In Understanding Rauf Hakeem and Anti-Islamism in India: Comments on some recent Indian writings
Posted on April 13th, 2014

By Bandu de Silva

The article presented below was written last year just before I went to Australia for a few months and consequently, it remained unpublished. Mr.Hakeem’s forty-page Report given to UNHRC Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillai, which has now surfaced in the public domain, has created new interest in what Mr.Hakeem says. It is in this context that the article mentioned above is  now presented. 

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Anti-Islamism in India:

Comments on some recent Indian writings

By Bandu de Silva

I was intrigued  by a statement made by the SLMC leader, Rauf Hakeem, on 3rd August 2004 in New Delhi in his interview to Hindustan Times (interview with Meenakshi Ayer) just like Apratim Mukarji who reproduced it in his newest book on Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka: A Dangerous Interlude” Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2005).

Hakeem said that the Muslims in the [formerly temporarily amalgamated) “north-east” were `in a difficult situation particularly because of the India-sponsored merger of the northern and eastern districts (provinces) to form a united northeastern province. The merger had made the Muslims politically weak. But now, we are politically organized and are a vibrant force, which has repeatedly got the mandate of the people.

“Why was it that the SLMC was now suggesting an Indian role in Sri Lanka?”, asked Mukarji. Hakeem provided an interesting explanation, that is that India had, in the intervening years, changed its attitude to the Muslims and was now showing a readiness to accommodate their interests, added this Indian journalist, who was once the Colombo correspondent of Hindustan Times, and the author of another book on Sri Lanka. As for the Sri Lankan situation, he quoted Hakeem saying that India is obviously inclined to amend it (its earlier stand ) and find a modus vivendi for resolving issues relating to an autonomous arrangement that we are seeking in the “north-east” to ensure that we (the Muslims) have self-rule along in a federal arrangement.

This statement was seen as a perception of India’s attitude towards Muslims in India in general, spilling over into affairs of the neighbouring land. In analysing Hakeem’s perception of India’s treatment of Muslims today, let me first hark back to what the well known analyst of Indian politics, Pranay Gupta, wrote on the situation of Muslims in India after Indira Gandhi’s death; and next to more recent writing of Amalendu Misra,: “Foundations of Anti-Islamism in India: Identity and Religion”  (Sage Publications, New Delhi) (Misra is a Lecturer in politics at the Queen’s University, Belfast and his book has received favourable comments from Lord Parekh, Central Professor, London School of Economics and Professor Noel O’Sullivan, Professor of Political Philosophy , University of Hull).

Pranay Gupta writing in his book: “Vengeance: India after assassination of Indira Gandhi” quoted Trvor Fishlock, London Time’s New Delhi correspondent from his book : “India File”: “They (Muslims) are the rather unhappy remnant of a once powerful and conquering people whose forts, mosques, and domes dot the landscape and remain among the most distinctive of Indian images.”  Gupta wrote in his book: “…But for an overwhelming number of India’s majority Hindus, Muslims remain the ancient enemy. There is little forgiveness towards Muslims, much less trust and tolerance, because of real or perceived historical wrongs”    

If all this sounds dramatic, he wrote, consider the following: of the 4000 officers of the elite Indian Administrative Servicemen only 120 are Muslims. In the 2,000 ”member Indian Police Service, there are only 50 Muslims. India has about 5,000 judges, but only 300 of them are Muslims. There are nearly 120, 000 officers in the country’s 14 natonalised banks, but only 2,500 of them are Muslims. Quoting M.J. Akbar, in his “India :The Siege Within”  of a survey done by India’s top private companies, he gives the following figures: Ponds Ltd: one Muslim out of 115 senior executives;. DCM, 2 out of 987; Brook Bond, 14 out of 673; J.K. Synthetics, 5 out of 673; ITC, 17 out of 966; Sarabai, only 5 out of 628 executives were Muslims. In Aligar, none of the renown locksmiths were hired by the new lock factories!

This is the situation of the Muslim minority of 130 million in India which is roughly ten percent of the population!

George Ferdinedes, India’s leading labour leader and a former member of the Cabinet had told Mukarji “Muslims don’t get ordinary jobs so easily. The Muslim is not wanted in the armed forces because he is always suspect ” whether we want to admit them or not, most Indians consider them a fifth column for Pakistan. The private sector distrusts him. A situation has been created in which the Muslims, for all practical purposes, is India’s untouchables.”

Muslims were worried as to what would happen after Indira Gandhi’s death. In Hyderabad riots 150 Muslims died and U.S.$ 10 million worth of Muslim property was destroyed, but only $10, 000 was paid in compensation, no one was arrested; no one was punished. No one had been arrested for rioting against the Sikhs either, after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. (In this country one speaks of unresolved murders!) At that the question was whether Rajiv Gandhi could break away from the communalist hold over the Congress.

