YAHAPALANA AS A PUPPET REGIME Part 4
Posted on November 21st, 2018

KAMALIKA PIERIS

One of the less prominent features of Yahapalana puppet rule is its animosity to the Sinhala Buddhist culture.  This anti Buddhist attitude emerged as soon as Yahapalana came in.  It went in two directions.  One was to repress the Maha Sangha, and the other was to stop elephants from going in the Perahera. I have discussed these in ‘Yahapalana versus Maha sangha’ and ‘Perahera elephants and Yahapalana.

YAHAPALANA VERSUS MAHA SANGHA

YAHAPALANA VERSUS MAHA SANGHA Part 2

PERAHERA ELEPHANTS AND YAHAPALANA

The attack on the Dalada Perahera is continuing. Now it is the Tooth Relic not the elephants. Ratnapura District MP Susantha Punchi Nilame  had made a written complaint to the IGP about an unprintably obscene Facebook post in Sinhala which was an obvious allusion to the Tooth Relic, an object of the deepest veneration in the whole Buddhist world.

At the last Esala Perahera in Kandy, the tusker carrying the Tooth Relic casket, Nedungamuwe Raja, arrived in Kandy escorted by police and security force. Daily News of 20th August 2018 carried a photograph of this on the first page. The elephant went back also with an escort. On the other hand, there is political recognition of Buddhism.  We saw Ravi Karunanayake, a Catholic, kneeling at Asgiriya, accepting pirit nool,  and worshipping before a Buddha statue on a visit to Elle Gunawansa.

There seems to be some attempt to erase the Sinhala Buddhist culture. Ven Elle Gunawansa said at a media conference, that patriotic poems by S Mahinda, a song by Mahagama Sekera and a biographical note on the Angarika Dharmapala were removed from a Grade 8 textbook. And that Rupavahini was used to malign the Mahavamsa.

Those working in Sinhala theatre said that they had ‘fought’ to get the John De Silva Memorial Theatre for the artistes but the government would not listen. “The same has happened to the National Art Gallery, which has been now shut for months. The same fate has befallen Elphinstone Hall, Maradana. It is now obvious Ranil Wickremesinghe and R. Paskaralingam with the support of a group of businessmen are trying to convert the area belonging to the National Art Gallery and John de Silva Memorial Theatre into a theme park”, they said.

Buddhism is suppressed in all sorts of ways. In May 2018 university students and sangha demonstrated in Colombo over the removal of ‘Buddhist Philosophy’ as a subject from the University.

In 2018, the Sinhala New Year and Wesak both came in the month of April, within weeks of each other. Sinhala Buddhists laughed and accepted the situation as part of life under the crackpot Yahapalana .The Maha sangha rejected the Wesak date.

The two main monasteries Malwatte and Asgiri will proceed with Upasampada rituals, or higher ordinations, from May 29, Vesak Day to June 27, Poson Poya Day, they said. The two viharas do not accept April 29, as Vesak Day, which they claim is the work of a misguided astrologer. The Dalada Maligawa is preparing to receive the Wahal Nagayas’’ , the samaneras of the king,  for Upsampada rites only on May 29th.

Ven. Niyangoda Vijithasiri, Anunayake   of Malwatte said an age-old custom has been violated, in that Vesak Day has been declared on an adhi Poya,’’ or additional Poya day. Vesak Day had always been held in May. Other Buddhist countries including Thailand will be celebrating Vesak on May 29, and not on April 29.

A radio drama, a novel and a stage play all carrying anti Buddhist sentiments came out almost simultaneously sometime this year. They were “Budunge Rasthiyaduwa”, a novel written by K.K. Srinath and published by Upul Shantha Sannasgala, a politician associated with the Yahapalana regime. “Kanepahara”, a serial radio drama made by Malaka Devapriya, and “Mama Kelin Minihek”, a stage play directed by Asanka Sayakkara. Buddhists protested against the titles of three episodes of “Kanepahara” and that of the novel “Budunge Rasthiyaduwa” as being disrespectful to Buddhism and offensive to Buddhist sensitivities.

“Budunge Rasthiyaduwa”  is a very sacrilegious title. Although the author claimed that there was no religious contents in their work, Minister of Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe   asked the IGP to commence investigations and file charges under sections 290, 290A, 291A and 291B of the Penal Code against the novelist and his publisher.

The play ‘Mama Kelin Minihek’ had some anti-Buddhist dialogues. The performance certificate was revoked by the Public Performance Board and reinstated only after some of its anti-Buddhist dialogues were changed.

