Don?t bash the Sangha

Island Editorial - December 20, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Under the principles of British criminal law, which we Sri Lankans continue to practise, a person is presumed to be innocent of a charge until proven guilty. This principle is normally upheld, although cynics say that in certain instances, this presumption of innocence is pure fiction. Nonetheless, this presumption of innocence has come to be accepted as a part and parcel of the dispensation of Sri Lankan justice.

Today, a kangaroo trial is being conducted and it is not in a court of law. It is a trial conducted by some supposedly erudite political commentators on the tragic deaths of two young Sri Lankans at the Shahrukh Khan show held at the old Race Course in a grenade attack. In the dock are ?the Buddhist monks? and ?Sinhala Buddhist nationalists?.

A crack police team is investigating the crime as to its motives, possible conspiracies, those behind the assassin who hurled the grenade and other matters connected with the deaths. But these political commentators have apparently taken on the job of police investigators and come to their own conclusions. The ?Buddhist monks? and ?Sinhalese nationalists? have been tried and convicted and what remains to be done, appears to be is the passing of sentences and executions.

Some Buddhist monks, followers of the late Ven. Gangodawila Soma thera, no doubt objected to the staging of this Bollywood show on the death anniversary of their revered teacher. The venue of the show was to be quite close to the cremation site of the monk. They had every right to do so, just as much any citizen has the democratic right to stage protests in public. The organisers of this show as well as the government would have been well aware of the intense emotions that were generated on the death of Ven Soma and the tens of thousands that flocked to his cremation at Independence Square. Whatever others far removed from the Buddhist ethos of this country may say, this show constituted an act of provocation. Would such a show have been even considered if it was to be staged on days of remembrance of our proclaimed political immortals?

The organisers of this show that included Mr. Arjuna Ranatunga, the former Sri Lanka cricket captain, who himself has been identified with Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism, should have known better not to hold the show on this day. Our police, had they any sources of intelligence, should have anticipated a very tense situation developing. Instead the protests and preparations for the show were permitted to go on side by side, for days, at the old Race Course. Those who are now shedding crocodile tears at the disgrace the Buddhist monks have brought to this country with this incident turn a blind eye to the funeral of the late monk where weeping thousands turned up and there was no untoward incident.

Perhaps that was to the disappointment of those who have now seen a chance to sling mud at the monks. Even the highly angled Sunday commentaries point out that the monks called off their ?fast unto death? on the organisers of the show conveying their apologies and the monks had dispersed. It was sometime after that the police used water cannons and tear gas on demonstrators who had turned up. This had infuriated them. Yet, these monks did not enter the premises where the show was held. The show went on almost to the end when the grenade was hurled towards the stage. The police are still searching for the criminals behind this crime.

Why, oh why, then is this outburst in the media against the monks and Sinhala nationalists?

This hysterical outbursts against ?Sinhala Buddhist majoritarianism? by the ?privileged minoritarians?, borders on the ridiculous. Alleged attacks on ?Christian churches?, the Bill to make Buddhism the State religion, ?anti Indianism? of the1980s and even the proposal to ban private tuition classes on Saturdays have been tied up to this grenade attack by an yet unknown, unidentified criminal! Attempts are being made also to project this grenade attack at this Bollywood Show as one by Sinhala-Buddhists against India. These are puerile attempts by those who want to prevent Sinhala-Buddhists getting closer to India after a period of estrangement. Both countries face similar threats not only politically but culturally as well and could do well in formulating joint strategies.

The tragedy of majoritarian Sinhala-Buddhism is that there are no sophisticated advocates for them at diplomatic level or even among foreign academia to state their case. How many of the recognised media institutions or even political parties will speak up for them today? This was the prime reason that resulted in Buddhist monks becoming a political force and coming into parliament. Now, strong undercurrents are moving to wash them apart.

The grenade at the Bollywood show seems to be manna sent from heaven to these conspirators. The Sangha, whatever their faults may have been, have served as the bulwark down two-and-a-half millennia to protect the religion and the cultural ethos of our people. Let those who react to the sight of a saffron robe like an enraged bull reacting to the red shawl of a matador realise that this Sangha bashing will only result in more and more people rallying around them.

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