Posted on July 13th, 2019

By  Rohana R. Wasala

It would probably not be an exaggeration to say that more outrage was expressed by interested parties at an incidental comment made by the Most Venerable Warakagoga Gnanarathana, the Mahanayake Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, during an anusasanawa (homily) than at the April 21 Easter Sunday suicide bombings by Wahhabi Islamists. He was presiding over a religious event conducted at the Dodamwela Diyakelinawela Kitsirimewan Raja Maha Viharaya on June 15, 2019. The social and printed media were immediately awash with condemnations of the senior monk’s remarks taken out of their context. They tried to stress the monk’s alleged pro-Sinhalese Buddhist extremism and his anti-Muslim hatred. They have decided that the Mahanayake Thera has committed an offence that is worse than what the Islamist suicide bomber Saharan did and what the doctor at Kurunegala hospital is accused of having done, put together.

An Indian website (The Wire) reported that hundreds of Muslim refugees fled Negambo as communal tensions flared up, following the Mahanayake Thera’s speech (Since no Sri Lankan source confirmed it, this could very well be a fabrication). The same website quoted  Mangala Samaraweera, minister of finance, as having stated that ‘true Buddhists’ should unite against the ‘Talibanization’ of the religion. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the NGO known as the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) lodged a complaint with the Acting Inspector General of Police C.D. Wickremaratne against the monk, wanting him to be arrested for allegedly saying, according to Saravanamuttu’s interpretation, that a certain Muslim doctor should be stoned to death for the crime of having surreptitiously sterilized a large number of Sinhalese mothers without their prior knowledge and consent by restricting the fallopian tube during cesarean section operations that he had  performed at a hospital in Kurunegala. (The problem is that this racist NGO Tamil with no following even among his own people refuses to recognise the gravity of the allegations against the doctor.) The CPA also made a complaint to the UNHCR High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, who, in an immediate response during her address to the organization’s 41st Session, has expressed concern about statements made by ‘certain religious leaders advocating violence’. The Dalai Lama (obviously fed with false news from similarly biased sources) has condemned the Asgiriya Prelate’s alleged comment without reservations, and his criticism is likely to have a negative impact even on Buddhist opinion around the world regarding the senior Sri Lankan monk’s random remarks and more importantly, on their impressions about inter-communal  and interreligious relations in Sri Lanka, which, in reality, remain quite healthy. The case represents one tragic aspect of Sri Lankans’ present sorry plight. They are reported on by local and global media that don’t or pretend not to, understand them or their problems, or their different ethnic identities; most unfortunate of all is their deliberate oversight of the real existential threats that Sri Lankans as a nation are actually facing.

Part of the problem is the fact that only a person who knows the subtly expressive Sinhala colloquial idiom well and is familiar with the sort of speech context in which the words were uttered can be expected to understand what the monk really said without misconstruing his meaning. Non-Sinhala speakers who depend on translations (often distorted) naturally miss out what the speaker left unsaid to be inferred by the immediate listeners. The different English translations I saw in the media deliberately misinterpret the passionate  but peaceful message of the monk. The occasion for such misreporting arises from these monks’ own remissness in being careful about their language, particularly at a time like this. The language they habitually use could convey unintended meanings to those unfamiliar with their idiom.  

In Saravanamuttu’s complaint, the Mahanayake Thera is reported to have spoken these words in a ‘sermon’ implying that he preached violence. An ‘anusasanawa’ is not a sermon, but an informal homily that suits the occasion. By that mistranslation, the NGO activist was probably implying that the Thera was giving a religious imprimatur for the violent actions he mentioned in his casual remarks to be actually carried out  (though ethnically Tamil Saravanamuttu knows that Indian religions do not advocate violence on any grounds); of course, it is possible that the error is due to his ignorance of the real meaning of the Sinhala term ‘anusasanawa’.

 Like on a previous occasion that involved the Ven. Anunayake Thera of the same Asgiriya Chapter in a similar, but more private context, who became a target for attack as an advocate of Hitlerism, a regrettable  verbal faux pas has led to this present furore among anti-nationalist forces over alleged racism and religious intolerance led by Buddhist monks against Muslims. In each situation, the speaker narrowly focused on the audience before him and failed to take into account the public outside of that context, much less the global community waiting to condemn the Sinhalese Buddhist majority on the slightest pretext that emerges for them to denounce their alleged racist  and religious extremism against minorities.