Pranay says the memory of Islamic invasions were much alive and people demanded that the historical wrongs- destruction of temples, slaughter of men, rape and carrying away of Hindu women, [and] Aurengzeb’s killing of people who would not be converted ” must be avenged. Indians say today’s Muslims must pay for the sins of their fathers! These are attitudes which cannot be overcome easily. RSS flourishes on strong anti-Muslim ideology. The Congress party has to depend on Hindu votes.

   Misra’s plan, in comparison, has been to map the subject, by examining the thinking of four Indian personalities who dominated the spectrum of thinking in modern India, namely, Swamy Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Savarkar, the Marathi historian. Misra sees the writings of these four personalities suggestive and much which is extremely perspective, each exhibiting degrees of uneasiness towards Islam as a religion and Muslims as a separate national community. However, Misra’s objective was not to suggest the thinking of these four personalities towards Islam and Muslim rule was wholly pro or anti ”Islam, but on the other hand, to highlight their overall reflection on an extremely important period in Indian history and their outlook on the community that was at the helm of its affairs.

The writer observes that his study was also intended to throw light on their response to the issue of syncretism between Hindus and Muslims in India and that the picture that emerged from these varied perspectives was as diverse as the Indian culture itself. While observing that in a multi-national polity predominance of one particular culture over others can lead to institutional discrimination, one is not entirely sure whether an equal presence of cultures in the national mainstream would guarantee continuous intellectual and inter-ethnic harmony. His conclusion is that a community that finds little cultural representation in the national mainstream might justifiably feel marginalized and develop a sense of alienation.

“Vivekananda found the answer to Hindu disunity in Islam. He argued that the very factors which made Hinduism unpopular and rigid helped make inroads for Islamic expansion in India. His idea that the Vedantic philosophy of spiritual solidarity and fellow feeling which did not manifest in a particular God  and was non-sectarian, could bring together divided Muslims and Hindus in India, (the concept of a Hindu mind and Islam body) was theoretically unique. It had a number of flaws, however. Firstly, Vivekananda was wrong in assuming that Islam could be subjected to such a `spiritual concoction’; secondly, it favoured the Hindus over Muslims and was biased. Vivekananda failed to appreciate that these religions were based on centuries old practices and principles and deeply rooted in particular philosophical traditions. Since Muslims consider Islam as the final word of God and refrain from any further re-interpretations, it foreclosed Vivekananda’s recommendations to strike any roots among Muslims.” His Vedanta alienated Muslims by claiming it to be the universal religion. This `concoction’ finally helped the divided Hindus by providing them the benefit of spiritual unity but also infused in them a fighting spirit borrowed from Islam. The project, according to Misra, finally had converse results of creating Hindu chauvinism and affected the unity of India.

Gandhi’s perception of Islam changed from time to time. At the bottom of his thought was Hindu-Islam unity. He recognized the political significance of the Muslims rather than an acceptance of the teachings though at times he was carried away by suffering, renunciation and the nobility of early Caliphs. He was `well aware of the potential of 70 million Muslims though he personally disliked the prominence of Islam in future Indian politics; but he felt the best way was to recognize their worth’. In Gandhi’s analysis, the main concern was the Islam’s unadulterated belief in the oneness of God, a practical application of the truth of brotherhood and the idea of tolerance. In essence, Gandhi’s perception of Islam was that its basic principles were good; the intolerance following expansion was not; but a return to its founding ethos would be desirable. He said it was often confused that the Prophet’s greatness was his military exploits. He refused to accept it. He said “I must base my conduct on what the great teachers on earth said, and not what they did.”

However, he did not accept the claimed absoluteness of the Prophet. He did not believe any human being was absolutely perfect, he be a Prophet or Avatar. Gandhi was also critical of Muslims’ lack of respect for other religions; its “higher than the others” and “truer than the others” attitude. This was especially so in respect of Muslim-Hindu interaction. The conclusion is that Gandhi was more pro-Islam than pro-Hindu. His role in the Khilafat movement and over the Moplah (Muslim) rebellion have been heavily criticized.

The basis upon which Jawaharlal Nehru built up his secularism has been proven to be nebulous. According to Misra, the synthesis upon which he rested his secularism which he substituted for religion, had a predominantly Hindu bias than a balanced mixture of the two religions. It favoured Hindus over Muslims and created further alienation of the latter.

The fourth personality who enters Misra’s discussion is Savarkar. His interpretation of Indian history was anti-Islamic. He talked about Islamic carnage and wrong doings. By quoting Hindu, Islamic and British sources he presented an irrefutable picture of Islam which appeared to be neutral and objective.

The author observes that the four thinkers, though representing four different strands of Indian nationalist thought, nonetheless had a degree of commonality in their attitude towards Muslim rule in India. 

Historiography and Divided et Impera

Misra then goes to discuss the legacy of British historiography and `Divided et Impera‘ policy under British rule which went to perpetuate the divided history of India. The objective was to unite the rule through the emphasis of division of history.

