“Our fight is for all Sri Lankans”: BBS CEO

Wednesday, 30 April 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  •  Asserts BBS fight is against wrongdoings and corruption in Sri Lanka
  • Wants resettlement to take place for all people, not only Muslims
  • Says Sinhala Buddhists true minority in danger and live in fear
  • Charges media creating unnecessary hatred towards BBS
  • Requests Sinhala Buddhists to refrain from gaming, clubbing, consuming alcohol
The controversial Bodu Bala Organisation says banning casinos will only worsen the situation. “Our great kings used the same means as ways of increasing country’s income. People in a country with true Buddhist practices will not engage in casinos, gaming and similar activities,” asserts Dilantha Withanage, Chief Executive Officer of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). “There are no terrorists in the BBS. If there are terrorists in the BBS, as a Government Minister claims, the Police should take immediate steps to arrest them and take them into custody,” he added. Following are excerpts of an interview with the Daily FT: Q: What is the controversy between BBS and Wilpattu resettlements? A: We don’t have any personal grudge against Minister Rishad Bathiudeen. Neither do we have bitterness or hatred towards Muslims. We questioned certain Muslim politicians about illegal activities they are engaged in. These politicians are using Muslims as a shield. To cover up their own wrongdoings, these politicians are claiming the BBS is attacking Muslims once again. That is wrong. That is not what actually happened. We have already educated the media about this issue. All documents regarding to Wilpattu resettlements refer to it as ‘Release of forest land for resettlement of Muslim families’. Resettlement should take place; there is no wrong in that. But why only Muslim families? This is wrong. We have ended a 30-year war. People have lost many things due to the war. This is the time we need to take extra efforts to promote social integration. This is what Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara is expected to do. It is due to their incompetence that organisations such as BBS have to intervene. The letters issued by the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security say the land is only for Muslim families. Then there is another question; how did Minister Bathiudeen get involved in this? He is the Minister of Industries. In what capacity did he get involved in these resettlements? Resettlements should take place. But that is for all Sri Lankans, not only for Muslims. We don’t like the manner in which the TNA is acting in this entire issue. They only talk about Tamils. But the BBS is not only talking on behalf of the Sinhalese. Our fight is for all Sri Lankans. A letter issued by the Central Environment Authority dated 7 May 2013 to the Mannar Divisional Forest Office says around 1,080 acres of virgin forest land were cleared for this purpose. The letter further says: “As this area is declared forest area with forest, this activity requires environmental approval from environmental impact assessment process under 4C of the National Environmental Act. According to our knowledge environmental approval was not obtained from the CEA, which is an offense punishable under National Environmental Act.” Now this letter proves that what Minister Bathiudeen doing is illegal. I raised this issue a year ago. But nothing happened. A letter issued in March 2012 by the Divisional Secretary Mudugoda Pattuwa to the Commissioner General of Land Registrar titled ‘Release of forest land for the resettlement of 1,550 Muslim families’ clearly says they are unable to release forest land to resettle people. We have much more documentation evidence to prove that these resettlements are illegal. These letters clearly prove that there is some controversy regarding these resettlements. This country has a law. People can’t forcibly put up a shed and start living on land that belongs to the Government. We feel sorry for these Muslims. They work according to instructions given by politicians. On the other hand, this land is significant to Sri Lanka geographically and historically. We are concerned about all these facts. We went there and met those people; they told us that they lived in a close-by village. When the population increased they had to look for new places. Under the instruction of Minister Bathiudeen they had put up temporary shelters in Wilpattu. Q: But according to Minister Bathiudeen these resettlements are not illegal? A: Bathiudeen says if these 40 families are given alternate land, they will leave Wilpattu. Can’t anyone see he is only trying to make a deal out of this? Let me reiterate; our fight is not against Muslims. Our fight is against encroaching on land that has ecological and historical significance to the country. These settlements are done against the National aEnvironmental Act. People should be thankful to us