 In reality though, the monk’s controversial remarks were partly meant to let the steam off among the Sinhala community shocked by  the genocidal implications of forced sterilization allegations raised against a Muslim doctor in a Kurunegala hospital by the name of Shafi Shihabdeen. These sterilizing allegations, along with some similar earlier allegations made in different unrelated contexts, have been pooh-poohed by government authorities, but are claimed to be supported with evidence by non-political activists  including an internationally recognized medical science professor. The government could have easily allayed people’s fears by having these allegations duly investigated in a credible transparent manner. But, going by media reports, this does not seem to be yet happening. Hence, there is no let up in the societal tension that has been created by the uninvestigated complaints against the doctor. 

The Lanka C News online journal in an exclusive news report (July 4, 2019) said that an internal investigation conducted by the Kurunegala hospital has confirmed the sterilization and other allegations such as illegal LRT surgeries done without the consent of the mother or father raised against the Muslim doctor. The same source carries another report where it is said that the Police CID has informed the Defence Secretary that since no evidence at all has been found to show that the doctor is a member of the National Thawheed Jamat (NTJ) or of any other terrorist group, it is not justifiable to detain him any longer. Young activist Professor Channa Jayasumana who features in the first report (i.e., the one about the investigation done by the Kurunegala hospital) has placed the authentic information that he has before the public. However, it is usual these days for patriotic monks and lay activists to be branded as racists and extremists by inimical anti-nationalist agents, who equate nationalism with racism for their convenience. 

It is against this background that UPFA MP of the Joint Opposition Romesh Pathirana, himself a doctor, urged in Parliament (July 11) that an epidemiological and statistical study be conducted in response to these allegations. Over 1000 complaints received against Dr Shafi after 4,732 caesarean section operations done by him suggest that about 25% of the mothers he had operated on could have developed secondary subfertility. This figure is unusually high when compared to the world average of 10%, MP Pathirana pointed out. Meanwhile, the Sinhala daily ‘Divaina’ (July 12) reported that the Kurunegala magistrate (July 11) ordered the Dean of the Colombo University Medical Faculty to provide suitable recommendations on the correct methodology to be adopted in holding the HSG (Histerosalpinogram) Test for Blocked Fallopian Tubes through a committee comprising five professors of the faculty. All this reflects the seriousness of the sterilization allegations that was one factor that coloured the mental preoccupations of the senior monk and his audience in that particular context.

 As reported in the online Lanka C News (July 3, 2019), at a special press gathering held at Kirulapane Bodhi Bauddha Mandiraya a day before, Ven Galaboda-Aththe Gnanasara Thera, leader of the Bodu Bala Sena, revealed where in reality racism and extremism exist. He illustrated his point by having a 38 year old Muslim woman from Bandaragama Atalugama named Abdul Hasat Fatima Haifa who is married to a Sinhalese Buddhist man explain to the media the ordeal that she and her two children aged 11 and 7 were subjected to by her parents’ family and her Muslim neighbours in their hundreds for marrying a Sinhalese Buddhist man. They allegedly pushed the mother and her children along the road to the police station, she claimed. She blamed the Bandaragama police officers for failing to do enough to protect them from assault and harassment by Muslim men. The Thera stated that every man and woman must have the right to marry any person (of their choice) belonging to any race or religion. This, he stressed, should hold for Muslim women as well. The press briefing was prior to the BBS convention which was to be held in Kandy on July 7, 2019. 

A number of other individual monk and lay activists and groups have done a lot of work to expose the growing Wahhabist scourge in Sri Lanka and to alert the authorities, but, to date, in vain. A well known young activist named Amith Weerasinghe, who was jailed in connection with the incidents at Kundasale that took place about a year ago is reported to be on conditional bail. He headed an organization, now banned, that he claims had a membership that comprised some 273,000 young men and women. (This fact alone makes him an invaluable potential asset to politicians. But he vows he will have no truck with them; he says they have shown no genuine concern with the Islamist problem that he has been trying to raise public awareness of.) He had gathered a lot of information about the clandestine activities of Islamic extremists; he also had reported to the authorities a Muslim-owned pharmacy in the neighbourhood of Kandy with a number of outlets in other places that sells expired drugs, though without success. Weerasinghe is 28 years old, married, with two children. He has twenty-five cases pending against him, all filed against him in the course of his work for the nation done without any ulterior motives and against Islamic extremism, as he claims. 