Bipan Chandra, another respected writer on Indian politics, observes that British historiography highlighted both Muslim and Hindu nationalists and communalists to embrace diametrically opposite hostile positions. Misra while subscribing to the role played by British historiography, points to other factors which contributed to the divide. He quotes the contemporary interpretations of V.S.Naipal who points to `Arab imperialism’ (Nico Kaptein: “V.S.Naipal’s New Islamic Travalogue: The Believers Revisited”) which demands a new allegiance from the converted.  Islam, in other words, is used as an ethnic identity in various countries where Muslims are in a minority. In fact, Muslims have found it hard to compromise between the expectations of their religion and that of their country of origin. The first casualty of this divided loyalty is the national mainstream identity. Misra asks, if this is true, can Indian Muslims be asked to reposition their identity according to the demands of Indian society, one that is overwhelmingly determined by the Hindu majority. Misra also refers to the role played by what is called `les lieus de memoire‘ (the imagination of memorial sites) in the current Hindu-Muslim rivalry as symbolized by the dispute over `Ayodhya (Babri Mosque). Hindu folk sociology, oral memory and indigenous tradition harboured centuries of hatred towards Muslims. He points out that this memory was selective and highlighted a prejudicial image of Muslim rule. As such, he says, these agents were equally responsible for promoting a negative idea towards Muslims. He brings out the other side of the Muslim rule such as music, architecture, art, food and even religion where some substantial interaction took place between Hindus and Muslims, which British historians ignored. The British prejudices against Muslims leading to highly disparaging discourse on Muslim rule and Islam went to separate the two communities      

Against this background, Misra maps out the future strategy for India in the inclusion of Muslims. He says the Hindu majority needs to re-evaluate its attitude towards its Muslim minority counterpart, if not for anything else, for the daily contribution of its 130 million citizens in every conceivable form and content to the working of the nation. The syncretism which has been developed over 1000 years is the `primer’ on which the idea of `India’ has been etched. Therefore, those who seek a starkly decided identity and interpret the present as two fundamentally irreconcilable opposites deny the opportunity to the state to function effectively. India’s inability to interpret the nature and function of the attribute of `national identity’ has led to countless bloody frictions among various communities.

One could posit that, if India is to be a home for all its various communities and develop a genuine sense of common citizenship and common belonging, it must evolve an identity which all its citizens can equally share. This involves a broadly shared view of its history and a broadly sympathetic appreciation of each other’s religions, cultures and life styles. This would mean that the Muslim past in India needs to be re-interpreted.

Finally, the author observes that the greatest danger to a society is the moral bankruptcy of its citizenry and the elites who influence and rule them. A society endowed with a good balance and distribution of solid social and cultural resources is able to manage tensions better than a society marked by the destablising conditions.   

The question is, has India set herself to coming to terms in accommodating its now 130 million Muslim minority despite having had three Muslims as Heads of State. Then, on what basis Rauf Hakeem came to his conclusion that India `had in the intervening years, changed its attitude towards the Muslims and was now showing a readiness to accommodate their interests’ is not clear. Perhaps, he was thinking of the situation in Sri Lanka, i.e., in the North and the East when he told the Indian media that India was obviously inclined to amend it (its earlier stand) and find a reasonable modus vivendi for resolving issues relating to an autonomous arrangement that we are seeking in the (formerly temporarily amalgamated) north-east (now North and the East) to ensure that we (Muslims) have self-rule along with a shared rule in a federal arrangement.”   

Comparison with Sri Lankan Situation

The discourse presented above in very summary form should provide a useful comparison for judging the situation in Sri Lanka in relation to minorities. The first point that strikes one is that in comparison, the situation of minorities here is being examined in splendid isolation without any look at the more volatile situation in the neighbourhood of this country, as if the problem is unique to Sri Lanka. At the same time our neighbouring country too has not been wanting in advising us while the situation at its own door-step has nothing to commend about it. In contrast, India would not tolerate any Islamic country in the neighbourhood or what V.S. Naipal called `Arab imperialism’ intervening in her affairs using the same arguments. One may even ask if she is trying to use the Sri Lankan situation to detract international focus on her situation.  

Critics of Sri Lanka may have a point in that they are dealing with a different society whose  historical record had been clearly marked with accommodation extended to peaceful visitors as much as different groups of her own inhabitants rather than exclusion. This became even more evident not only during the Gampola / Kotte eras when families like Senalankadhikaras and Alagakkonars came to be not only accepted but became respected members of the society but even later, down the line, when Kandappas became Senanayakes (Nora Roberts), and many hundred others have shed the South Indian names to make them cursive to appear Sinhalese as in the case of many Peruma (originally Perumal)  but some names like Dewarajas, Devendras, Rasputrams, Kandambys (see E.V.Naganathan’s writings) and Nambis (of my wife’s paternal side who became Rajapakses but still continue to use the name ‘Nambi’), Agampodis, (Arasa) Marakkalas, -Kuttis like Sembakutti (Gupta or Tamil Kutti) and Weerakkod[y]I (Weerakuttis) whom one meets down south in numbers, have not been loath (some are even proud) to retaining the pure original form.

