A voice from the past about Bodu Bala Sena
Posted on July 1st, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

After reading Dr Daya Hewapathirana’s excellent article titled The Bodu Bala Sena Movement: Socially Engaged Buddhism”   (June 30, 2018), I thought I should share with the Lankaweb readers the following article of mine carried in The Island newspaper on May 6, 2014. It was still the time of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency. The BBS, widely misunderstood because of its founder’s fiery temper, was a target of severe criticism both among friends and foes. Had the Mahanayake theras played a more active role regarding issues raised by the BBS, the plight of our monks today would not be so bad.

Bodu Bala Sena: Other side of the coin

By Rohana R. Wasala

Like the sensible majority of fellow Sri Lankans I disapprove of Bodu Bala Sena monks’ aggressive, militant methods of agitation. A new group of monks (known as Jathika Bala Senawa) opposed to them in respect of the problem of a group of internally displaced Muslims being settled on land belonging to the Wilpattu reserve are behaving in a similarly disgraceful manner. Many Buddhists, disgusted at their behaviour, while perhaps being sympathetic to their respective concerns, are helplessly watching their antics on TV news. It’s high time that these errant monks were restrained by those who have authority over them.

Having said this, however, I need to express my personal opinion that the Bodu Bala Sena monks are carrying on their campaign in the conviction that they have reasonable grounds to make a ‘show’ of militancy as an unorthodox strategy in their agitation, though unwillingly. I have privately felt for a long time now that the powers that be should mediate in a meaningful manner, engage the two groups (i.e. the monks and the Muslims involved), and enlist their support for securing a mutually acceptable permanent resolution of the issue(s). The spotlight to date has been only on the protesting monks, but what’s provoked them to act so scandalously is still out of sight. That too should be looked into.

The arbiters in this case of course have to be the government and religious and political leaders representing those who are at loggerheads. With the president’s declared intention to invite the two parties for separate initial consultations, and his order to set up a special police unit to deal with disputed religious activities, signs have recently emerged that suggest that some form of bona fide intervention is going to be made. The police unit which came into operation on 28 Monday (as reported in The Island) is, no doubt, intended to be a proactive measure for preventing future conflicts of this nature. To our great relief, the president has pledged that he won’t allow anyone to take the law into their own hands. It is hoped that interests of justice and national harmony will take precedence over demands for the appeasement of politico-religious extremists, of whichever side they may be, for political expediency.

The ITN reported on a visit of some leading BBS monks at the Malwatta Vihara in Kandy a few days ago. They explained their mission to the Prelate of the Malwatta Chapter. The monks said that they were aware of the fact that their mode of protest was damaging to the image of a monk, but that they had been compelled to resort to such acts in a situation where complaints about injustices done to Buddhists went unheard, where they had no effective alternative strategy to face the threat. Their implicit appeal was to the authorities, especially the Mahanayakes, for leadership and guidance in campaigning for the protection of Buddhism and the country from what they allege to be Islamic fundamentalism. They said they would stop their campaign the very next day if the Mahanayake wanted them to. The prelate was heard giving the monks the green light to continue their activities if the MPs and ministers failed to do the needful in the circumstances (about the soundness of which advice, however, many Buddhists are sure to be rightly skeptical, like me).

No one can deny that these monks have a right to air such grievances, have them investigated, and necessary remedial action taken in order to redress those grievances if found genuine. The monks will not deny the same right to similarly aggrieved Muslims.

Anti-Sri Lankan elements with axes to grind want to wreck the peaceful coexistence that has traditionally prevailed between the Muslims and Sinhalese despite a few isolated instances of friction. Such occasional loss of amity among people who share the same land and the same resources is neither unusual nor unmanageable. After all, this evolutionary struggle to ensure the survival of your own bloodline into the future is common to all animals including humans. Neither Sinhalese Buddhists nor Sri Lankan Muslims are exempt from that eternal evolutionary trial of strength. But as civilized human beings we are obliged to render it as least destructive as possible. When there is a conflict of interests between two groups of people as sometimes the case is between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka, it is not fair to attribute it exclusively to alleged mindless racism or religious extremism on the part of the one or the other side, before a balanced investigation of the causative factors behind the crisis is conducted.

Though probably not endorsed by foreign analysts (what is their endorsement worth after all?), it is a fact that the dominant culture of this country is such that extremist organizations have only a short survival span. So, a natural death has been predicted for Bodu Bala Sena on the assumption that it is an uncharacteristically extremist political movement of some Buddhist monks. If it mends its ways, it can avoid that fate.

I remember that defence secretary Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, during his recent tour in Malaysia, referred to the threat posed to the region by certain fundamentalist Islamic movements. He would not make such a claim if he had no evidence to support it. But that does not prove that he would unleash Bodu Bala Sena (of all things!) to control such elements, if any, in Sri Lanka. He will make a truly robust response to fundamentalist miscreants if and when the necessity arises.

The problem is not unique to Sri Lanka. Many countries in the world suffer from it: Myanmar, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, France, UK, and many others. Fundamentalists are a threat to ordinary Muslims too. In Sri Lanka, incidents happen that would suggest the involvement of certain fundamentalist elements; but we have been assured by the authorities that there are no Islamic fundamentalists here. However, some ordinary Buddhists have witnessed incidents suggestive of intolerance against them, but they usually avoid talking about them publicly for fear of raising communal passions. When the common citizens conduct themselves thus peaceably and responsibly, it is the duty of people in authority, not exclusively those in the government, to nip such movements in the bud. In this regard, readers could watch the following ‘Neth FM’ video on the YouTube: Balumgala: 2013.12.27 Muhudu Maha Viharaya. It is the type of mischief recorded in that video that Bodu Bala Sena targets when those authorized to intervene leave matters to fester for their own reasons.

RRW/The Island/May 6, 2014

One Response to “A voice from the past about Bodu Bala Sena”

  1. Christie Says:

    Money leads in democracy.

    Where does the money coming from.

    Who finance BBS?

    So far they have managed to alienate Sinhala Muslims and Christians from main stream Sinhala Buddhists.

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