Punishing Venerable Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thero Sets a Bigger Judicial Precedence against Tamil and Muslim Ultra Racists
Posted on December 15th, 2016
The Minister of Justice raised a few eye brows when he decided to sort out matters connected to Venerable Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thero outside the legal system. Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala MPs questioned his rationale behind his action. They argued that the venerable Buddhist monk should be punished for hate speech and arousing ethnic tensions. Minister of Justice deflected their demands and pointed out how they shamelessly remained with the Cabinet of the former President despite what happened in Aluthgama . By not taking legal action against the venerable monk, the Minister of Justice actually saves some key Tamil and Muslim politicians!
If legal action is taken against Venerable Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thero, it sets a judicial precedence which can be used against Tamil and Muslim leaders that regularly rely on racism to win votes. TNA leaders regularly cry “Sinhala colonization” creating hatred against Sinhala people living in the north and east and spreading their assumed restriction against Sinhalese living in the north and east. These are extremely racist rantings that unfortunately go unpunished. Certain Muslim leaders have also engaged in racism. One of them called Buddhist monks saffron terrorists not very long ago. He too went unpunished. If Sri Lanka takes action against arousing racial hatred, most Tamil and Muslim leaders will be behind bars before Venerable Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thero. This was why the Minister of Justice wants the matter sorted out without going to court.
The Sri Lankan society has double standards on racism. Due to perennial racism sowed by Tamil politicians since 1920s, people are numb and immune to its ugliness. As a result they don’t call it racism. However, Sinhala politicians rarely use racism in politics. Therefore, even if someone talks about injustices to Sinhalese, people would be quick to brand him/her a racist!
However, this doesn’t work in law. In law, everyone is equal (at least on paper). A Tamil, Muslim or a Sinhalese will be judged on an equal footing in a court of law. Society’s high tolerance of Tamil racism and low tolerance of Sinhala racism will be dumped in the rubbish bin in a court of law. One yardstick will be used to measure all. Therefore, although Tamil and Muslim leaders always escaped being branded and punished for racism in the society, their luck runs out in a court of law. Sinhalese sometimes branded as racists by the society for innocently standing up for just rights in fact commit no offence legally.
This has profound implications on religious texts as well. If hate speech is illegalized sufficiently and meaningfully, many verses in Hindu and Islamic texts and a considerable number of Biblical texts will have to be hidden, deleted, creatively interpreted or otherwise toned down to escape hate speech laws. Since Buddhism has no hate arousing texts, it escapes the law. For this reason, although the government made a huge cry about banning hate speech, it has been unable to bring meaningful legal restrictions that would cause collateral damage against Hindu and Islamic texts.
Venerable Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thero is a bigger hero than appears. He has routed Tamil and Muslim ultra racists and trapped them into laws against hate speech and racially inflammable expressions. If he is punished, Tamil and Muslim ultra racists must be punished too. In fact proving their guilt is much easier than proving Venerable Ampitiye Sumanarathana’s guilt.
The government is in a conundrum. Hopefully they will not continue to bend the law (as they infamously boast) to punish one at the same time saving worse others. If they continue to do so, people will completely lose faith in the legal system and rely on alternative approaches to deliver justice.