By Rifai Naleemi –
I take extra precaution when I write this series on Bodu Bala Sena. It is not my aim to hurt feeling of any religious groups or sects in Sri Lanka rather I try my best to understand the problems, challenge and social issues of Sri Lankan communities. It is my primary objective to examine these issues objectively with sympathy and empathy from different perspectives: The majority community ought to understand the concerns, and challenges of minority communities from the perspectives of minority communities to appreciate their concerns and worries. This should be done with empathy to their feeling and needs. At the same time minority communities ought to understand the concerns and worries of the majority community. They should look at into them from the perspectives of the majority community with empathy to their feeling and sentiment.
I will try my best to be impartial and neutral in writing without any prejudice in my argument. I will try to substantiate my writing with some rational and logical evidence as much as possible. It is not my objective to create more divisions and more disunity among Sri Lankan communities. Rather I would like them be united as Sri Lankans. Sri Lankans should live as one family with Lankan Identity with diversity in our faith and culture. Multicultural nature of our communities in Sri Lanka should not be an obstacle and barrier to build a strong Srilankan identity. It should enrich our nation. It should bring prosperity and economic growth to our nation. This could help each community to flourish in this Island of Paradise.
While I’m writing this series I may be wrong in my perception of some sensitive issues. I shall be more than happy to correct or amend my perception. Once the incorrectness and wrongness are duly and appropriately highlighted by our readers with logical and rational arguments I shall be happy to amend them. It is my firm conviction that we need unity, peace and communal harmony among Sri Lankans today than any time in Sri Lankan history. To that end we all need to adjust our mindsets and behaviours beyond narrowness of communal thinking. Creating that broader Lankan identity with diverse cultural identities should be the number one priority of Sri Lankans today. If we do this collectively, all community could live in peace and build a prosperous Sri Lanka in a few decades.
It is argued that since the early periods of colonization Sinhalese Buddhists were subjected to alien cultural onslaught. Indeed, there is no doubt that the Sinhalese Buddhist people were marginalised and deliberately neglected by the colonial powers for different political, economic and religious reasons during colonial periods. While those who converted into Christian faith relatively enjoyed all educational and employment opportunities, the rural Sinhalese Buddhist people were totally neglected during the colonial period particularly during the Portuguese colonial period of Ceylon: Prof. Tennakoon. Vimalananda argues that Portuguese arrival was a Dark Age in Ceylon history.
They changed the cultural heritage of Sri Lankan Buddhist history in very sense. This process of marginalization of Sinhalese continued even during the British rule under the divide and rule policy of British Empire. Anagarika Darmapala raised his voice against this injustice but he went further extreme to spread hatred campaign against minority communities in Sri Lanka. He tried his best to instil and infuse Sinhalese nationalist feeling among Sinhalese public. He was in deed succeeded to some extent in his radical ideas. His speeches and writings were full of hate instigation. This nationalistic campaign was further proclaimed by SW Bandaranayke in 1958 when he made Sinhala as one and only official language of Sri Lanka. This time it was for a pure political reason.
Moreover, after the independence the entire political authority of Sri Lanka was given in the hands of Sinhalese population. As they are the majority of population they have been holing the grip on the political power in Sri Lanka without sharing it with minority communities. It seems that they feel they had been victimised for more than five hundred years in Sri Lanka by successive colonial powers. Now they feel the pinch and wanted to marginalise all minorities for tit for tat stratagem. Even in pre-colonial periods the relation between Sinhalese and Tamils was not that good. This historical enmity once again re-emerged after the independence.
Though Tamil and Muslim members of Parliament are being elected, the fundamental rights, aspiration and needs of these communities are not rightfully met to some extent. Tamil issue is still not being solved. Tamil language has not been yet given any official status, No Tamil/ Muslim members of Parliament has been elected as a PM in Sri Lanka yet, this shows political marginalization of these minorities communities. Moreover, Now Tamil and Muslim culture, language, religious heritage are in a great danger because of the Budu Bala Sena’s anti-minorities campaign in recent times. It seems that BBS is following the path of their spiritual Guru and intellectual mentor Anagarika Dharmapala in their anti- minority campaign.
BBS has got many concerns and worries in their minds. Some of these concerns are against the successive Sri-Lanka governments which they claim have failed to protect and promote Buddhism in this country. There are some concerns in the minds of these BBS members about Sinhalese community itself for its failure to follow pure Buddhism in Sri Lanka. They have concerns about economy and population growths of Sinhalese community. Some of them wrongly assume that their race is in the brink of extinction. These are some of the internal concerns of BBS. No doubt these may be genuine concerns of BBS and yet, they should know how to address these concerns in a democratic and polite way in this modern world.
One hand, the minorities are complaining that their culture and religious identity are in danger in Sri Lanka. They argue that after defeating the LTTE Sinhalese people are invading the North and East. Moreover, they are occupying the cultural and religious sites with support of three forces: Sri Lankan army, navy and police. On the other hand, Budu Bala Sena argues that Sinhalese heritage and sacred places are being destroyed in the North-East. They argue that Buddhism and its heritages are danger in all other part of country. BBS feels that their religion, culture and heritage are threaten by all alien religious practices from Muslim, Christian and Hindu cultural invasions while Tamils in North East feel that their culture and religions are invaded by Sinhalese Buddhists.
This is indeed a paradoxical situation. How do we reconcile between these ironical and two countertrading arguments. How do we see these contrasting arguments objectively without bias and subjectivity? Is it true that Buddhist culture and religion are in the brink of extermination and extinction in Sri Lanka as it was claimed by BBS and its cohorts? Is it true that Tamil culture and heritage are being destroyed by Sinhalese in the North East parts of Sri Lanka? To what extent these arguments could be justified and to what extent these arguments are true? Who should be blamed for these ironical situations in Sri Lanka? Who are the people responsible for the decline of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as it is claimed? Is it the politicians? Is it Buddhist monks? It is Sinhalese public who want to go away from Buddhism? Or is it minority communities? These are some of the fundamental questions that BBS and its cohorts should evaluate and gauge objectively. They should not blame other communities for the decline of Buddhism in Sri Lanka rather they should evaluate shortcomings of teaching and preaching methods of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
It is generally argued by BBS and its cohorts that once many Asian countries were Buddhist countries in history. Countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives and other parts of Asian countries were Buddhism countries. Now people of those countries have become Muslims. They predict and over exaggerate that in 2050 Sri Lanka would become a Muslim country. They argue ostensibly unless necessary steps were taken to curtail rapid increase of conversion into Islamic faith and expansion of Muslim population growth this could happen in 2050. What a superficial argument is this? This argument does not have any logical credibility rather such an enigma has been deliberately created to spread false alarm and panics in the minds of public. These are some of mere assumptions and prediction. There is no solid evidence to suggest this would happen in three decades. I think that this fear or phobia is unnecessary and illogical in every sense. We shall deal with this issue next week.