Social integration has been the dominant feature resulting from that accommodation, the new comers integrating into the larger social matrix. The temporary nature of the immigrations such as during invasions was emphasized when the invaders returned with the plundered booty. Peaceful settlers integrated into the local polity and settled down among the local populace (e.g., caste groups, and Vanniyas including Mahavanniya of Bulankulame/Nuwarawewa) and Hurulles).[Hugh Nevil & D.G.B.de Silva in JRAS, Sri Lanka,N.S.Vol.XLI, Sp.Number, 1996].

 A change in pattern took place in Sri Lanka in the 17th and 18th centuries when large scale Vellala migration into the Jaffna peninsula took place induced by the Dutch who commenced the lucrative tobacco farming there. This new class imbued with ideas of caste superiority (arising, according to Prof., J.H. Hutton, William Wyse Professor of Anthropology in the University of Cambridge,(his Report to the Indian Census of 1931 and his book “Caste in India” (1946), from their knowledge of lift irrigation techniques which made them claim superiority in India) not only brought their slaves but exterminated the Veddas (that is the memory of their tradition) and reduced to slavery and to sub-castes, the original Sinhalese population who formed the peninsula’s principal population even under Ariya Cakravarti rule (Ariyacakravarttis ruled with the support of the Tanjore army). The land -deprived Sinhalese became the  Koviyas (Sinh.Goviyas = cultivators) and Nalavars (Toddy tappers) and others living in the periphery of palm groves. The affluence acquired from tobacco gold made them even more assertive.

That was a reversal of the process which was taking place earlier; but unlike in the Jaffna situation, the Tamils became honoured citizens among the Sinhalese. For example, Algakkonara came to be referred to as `Mantrisvarayano‘ by the Bhikkus.(Nikaya Sangrahaya). Kandure Bandara became a respected courtier (see Michael Roberts quoting D.G.B de Silva). So were the Malalas, who produced the chief prelates of Totagamuva and Vidagama centres of learning and the poet Alagiyavanna; and the Cola bhikkus throughout history down to Kotte times.

 

Muslims in Sri Lanka

Looking at the situation of Muslims in Sri Lanka, there is no bitter legacy left by invasion or forceful occupation which is characteristic of the south Indian situation. Early Arab writers were amazed at the state of tolerance prevailing in the country which was predominantly Buddhist. Muslim interaction with Sri Lanka is, therefore, a peaceful one. They were more interested in the trade with the island which consisted of pearls, precious stones and spices. Only once, the legend speaks of a Muslim ascending the throne at Kurunegala but he became the victim of a murder conspiracy soon. The Muslims were very much involved in Sri Lanka’s carrying trade when the first colonial power, the Portuguese arrived in 1505. Their advice to the King of Kotte resulted in period of animosity against the new comer. The Musslim ruler, the Zamorin of Calicut provided military and naval support to the Sinhalese kings of Kotte and Sitawaka  against the Portuguese. After the Portuguese occupation of maritime areas of the South and the West, when the Muslims were expelled the King of Kandy came to their succour and settled them on the eastern parts of his kingdom. The Muslims of Sri Lanka claim intermarriage with local women and that as the causative factor of the increase of their numbers.

It was only in 1915 that any known serious friction developed between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. These were in the form of Sinhalese ”Muslim riots which first arose over a dispute over the route of the traditional procession at Gampola in which traditional music was practiced. As independent observers Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan have remarked, even these riots arose as a result of a new group of Muslims, generally referred to as ‘Coast Muslims’,  new comers from southern India who dominated trade and having set up a new Mosque on the Perahera route and their having objected to the procession proceeding past the Mosque.(Dewaraja).

There had been no such opposition from local Muslims earlier to the Perahera passing their Mosque. As an accommodation, on Perahera days they did not conduct their prayer sessions. These Muslims had lived long among the local people and understood the cultural practices of the land. Not so, the new arrivals from Southern India who had inherited a tradition of domination over the Hindus of South India as rulers and were the economically powerful group. Despite the acrimonious situation which developed as tension and riots spread and the imposition of Martial Law by the colonial government, the incarceration of all Sinhalese leaders and many bogus claims being made against wealthy Sinhalese, as it proved itself,  on destruction of Muslim property, the situation settled down and there had been no such volatile situations since then. Occasional fracas have occurred from time to time, but these are like clashes between certain Sinhalese neigbouring villages and others over trivial affairs. No situations like what takes place almost every other day around the Red Fort of Delhi or the terrible incidents in Guzarat, kindled by inherent animosity between the groups have been taking place herein Sri Lanka.

