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The shame of Buddhists II

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 14 March 2018 00:00

By T. Mallawatantri

When I penned my comments in September 2017 to Daily FT on the unpardonable behaviour of a few Buddhist monks and the mob that attacked the Rohingya Muslim refugees who took shelter in a house rented by the UNHCR in Mount Lavinia, I never imagined that I would need to touch the subject again so soon. Before even the lapse of six months, since that deplorable incident, the country had to face a worst situation with possibly irredeemable repercussions.

How the latest spate of violence erupted in Ampara and Digana in Kandy District was vividly covered by the media, both electronic and print. The series of violence, arson and physical damage, mainly to property belonging to Muslim citizens spread like wildfire in some of the suburban areas of Kandy. This prompted the hapless Muslims to flee their homes to safer areas or refugee camps. The authorities are blamed for the failure to take swift action to curtail the spread of this ruthlessness against the usually peaceful section of our society.

The ultra-chauvinistic and schismatic elements among the Sinhala Buddhists, though small in numbers, found a golden opportunity to exploit the incidents in Ampara and Digana to foster racial hatred against the Muslims. In Ampara, the causative factor was said to be a lump of flour which was later confirmed by the Government Analyst as carbohydrate, found in the beef curry served at an eatery belonging to Muslims, to some Sinhala youths late one evening which they suspected as a chemical substance and coerced the cashier and waiters to admit as a sterilising drug. 

The Sinhala youths have forced the staff at this eatery to identify it as ‘wanda pethi’ which term the Muslim workers were not aware of. This is in the backdrop of a story spread by the same type of anti-Muslim elements in many parts of the country which said certain sterilising chemicals or gels were applied to women’s undergarments sold to Sinhala girls.

In a country that boasts of 95% literacy, many gullible Sinhalese believed the story and avoided Muslim dress boutiques. There is absolutely no credibility in this story and scientifically it is impossible to pass sterilising drugs to women through undergarments or food for that matter.

Now, where are the vociferous doctors of the GMOA, who would make statements or give voice cuts on any matter that doesn’t even pertain to medical or health issues, and is it not their duty to educate the people on misconceptions such as this? They were hardly seen or heard when fires were engulfing parts of Ampara. It is obvious that they are not concerned with the welfare of the people but only moved by personal interests and self-serving objectives. 

In the case of the incident that sparked off the violent outbreak of anti-Muslim wrath of certain Sinhalese Buddhists, it was merely an altercation between a lorry driver, a Sinhalese and passengers of a three-wheeler, Muslims, who took it on the street for allegedly blocking the path of one another and the driver was severely injured who succumbed to death later. When these youths and the driver engaged themselves in heated argument, none would have based their stance on ethnicity and merely fought because of anger resulting from annoyance. 

Now this was another golden opportunity to the ultra-racist Sinhala Buddhist coterie. They were quick to grasp the opportunity to spread the story using the internet websites and social media platforms to incite the gullible Sinhalese. 

The political elements who were losers in 2015, whose platform was Sinhala Buddhist supremacy, quickly grabbed these incidents to strike the Government where it hurts and use the situation to engulf more racist inclined followers, whilst calling for peace through voice cuts and statements to the media. 

It is very ironic that the hate attacks against the minority in Kandy under the very shadow of the Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Holy Tooth Relic) and within the gaze of the supreme leadership of the Maha Sangha, the Maha Nayakas (chief prelates) of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters, took place and carried out by the so called Sinhala Buddhists. They claim that these attacks were carried out in order to protect the Buddha Sasana.

Two Buddhist monks, well known for their belligerent behaviour, have made their presence recorded in the affected localities just hours before the violence erupted. This alas is not the first time and it is intriguing why the Buddha Sasana leadership has not noted their behaviour, leave alone taking any disciplinary steps under ‘vinaya’ doctrine. 

The initial lethargy of the authorities to curtail the outbreak of violence caused immense damage and hardship to the people from all ethnicities. Now it is up to them to quickly nab these disruptive elements and bring them to book and punish them severely so that it will be a lesson to all divisive elements in our society. It is also a lesson to the Government that it should take the initiative in controlling the incidents of this nature without hesitation.

Permit me to quote a few excerpts from my previous article before I conclude.

“Five to six decades ago, we were proud to call ourselves Sinhala Buddhists because, we, the Sri Lankans were considered a compassionate and tolerant nation. I recall a photograph of a Buddhist priest in Sri Lanka in the Time magazine in early seventies, walking with his head bowed, bare feet and a serene expression on his face. As a Buddhist, I felt proud about this picture. This image is completely changed now. What we see now in foreign and local TV news as well as in foreign press and magazines is of very belligerent and violent Buddhist monks with their robes raised in a manner slighting the dignity of the sacred yellow robe.

“The so called disciples of Buddha, the enlightened one who preached metta and karuna or compassion, have transformed themselves into savage individuals, at times acting like marauding beasts. They claim to protect Buddhism against threats from other faiths going to the extent of destroying places of worship of other religions and abusing even hapless women and children. A basic doctrine of Buddhism is Impermanence, also called Anicca or Anitya, which asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent or inconstant” which applies even to the Buddha Sasana. So there is no need for anyone to protect Buddhism against so called threats.”

These recent incidents of racist violence has seriously dented the peaceful and tranquil image of Sri Lanka and affected the tourism industry, foreign investments and impacted severely on the economy of the country. The country was able to rebuild its image with painstaking efforts, but now we are pushed back again by a few years.

It is another time that we as Buddhists were put to shame by the ultra-chauvinistic elements, though small in numbers, among the so-called Sinhala Buddhists. Let all of us at least now think back and collectively remove these prejudices and undesirable elements from our society.

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