for raising these issues. Not only inside the sanctuary, there are Muslim families living in temporary sheds in the surrounding forest too. When they don’t have enough space to live in their villages, they clear the forest land and put up sheds. Is that correct? Rather than attacking the BBS, these Muslim politicians should have a proper mechanism to resettle these innocent people. On the other hand, fathers and brothers of certain Government Ministers are carrying out a fund-raising campaign in the Middle East in order to build houses for the displaced Muslims in Sri Lanka. Let them collect money, let them build any amount of houses; but there should be some transparency. This politician entered into an agreement with a Non-Governmental Organisation in Qatar. Did he obtain approval from the Cabinet of Ministers? Embassy officials were present at this event. Did they get approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? If he signed this agreement in his capacity as a Minister, the money should go to the Government. Did the Government receive any money? These are the questions to which we seek answers. Q: Would you protest if it was the Sinhalese who had encroached on this land? A: A few months ago the BBS raised an issue about a person attached to the Dalada Maligawa. Then we fought against a politician in Kolonnawa who is involved in the drug business. Unfortunately nobody spoke about these things. Even the media did not report those incidents. The BBS is not scared to expose Sinhalese politicians. We are not scared to expose Muslim or Tamil politicians either. Let me stress this once again. Our fight is not against Muslims or Tamils. Our fight is against the wrongdoings and corruption in the country. We will not let anyone destroy our country. Q: Why are you attacking Ven. Watareka Vijitha Thero? A: We stopped talking about that person last week. I would not refer to him as a priest. We should not waste our valuable time discussing an unimportant person like him. Let me tell you this: Watareka does not have a very good past. There are charges against him for throwing acid and stealing a valuable Buddha state from a temple in Poogoda. We have evidence to prove all these charges. To be honest, the BBS does not care even if this person represents the Muslim Congress. The issue is, others are using this person to attack the BBS. People blame us but it was Watareka who initiated this. The truth is that he is a mere puppet in the hands of some powerful Muslim politicians. They are using him to tarnish our image. He is criticising Buddhism. He is insulting Buddhists in the presence of Muslims. Is that correct? As Buddhists, can we keep calm when such things are happening? What people should realise is that Muslim extremist leaders are using Watareka to cover up their wrongdoings. Q: Why did the BBS meet Malwathu Mahanayaka Thero? A: As a practice we meet Malwathu Mahanayaka Thero. Mahanayaka Thero has instructed us to meet him regularly and educate him about our activities and programs. However, since we were busy during the past several months, we could not meet the Mahanayaka Thero. We have already exposed that we received death threats and some politicians are trying to link the BBS with a conspiracy against the Government. The plan was to arrest Ven. Gnanasara Thero and myself. When we revealed this, everyone urged us to meet the Malwathu Mahanayaka Thero and seek his assistance. This was one of the reasons for our visit. "Resettlements should take place. But that is for all Sri Lankans, not only for Muslims. We don’t like the manner in which the TNA is acting in this entire issue. They only talk about Tamils. But the BBS is not only talking on behalf of the Sinhalese. Our fight is for all Sri Lankans The BBS is not scared to expose Sinhalese politicians. We are not scared to expose Muslim or Tamil politicians either. Let me stress this once again. Our fight is not against Muslims or Tamils. Our fight is against the wrongdoings and corruption in the country. We will not let anyone destroy our country Due to globalisation we can no longer hide and isolate ourselves. Look at the world Muslim population. When you consider the world Tamil population, we can no longer call them minorities. The true minority is the Sinhala Buddhists… Catholics in this country don’t live in fear. Islamic people have many organisations and countries they can run to for rescue. Therefore, it is the Sinhala Buddhists who are in danger. We are the ones who live in fear. Our Sinhala Buddhist leaders are helpless due to the vast powers of these so-called minorities BBS requests all Sinhala Buddhists to refrain from any activities that deal with gaming, clubbing and use of alcohol. In the meantime we believe that banning these things will not be the solution to the problem. In fact, banning casinos will only promote and give more exposure to those activities" Certain Ministers have complained that I am responsible for all the dealings of the BBS. They have said that Gnanasara Thero dances to my tune and I am in control of everything with regard to the BBS. These Ministers are claiming that I am part of a conspiracy to topple the Government. When I heard this I wrote to the President. I told the President that I am not involved in a conspiracy against the Government. But if anything happens to Gnanasara Thero or me, the President and this Government should be held responsible. Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara has said that there are terrorists in the BBS. When a responsible Minister says there are terrorists, the Police should take immediate steps to arrest them. The Police should also question Minister Nanayakkara and ask why he has not named the terrorists. The Minister who is responsible for social integration is calling others terrorists. We cannot accept this. He never called the JVP terrorists; they killed thousands of people. To date Minister Nanayakkara has not called the LTTE a terrorist organisation. But he calls the BBS terrorists. There are accusations that a strong Government official is backing and supporting us. If we are terrorists and if a Government officer is supporting such an organisation, then there is a serious problem. Meanwhile, we also educated Malwathu Mahanayaka Thero about the Muslim extreme group Thawheed Jamath. They have openly carried out their promotional activities during the past year. They are also engaged in activities that damage Buddhism in the country. They are visiting villages promoting their organisation. Immediate action needs to be taken against this extreme group. Now if we are terrorists, as Minister Nanayakkara claims, then we could have gathered all Sinhala Buddhists and attacked this group. But we never did that. Q: Are you saying Sinhala Buddhists are under threat by minority extreme groups? A: Who are the minorities you are talking about? Due to globalisation we can no longer hide and isolate ourselves. Look at the world Muslim population. When you consider the world Tamil population, we can no longer call them minorities. The true minority is the Sinhala Buddhists. Billions of rupees are sent to Sri Lanka to promote extreme groups like Wahhabism and Thawheed Jamath. In historical places like Thammenna where King Vijaya landed, there are new Muslim towns coming up. This is due to global funding. Just because someone gives us funding to construct several houses, one cannot allow people to change the names of places with historical importance. People in this country should realise that Sinhala Buddhists have no other place to go. We don’t have another country to escape to. When we are harassed we don’t have an embassy to complain to. Catholics in this country don’t live in fear. Islamic people have many organisations and countries they can run to for rescue. Therefore, it is the Sinhala Buddhists who are in danger. We are the ones who live in fear. Our Sinhala Buddhist leaders are helpless due to the vast powers of these so-called minorities. Q: Do you believe BBS Leader Gnanasara Thero acts and behaves according to Buddhist teachings? A: Ven. Variyapola Sumangala Thero brought down a British flag and trampled it. Do we criticise this act? We consider Variyapola Thero a hero. I feel it will be better if Gnanasara Thero can talk in a calmer manner. But at the same time we have to think about the reasons that aggravate him to act that way. If our leaders, politicians and officials do their jobs properly, Gnanasara Thero or the BBS would not need to intervene in national issues. Certain words used by Gnanasara Thero may not be suitable to be used by a Buddhist persist. But these are commonly used words in the Sinhala language. This is a Buddhist country. We believe in certain values and beliefs. Will Sri Lankan law or society allow a Buddhist monk to drive a vehicle? Have you ever seen a Buddhist monk taking part in a marathon? If a Catholic or Muslim priest does such things, people will not get agitated. But they will never allow a Buddhist monk to engage in such activity, because this is a Buddhist country. People who criticise Gnanasara Thero should also know that he is popular for his Dhamma talks. There are other monks who try to imitate him, but they have failed. All the media reported the incident where Ven. Gnanasara Thero and BBS supporters went to expose the Watareka plot. Gnanasara Thero used a few harsh words. But later he asked all the Samanera priests to greet Watareka Thero. He even instructed the relevant officials to provide security to Watareka. Only a very few media reported this.  