It is only some journalists trying to create unnecessary tension especially using the Face Book mode of popular communication that is worry-some. A most recent distortion was the presentation by a run-away journalist, a clash between two groups of Muslims at Beruwala as an anti-Muslim attack by the Sinhalese. Such attempts are not only insidious ways used to highlight tension but also drown the far more heinous crime of attacking Muslims at prayer at Kattankuddy several times by the LTTE and chasing about 80,000  Muslims out of the Northern province within 48 hours without allowing them to take away their personal belongings. (K.M de Silva: Sri Lanka and the Defeat of the LTTE, 2012,Vijtiha Yapa, pp 249/250. De Silva observes that there is very little prospect of these Muslims receiving compensation from the resources of the LTTE or from their successors.          

It is important that Sri Lankans should look with reservation over attempts made by interested groups to disturb the harmony which exists between communities in Sri Lanka and avoid falling prey to them. It is easy to call these conspiracy theories. But one can see the way Muslims have become victims of neo-colonist destabilization in the Middle East and the Maghreb, as was seen in the situation that has been caused in Iraq, Libya and other lands and now threatening Iran too.

6 Responses to “In Understanding Rauf Hakeem and Anti-Islamism in India: Comments on some recent Indian writings”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    ALL banned TERRORIST groups in the world are either TAMIL or MUSLIM!!

    SL should USE it to its advantage.

    BBS has done GOOD things as well. BUT its agitation against settling Muslims in MANNAR is DAMN FOOLISH.

    Of course these are JAFFNA MUSLIMS displaced and settled in SINHALA MAJORITY PUTTLAM. They MUST be resettled in Jaffna.

    But TAMIL RACISTS in Jaffna are against resettling Muslims there. So the govt. has NO OPTION than to settle them in MANNAR. Muslims will be the majority in MANNAR if efforts succeed.

    It is GOOD for SL. Kasippu Joseph Goebbels draws support from TAMIL ONLY Mannar. Once it is BROKEN he becomes TRASH.

    So PATRIOTIC SLs appeal to BBS to STOP this madness against Muslim settlements in Mannar.

  2. Sooriarachi Says:

    Lorenzo’s logic is reasonable, but racist leaders like Rauf Hakeem are not the right type to replace racist Tamils like Rayappu Joseph in Mannar. As for BBS, I do not trust the leaders, as I believe they are uncultured violent men in robes probably funded by hostile forces operating from overseas, to drive a wedge between the Sri Lankan ethnic communities, and at the same time to undermine and disgrace the respected Buddhist clergy, to weaken their influence on the people. Somewhere, I read that the BBS leaders had visited both Norway and the USA and had become even more aggressive after returning to Sri Lanka. Government has to investigate both the SLMC and BBS, before they grow into monsters like the LTTE, though it is unlikely Sri Lanka will ever have another monster like Prabakaran.

  3. Marco Says:

    Bodu Bala Sena,Sihala Ravaya, and Ravana Balakaya are Saffron Robed Destroyers of Sinhala Buddhism.

    By

    C.A.Chandraprema

    Can there be a more loathsome sight on earth than that of rampaging Buddhist monks in saffron robes?

    The sight is made doubly loathsome, because a ‘rampaging monk’ is a contradiction in terms – something that cannot be. The Buddhist expectation is that a monk in particular will have at least an outward demeanour of restraint.  Those familiar with the Vinaya rules will know how much emphasis is placed on the maintenance of this outward appearance of poise and self control by monks even though the monk may not be feeling any calm at all within.

    In Buddhism, inward calm is acquired through understanding, but the emphasis in the Vinaya is to control the outward appearance of the monk regardless of his actual state of mind. It is said that Emperor Asoka of India first evinced an interested in Buddhism because of the outward demeanour of a novice monk he saw on the street. Had Emperor Asoka seen a marauding monk as in latter day Sri Lanka, instead of that novice monk of yore, he would have personally seen to it that every Buddhist monk in his empire was beheaded and the religion itself destroyed.   

    Last week TV viewers once again saw the sight of Buddhist monks threatening, intimidating and almost assaulting another Buddhist monk at a press conference at Hotel Nippon when the Bodu Bala Sena invaded and disrupted a press conference called by a new organisation calling itself the Jathika Bala Sena.  This has serious implications. The last thing that we want is for rival political organisations invading and disrupting each other’s press conferences simply because one does not agree with what will be said at that meeting.

     This is a country where not even press conferences of the Tamil National Alliance is disrupted even though the whole country is fully aware that they are plotting day and night with international conspirators to create a separate state. Apart from the implications for the secular politics of this country, the Buddhist faith itself is under stress as never before because of this mad monk phenomenon.  This writer has said this earlier and wishes to say so again that this is not a conspiracy launched against the minorities; it is a conspiracy launched against the majority community of this country by overseas conspirators with a handful of Buddhist monks as collaborators.

    Anybody familiar with the way political parties in this country work will know that every political party highly values politicians and activists who can muster a crowd at short notice. Even among politicians, not everyone can do that. But some, by throwing money around, doing favours, doling out patronage and being with the masses, have the ability to muster a crowd with just a few phone calls. Such individuals are valued by leaders of political parties because it is such people who bring crowds for political activities at short notice. Everybody knows that nobody can do this unless there is money and patronage available.