In August 2018, Office of National Unity & Reconciliation (ONUR)   launched several radio dramas, for reconciliation. Four dramas in the series Kane Pahara, were titled ‘Tharuwan saranai,’ ‘Nihon sepa labewa, “Nirwastram Paramam Sukhang” and ‘Funsalak’. These are irreverent parodies of Theruwan Saranai”  “Nivan Saepa Laebewa”, “Nibbanam Paramam Sukhang” and ‘pansala’.

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha,  pointed out that   the titles referred to several phrases used by Buddhists and particularly, members of the Buddhist clergy, to greet/bless others. Ven.  Sobitha said the use of phrases of the Dhamma in this manner is tantamount to ridiculing Buddhism, and is an insult to Buddhists. There is derision in choice of titles. It showed a flagrant lack of respect or regard for Buddhist cultural sensitivities on the part of ONUR.

The three titles are disrespectful imitations of three clauses which are charged with profound spiritual meaning for Buddhists. Such profane treatment of something they consider sacred is bound to be hurtful to their feelings , said Rohana Wasala.

The plays were written and produced by Film Director Malaka Dewapriya, who is also a Radio drama writer and producer for more than 10 years. He defended his play on words from Buddhist terminology, saying it was his right as an artiste to choose the title of his dramas.

One of the plays, Tharuwan Saranai”, highlights how people are seeking blessings of ‘stars’ through reality shows and other means, and drifting away from seeking the blessings of the Triple Gem, while Nihon Sepa Lebewa” is a drama about those who go to Japan (Nippon) seeking solace in foreign lands.

I think that ‘Nhon sapa labewa’ would have been a perfectly acceptable witty title, if not for the other titles. ONUR decided to change the titles, after receiving objections that that some names of the plays are offensive to Buddhists. The content remains unchanged.

What could be the connection between ONUR and the plays which have been given such outrageous titles that seem to ridicule the conspicuous Buddhist culture of the country, asked Wasala.

Wasala thinks that ONUR project is based on the wrong assumption that the single great obstacle to the establishment of national unity and reconciliation is the unnecessary ‘supremacy’ accorded to the Buddha Sasana, which according to them undermines the secular state.  The same argument is adopted by foreign meddlers in our affairs and political and religious enemies of the unitary status and the Buddhist cultural foundation of the country.

A frequent criticism that is raised by all against followers of Buddhism is that there is a glaring discrepancy between practice and precept. But the same criticism can be confidently raised against the followers of any religion. What matters is the fact that this charge is selectively applied to Sinhalese Buddhists by anti-Sinhalese Buddhist extremists, continued Wasala.

The reality is that traditional communal harmony has held among ordinary Sri Lankans despite nearly three decades of civil strife, which ended in 2009. The strongest contributory factor that made this possible was the generous, inclusive, non-violent, accommodating nature of the religious culture of the nation concluded Wasala.

The International Federation of Journalists joined the argument. These three works all came under attack in Sri Lanka for containing anti-Buddhist sentiments  at around the same time,   observed International Federation of Journalists . The Federation joins its affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM) Sri Lanka in expressing concerns over the potential political censorship and control of freedom of expression of the three works.

The FMM believes that the censorship is taking place due to pressures exerted by extremist religious groups. The artists should not be influenced by religious beliefs and extremist religious leaders, and there should be no political meddling in the artists’ freedom of expression. Sri Lankan government should be asked to  review these cases and to respect citizens’ rights to artistic freedom. The JVP has also come out in favor of the ONUR’s “Kanepahara” drama series.

This is utter nonsense. There is no absolute freedom for writers and they cannot hide under the shield of creativity. There are specific prohibitions like Holocaust denial. There is also the unstated convention of not hurting religious sensibility.  This is a part of the ethics of journalism. In the writings under discussion, except for just one, it is the titles that have provoked comment. Titles for plays and books are not a part of the creative process. They are a part of  marketing.  They are carefully devised for impact.

The titles we are talking about were deliberately concocted to insult and provoke. To mock Buddhism in its home in Sri Lanka. These writers can get away with it in Sri Lanka. But other religions are not so tolerant. Writers in the west are careful not to arouse religious anger, because when a religion which relies on blind faith is roused, the reaction can be dangerous. Salman Rushdie is one example.

Rohana Wasala has  commented on the statement made by the International Federation of Journalists. He said the comments of the IFJ is an expression of extreme anti-Buddhist prejudice. There was nothing to get excited about. The monks only took umbrage at the titles of these plays and the novel. It must be emphasized that their objections were only to the titles, but not to them as works of art or to their content, except in the case of the stage play “Mama Kelin Minihek” in which they found certain dialogues to be anti-Buddhist and wanted them changed.

