example which exhibits the shallowness of their beliefs. The mockery of religious and spiritual beliefs is no more succinctly displayed than in these Kataragama rituals.
Ceylon has come a long way in her journey towards a more perfect union of ideas and ideals. Yet her rulers and religious leaders have let her down. Time after time, when the burning coal of religious anger and hatred seems to simmer and eventually die, these religious zealots and pseudo-spiritual heads have chosen to find the concealed amber and inflame the very hatred and anger to settle their own scores. It is the legacy of the politicians and religious leaders of our time. From the old woman whose faith in the serene teachings of the Buddha is unbreakable to the young man who takes knives and daggers to kill and maim those who do not belong to his religion have gone through this vicious circle of hatred and anger. Buddha’ teachings have been relegated to the fulfillment of a fleeting sense of hatred.
Gnanasaras and Senas will continue to make their exploits more lucrative and profitable to their sponsors. Politicians would pay only lip service and the people who have been brought down to mere puppets will continue to dance to their tunes. Teldeniya riots were not the first of ethnic riots that occurred in post-Independence Sri Lanka and they won’ be the last.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org