    In the past couple of years we have seen the rise of not one but several organisations led by Buddhist monks who can muster crowds at short notice and who appear to have no shortage of toughs to do their bidding. All these organisations have goons who assault people in public with no care for the consequences. Even politicians do not have followings like that. The question that emerges is who is funding these operations? How is that these monks who were complete non-entities just two years ago, are suddenly able to muster gangs of thugs and go all over the country interfering in all and sundry?

    Targeting minorities

    Very often, what we hear especially from anxious minority community members is that organisations like the Bodu Bala Sena, Sihala Ravaya, and Ravana Balakaya are targeting the minorities. On the face of it, that appears to be the case. Even the latest incident is apparently due to an alleged settlement of Muslims on the border of the Wilpattu forest reserve.  Though these shows are organised to oppose something that is done or not done by some minority community, the actual casualties are not the targeted Muslims but the Buddhist faith. Last week what the Buddhist faithful saw on TV is the sight of one monk threatening another senior monk, addressing him as ‘miniho’ and actually raising his hand as if to assault that monk. These are sights that shake the faith of the Buddhists.

    The Sinhala Buddhist public has been so disgusted by such behaviour of these marauding monks that there now is no danger of any Sinhala action against Muslims. The Bodu Bala Sena first started this hate campaign by calling for a boycott of certain Muslim business establishments. There is now not the slightest chance of any such boycott succeeding as what captured the attention of the Sinhala Buddhist public was not the alleged misdemeanours of the Muslim businessmen concerned but the deplorable behaviour of the monks.

    The vast majority of the Sinhala-Buddhist public are now indifferent to the shrill allegations against minorities being made by these mad monks. But just as the LTTE was never dependent on the support or goodwill of the Tamil people of the North and East for their survival, organisations of Buddhist monks like the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balakaya and the Sihala Ravaya do not appear to be dependent on the goodwill or support of the Sinhala-Buddhist public. Some mysterious source keeps them funded and regardless of how many members of the public they distress by their behaviour,  these groups are able to carry on their activities.

    Consider the following facts.

    1.       Until just a couple of years ago, all these monks belonging to the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balakaya and Sinhala Ravaya were not heard of by the Sinhala Buddhist public.

    2.       Even during the war, not one of them had gained any kind of prominence by trying to protect the Sinhalese from terrorism. One would have thought that given the concern that these monks now profess for the rights of the majority community, they would have taken up residence in the border villages and rallied Sinhala resistance to Tamil terrorists who were trying to destroy Sinhala villages in the border areas. But we saw no such thing.

    3.       All these organisations, the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balakaya, and Sihala Ravaya emerged suddenly out of nowhere. None of the monks active in these organisations had ever even had a reputation as skilled preachers before they suddenly burst in upon the scene. All of them owe their notoriety entirely to acts of violence and unseemly disturbances perpetrated in full view of the public.

    4.       Had these monks been doing anything to promote Buddhism in and around their temples they would have gathered a large following in the outlying areas even before they gained national notoriety and they would have been controlling perhaps whole electorates and towns. Even politicians would have had to talk to these monks first before being able to talk to the people of the area. But none of these monks appear to have any influence in the areas where they are usually resident.

    5.       Even a prominent monk wielding much influence in the towns and villages around his temple, will find it difficult to muster crowds for activities outside the area. So the question arises, how do these complete non-entities find the resources to launch operations in Colombo and indeed all over the country? If such resources and organising ability were always available to these monks, how is that that they were not known to the public earlier?  

    All these are questions that go unanswered. Most inexplicable of all is the fact that being monks, all of them seem singularly oblivious to the effect their behaviour would be having on the minds of the Sinhala Buddhist public. Each of these monks seem to be vying with one another to behave in the most violent and outrageous manner possible, to cause as much disgust and loathing among the very Sinhala Buddhist public they claim to be representing. Even with regard to last week’s incident, what gained the attention of the public was not the alleged settlement of Muslims on the border of the Wilpattu forest reserve, but the behaviour of the monks. These monks are not stupid. They should be fully aware that their behaviour is causing more consternation than the issues they claim to be protesting about. This is why this writer is completely convinced that all these organisations, the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balakaya and the Sinhala Ravaya are all parts of an international conspiracy to destroy Buddhism in this country.

    That would be the ultimate revenge for the international forces opposed to the Sinhala majority. After the war against Tamil terrorism was won conclusively in 2009, in a manner that amazed the whole world, the Sinhalese were riding high. Earlier, the impression was that the Sinhalese were weak, irresolute, fickle, cowardly and no match for the Tamil terrorists. That was put an end to with the war victory and the enemies of the Sinhalese were rendered speechless.   They have now responded with a conspiracy to destroy Buddhism from within, as a way of getting their own back on the Sinhalese. This mad monk phenomenon all started with a trip to Norway funded by a shady foreign organisation. The monks who went on this trip were not as mad as they now are before they went to Norway. Before this trip to Norway, all monks, even those who were directly involved in politics were acutely aware of the need to maintain an appearance of calm and restraint that the public expected of a monk.  After this trip to Norway however, all restraint vanished.