The novel “Budunge Rasthiyaduwa  and ‘Kanepahara’ are intended as a slap in the face of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, who, ONUR promoters wrongly believe, obstruct their aims. Wasala bluntly pointed out that ONUR and SLBC that sponsored the plays are maintained by people’s tax money, the major part of it comes from Sinhalese Buddhists.

The hackneyed charge of Sinhalese Buddhist extremism is a fabrication. But it forms the main plank of relentless anti-Buddhist propaganda that is necessary to destabilize Sri Lanka so that other powers can  use the country to pursue their own ends in the region. The exaggerated media reports of alleged Buddhist extremism filed in association with the ONUR project seem to have already led to some Face Book postings that are grossly insulting to Buddhism, concluded Wasala.

The Department of State of the United States of America has issued its International Religious Freedom Report on Sri Lanka (2016).Rohana Wasala has commented on it. He says it is ‘replete with distortions of the factual situation in the country regarding religious freedom. The Report is proof of unfounded anti-Sinhalese Buddhist bias.

The Report mentions certain police arrests of ‘leaders of militant Buddhist and Islamic Organizations’ November 2016. It says nothing about the background to those arrests. Buddhist activists were reacting to an act of vandalism (apparently, the destruction by some Muslims of a Buddha statue installed by the road in a certain place in Colombo) and some incendiary speeches by the leader of an extremist Islamic organization advocating the introduction of Sharia law to Sri Lanka (both these incidents can be seen in You Tube videos.

Wasala says that the Christian and Muslim places of worship that are attacked are those with connections to fundamentalist sects. They irritate Buddhist sensitivities by their proselytizing zeal and by trying to erect new prayer-centres in predominantly Buddhist areas that are likely to disturb the normal peaceful religious co-existence that prevails.

After provoking, they adopt the role of victim. The ruse of playing the victim has now become the common strategy of religious extremists all over the world. The Western media also inverts the situation, turning the aggressor into the victim.  I would add that these Christian evangelist movements are from the American Bible Belt and they have been sent in here for political reasons.

Buddhists are the real victims, and when they react to their experience of victimization (this happens elsewhere too including Myanmar and Thailand). Even issues between fundamentalists and mainstream Christians and Muslims in areas where Christians and Muslims are concentrated in large numbers (for example, Ja-Ela in the Western province, Christians, and Mutur in the Eastern province, Muslims) are also falsely attributed to Buddhists and Buddhist organizations.

With this Report, the US is taking another aggressive step towards disturbing the religious peace that traditionally exists in our country mainly due to the tolerant accommodating attitude of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community. Most ordinary Sri Lankans wonder whether the Americans are trying to create disharmony between the majority and minority communities for their own purposes.

Wasala then goes onto more important matters. For many years now the sangha have been raising their voices, in vain, against the three main issues that the Buddhists face, announced Wasala. Firstly, the anti-Buddhist activities of foreign-funded fundamentalist Christian and Islamist sects. They conduct aggressive unethical proselytizing campaigns among impoverished sections of the Buddhist population.

Secondly,  under the false pretext of creating space for settling war displaced Muslims, a government minister (of Muslim ethnicity) has been engaged, for years now continuing from the days of the previous Rajapaksa government, in destroying large swathes of virgin forests in the forest reserve areas of Wilpattu.

Thirdly, there is the deliberate vandalizing of Buddhist archaeological sites and other marks of the Sinhalese Buddhist cultural heritage in the North and East, and the encroachment of lands belonging to ancient Buddhist monasteries and shrines. Vandalizing of ancient Buddhist archaeological sites in these provinces, some of them over two thousand years old, is a critical issue. Wasala has not commented on Kantarodai. At Kantarodai, the few remaining Buddhist stupas have been given army security, one soldier during the day and two at night.

Civil society groups and politicians in the north and east have objected to the construction of Buddhist shrines by Buddhist groups or the military in parts of the Northern and Eastern provinces. These have become contentious symbols of perceived Buddhist Sinhalese religious and cultural imperialism.

The true background to this issue has been completely ignored. Many Sinhalese Buddhists who were earlier living in these areas were forced to leave due to ethnic cleansing by separatist terrorists. Their places of worship were either destroyed or encroached upon. These displaced Sinhalese also have to be resettled in their previous places of residence, concluded Wasala.

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