The media always reports that the BBS ‘storms into a certain place or raided a certain place,’ because they want to sell their news. We don’t blame them. We don’t carry weapons with us. Why do they create unnecessary hatred towards the BBS? Q: What are your views about the controversial Casino Act? A: BBS requests all Sinhala Buddhists to refrain from any activities that deal with gaming, clubbing and use of alcohol. In the meantime we believe that banning these things will not be the solution to the problem. In fact, banning casinos will only promote and give more exposure to those activities. Today even a little child knows the word casino. Why? Because everyone talks about it. I sometimes wonder whether these groups opposing this act have taken money to secretly promote these projects, because they are the ones who are causing more damage by talking too much about these things. The BBS cannot solve all the issues in the country. We are engaged in many other activities. There are other Buddhists and civil organisations; it is their duty take up these issues. I think the Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya is already involved in this matter. There is no Buddhism in this country. There are many temples but no Buddhists. In a society where Buddhism is there, we don’t have to fear alcohol, casinos or clubbing. A true Buddhist will never engage in those things. Q: Are you saying the BBS is not against the Casino Act? A: We agree that casinos, clubs and liquor stores are not suitable for any society. But we should also remember that our great kings used these same means as ways of increasing the country’s income. Like I said before, people in a country with true Buddhist practices will not engage in casinos, gaming and similar activities.

 “End all immoral activities, not only casinos”

Following are excerpts of an interview with Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, the General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena: Q: The media reported that the Government has agreed to provide alternate lands to Muslim families living in temporary shelters inside the Wilpattu National Park. If those families move out of the wildlife sanctuary, will you call off your campaign? A: We too heard that 50 acres of land will be given to families in the northern reserve. For the last one week we have been receiving information about this decision, but we were not officially informed. However, according to the information we gathered, we feel the land will be provided to the families in near future. We are not against resettlements. Resettlements should take place. But it should not be limited to one particular ethnic group. This country belongs to the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Why would someone try to resettle just one ethnic group? Remember, our campaign is not against Muslims. If it was Sinhalese families that encroached on the land, we would have agitated in the same manner. Wilpattu is one of the largest and oldest national parks in Sri Lanka. It has both historical and environmental value. We can’t let people destroy these assets. We have a responsibility to protect these places so our future generations too will be able see them. Unfortunately when we expose illegal clearing of land and resettling of families inside the wildlife sanctuary, the politicians try to make it look like a hate campaign against the Muslims. That is wrong. We don’t have any issues about Muslim people receiving land, but we are against the strategy and mechanism they used. The location of Wilpattu is significant. We have ended a 30-year war. Although we have ended the war militarily, we are yet to find remedies and solution to the country’s ethnic issue. Thalaimannar is the closet seaway to India. Resettling people in that area will be the beginning of many other problems. This will be an ideal opportunity for drug peddlers too. There are such valid reasons for our agitation against these resettlements. Q: You recently met the Chief Prelate of the Malwathu Chapter. What was the outcome of this meeting? A: We educated Malwathu Mahanayaka Thero about the Wilpattu resettlements and we discussed many other things. One such important matter was the spreading of extreme religious groups in the country. Some of these groups are distorting Buddhist teachings. They are twisting and giving wrong interpretations to our Buddhist literature. We informed Malwathu Mahanayaka Thero about our decision to take legal action against these extreme groups. Q: What are your views about the Casino Act? What measures will be taken to stop the Government going ahead with these controversial projects? A: It was the BBS that first objected to the Casino Act. We first spoke against this Act over a year ago. Later various other organisations such as the Hela Urumaya started campaigns against the Act. However, as we got busy with other projects, we were not actively involved in this matter. Our stand is that not only casinos, we should end all sorts of immoral activities. The Government has not been clear about this project. We strongly feel the Government should be more transparent about this matter. However, if we feel we need to put an end to this matter, we will not hesitate to take to the streets.
 

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