    Now bhikkus engage in violence in public and justify it on the grounds that they are doing all this due to the concern they have for the country and the Sinhala Buddhists. The Sinhala Buddhists for their part have been more scandalised by the behaviour of the monks than by any of the ‘issues’ real or imagined that these mad monks have been talking about. With each such incident were monks engage in unruly behaviour clashing with members of other organisations, or with the police and even with other monks, Buddhist sensibilities are outraged. If Buddhist monks had behaved in this manner during the colonial rule of the Portuguese, Dutch and British, this country would by now be a completely Christian country.

    Clearly, these agents provocateurs are out to discredit the saffron robe that has in many ways symbolised the Sinhala Buddhists. If these people were bona fide nationalists who are actually concerned about the activities of various minority communities, they would disrobe first if their activism necessitates behaving in a manner unsuitable to a Buddhist monk. But in this case we see that the saffron robe is being used as a shield to prevent action being taken by the police. Take last week’s incident for example. Had the individuals who invaded that press conference been laymen, the police would have baton charged and dispersed the crowd, and some of them may have even been remanded. But because the invasion was by Buddhist monks, the police took no action although they have initiated action on a complaint lodged after the incident. The police too have not yet evolved the procedures and practices to deal with monks who behave in this manner. Even the government is still groping its way around as no previous government had to deal with a phenomenon like this.

    It is true that there were monks who did even worse than this in the past. Even the marauding monks of today have not been able to reach the peak attained by Buddharakkitha and Somarama who planned and carried out the assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike. But at that time, it was just two monks acting in secret. Buddhism survived Somarama and Buddharakkitha because until they carried out this assassination, there was no public misbehaviour by monks aimed at outraging Buddhist sensibilities. Somarama and Buddharakkitha targeted only one man whereas their latter day successors are targeting the whole Buddhist dispensation in this country.  They are out to destroy Buddhism as completely as the Sri Lankan military was able to destroy the military arm of the LTTE.

    Cannot be unaware

    The Ven Mahanayake theros as well as senior monks cannot possibly be unaware of the danger that these mad monks pose for the future of Buddhism in this country. Because of the actions of a handful of monks, the saffron robe has now become a symbol of disruption and political tension.  Like the government itself, perhaps the Mahanayake theros may have been waiting in the hope that this phenomenon will die a natural death when support from the public is not forthcoming. But as last week’s incident showed, it is not dying a natural death or at least it is not dying a natural death fast enough. As we pointed out earlier in thus article, these monkish organisations are (as the LTTE was earlier) not dependent on the Sinhala public for their goodwill or support.  A reaction to this phenomenon is taking place within the Buddhist clergy (albeit not vigorously enough) with one Nikaya prohibiting monks belonging to that organisation from participating in demonstrations, protests and other such activities.

    But this phenomenon cannot be controlled with just one nikaya which is just a small part of a larger nikaya banning such activities. So far,  the Mahanayakes of the three nikayas have not taken any action to control the behaviour of their own monks. However when it comes to a matter concerning laymen, the Mahanayakes are quick to issue statements. Casinos are not a matter that concerns monks. Laymen should have a right to gamble or drink if they want to. The Mahanayakes who show much concerned about laymen (and foreign laymen at that!) going to casinos do not show any concern when it comes to Buddhist monks behaving in a manner that threatens to destroy the entire Buddhist dispensation in this country.  A few private mutterings of discontent will not do in situations like this. The Ven Mahanayakes have to wrest control of things from these thugs masquerading as monks.

    The role of the Jathika Hela Urumaya also has to be questioned.  On an earlier occasion when one hysterical monk burned himself to death demanding a ban on cattle slaughter, the JHU tried to make hay while the sun shone by trying to emphasise that this monk had sacrificed himself for a cause. Now once again when marauding monks invade a press conference and threaten another monk, the JHU leaders are talking about Muslim settlements in Wilpattu with nothing at all being said about the behaviour of the monks who invaded that press conference. One would have thought that the JHU in particular would be more concerned about the image of the Sinhala Buddhists than that.

    The JHU seems oblivious to the fact that the behaviour of these monks is shaking the faith of the Buddhist laity and giving an added fillip to the wave of conversions to Christaianity taking place in the country. Earlier, if poor Buddhists had to be given various incentives to convert, today even middle-class Buddhists may be motivated to convert because of the thuggery, bigotry and sheer boorishness displayed by a handful of monks. If politicians belonging a political party were to behave like that in public, the popularity of that political party will plummet. Just imagine the effect that unruly clergy will have on a religion. The fact that the JHU appears oblivious to this fact is quite inexplicable.

    Some may argue that while middle class Buddhists may be scandalised by the behaviour of these monks, that the Buddhist hoi polloi see these marauding monks as heroes who are championing the cause of the downtrodden Buddhists. But that does not seem to be the way things are turning out. If the Buddhist hoi polloi were grateful to these marauding monks who claim to be doing things on their behalf, then each of these thuggish monks would have a following bigger than Gangodawila Soma thera.  Does it look as if these marauding monks have been acquiring a following among the ordinary Buddhist masses even to the extent that crackpot monks like Pitiduwe Siridamma have, much less Gangodawila Soma thera? Besides, when it comes to expecting restraint and good behaviour from monks, there is no class divide. This is a matter central to the Buddhist philosophy and the code of conduct for monks.

    The biggest joke of all is the political activism of a senior monk like Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, who sees the executive presidency as the biggest danger to the country in a situation where Buddhism is being destroyed from within more surely than the colonial powers ever could from outside. That the Ven Mahanayakes of all nikayas are issuing press statements about casinos and Ven Sobitha Thera is campaigning against the executive presidential system at a time like this would have been hilarious if it was not such a tragedy.  Besides, what does it look like when senior Buddhist monks who cannot put their own house in order and ensure at least the bare minimum standard of behaviour expected of a monk in public pontificate on how laymen should behave and criticise political institutions in the country? The senior monks are now like failed school principals who cannot maintain discipline among their students.

    To be sure, the Mahanayakes have less control over Buddhist monks than principals have over their students. However, there is something called moral pressure. If the Mahanayakes in one voice condemn unruly behaviour by monks, the thuggish monks too will be compelled to modify their behaviour as everything is finally dependent on public acceptance. As of now, because the Mahanayakes are keeping quiet, the marauding monks continue in their mission of destroying Buddhism and the public passively watch the goings on with mounting disquiet.  If the Mahanayakes take a united stand against this kind of behaviour by monks, the public will at least feel that the Buddhist establishment is untainted and that these marauding monks are just an aberration like Buddharakkhita and Somarama. But today, with the Mahanayakes keeping quiet, it appears as if the entire Buddhist establishment is acquiescent or paralysed in the face of this monkish thuggery.

    The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether these monkish thugs have threatened and intimidated the Mahanayakes as well, the same way they intimidated that monk on TV? These are matters that have to be looked into by the authorities concerned. If Nero fiddled while Rome burned, what are the Mahanayakes doing while Buddhism is being destroyed from within by people with shady foreign contacts?  This is a conspiracy to turn Sri Lanka into another South Korea which turned from a largely Buddhist to a largely Christian country not due to colonial domination but through proselytization.  What better aid to proselytization than giving the targeted public the feeling that the religion that they belong to is a barbaric, Neandethral faith?

    What is the face of Buddhism in this country today? It’s that of Galagodaatte Gnanasara!

    Did we win the war against terrorism and restore the self respect of the Sinhalese in the world only to end up at such a pass?

    COURTESY:The Island

  4. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The history of Islam has many points in it where it showed tolerance, brilliance, and harmony. But that is history. The current affair of Islam does not match her collective history. Now Global terrorism, radicalism, theocracies define Islam. The Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia to the Al-Qaeda to the Taliban are the mouth pieces of modern day Islam.

    Even in Sri Lanka the radicalization of Islam has taken flight. When I lived in Colombo in the 1960’s till 1971 there was only one visible Mosque. When I returned to Sri Lanka in 2009, every other block had a mosque. It did not stop in Colombo. When I went to Nuwara Elliya the town I was born I was awakened by the call to prayer from the many Mosques in that serene valley.

    One cannot seek a solution to the rapid rise of global radical Islam by looking at her collective history across the globe or that of Islam in Sri Lanka. It does not match. The Buddhist majority AT THIS VERY MOMENT are at threat of conversions to Islam. On the way to Nuwara Elliya I was completely surprised to see so many Sinhalese girls wearing scarves as they left a Madrassa. Buddhist Sri Lanka is CURRENTLY at threat AGAIN from Christian and Muslim zealots hell bent on taking their “pound of Buddhist flesh” from the Buddhist population of Sri Lanka. They HAVE TO BE STOPPED.

    This is a WAR against Sri Lanka’s Buddhist culture and should be treated in the same manner as the separatist acts of the Tamil Tigers. Failure to recognize the threat would only translate to the failure of the Buddhist faith in Sri Lanka.

  5. Lorenzo Says:

    BBS is around because the govt. FAILED to address Sinhala grievances.

    BBS is WRONG in opposing what BR and Rishard are doing in Tamil ONLY Mannar. They should let this happen.

  6. Nanda Says:

    Micro,

    Clearly, Jathika Bala Sena was actually “Muslim Balu Sena” , whoever watched than clip will know.
    Anyway, the Monk who came with “Muslim Balu Sena” apologised and left. Few other Muslims in robes also left.

    All these emerge,( even the BBS) due to lack of action of the government.

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