Ven. Ampitiye Sumanaratana Thera (50) is known as ‘Madakalapuwe Hamuduruwo’, a hero, who is an intrepid campaigner constantly threatened with assassination by Islamists, but he provides refuge to poor people of all three communities, while  living among a community that is being terrorised by extremists where he often berates publicly some of the government employees there including some police officers for failing in their duty by the people. During the war, this monk looked after wounded LTTE cadres as well as wounded SL army soldiers brought to his temple for help, he claims. The biased media have projected him as a violent monk. He is not. Only his speech is violent, and that is directed at errant government officers, who, he alleges, are guilty of dereliction of duty under the influence of Wahhabists enriched by oodles of petro-dollars coming from their sponsors in the oil-rich middle-east. Ven. Sumanaratana has been able to do a lot of work for the dispossessed Sinhalese minority suffering discrimination even at the hands of certain corrupt government officials at the beck and call of Islamic extremists who oil their palms. The monk performs his service with the help of donations received from patriots working abroad. He does not exclude the poor of other communities in that impoverished corner of eastern Sri Lanka, which is covered with ruins of the island’s ancient Buddhist civilization (The deliberate destruction of archaeological evidence of Sinhalese Buddhist history in the eastern and northern provinces has gone on for decades).

At a mass rally held at Nugegoda on July 4 by the National Movement against Wahabi Extremism, Ven. Professor Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera made a startling revelation. It was that more than twenty people had been executed under the sharia law in Kattankudy in the eastern province for various alleged offences including leaving Islam and being a member of the government army. Another instance when the problem of Islamic extremism was raised was when Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thera MP said, during a heated exchange with a Muslim MP in parliament (July 10), that Wahhabi extremists have prohibited education for girls in the same area, thereby violating their basic human rights. Both monks claim that they have verifiable information to support their complaints.  

The Bodu Bala Sena Convention that took place in Kandy on July 7, 2019 was for ensuring the survival of Sri Lanka as a single sovereign state, where the various majorities and minorities can live in peace and harmony as equal citizens without mutual discrimination on any grounds, under one common law. The key to that ideal is the time honoured Buddhist cultural foundation of the country. It is an inclusive accommodating culture most compatible with secular democratic governance. One of the immediate threats to the nation built on that cultural foundation is the scourge of Wahhabist Islamic extremism, which is apparently being used as a smokescreen by Western imperialists to conceal their secret operations for destabilizing and ultimately destroying Sri Lanka in pursuit of their own selfish geopolitical ends.  The passionate sentiments that the Most Venerable Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera expressed were intended to caution the whole nation to that wolf at the door. 

The proposal for the democratic restoration  of the Sinhala Buddhist State that was ceded to Britain in 1815 through the so-called Kandyan Convention (actually through intrigue) should be seen as a natural reaction to aggressive attempts by external and internal forces to destroy the Sinhalese as a sovereign nation both politically and culturally. Buddhist  monks cannot look on passively until such an eventuality takes place. They have been the Guardians of the land of the Sinhalese, the Sinhala language and the Buddhasasanaya from the time of King Devanampiyatissa of Anuradhapura (307-267 BCE). The monks always protected and guided the Sinhalese kingdom in their own righteous way. They were above the king, who paid obeisance to them. They never advocated violence in any form, but they were not averse to even fighting as soldiers, when it was found unavoidable in countering invasions (For example, King Dhatusena of the 5th century CE was a monk before he led the country to victory against invaders; King Senerath of Kandy of the early 17th CE was also a monk before assuming kingship and he too led operations against foreign occupiers; both of these monks turned monarchs were trained warriors. It was King Senerath who settled Muslims persecuted by the Dutch in Baticaloa. There were no Muslim settlements in that part of the Sinhale kingdom before. What is happening today is a historical irony.)

(Genuine Buddhist monks whether mentioned or not mentioned in this essay are representative members of the Maha Sangha {Community}. They symbolise nonviolence, renunciation and victory over samsaric suffering. In terms of Christian symbolism, they are Lambs. The Lamb of God symbolises the identical virtues of innocence, self sacrifice and ultimate triumph. Hence the title of this article. With apologies to Christian readers. I beg that you don’t take offence.)


  1. aloy Says:

    Quite often it is a non Sinhala Sri Lankan or a second generation of such a person who has coauthored the report published under the Reuters or AFP tag. Those people know the actual situation but write thing palatable to the westerners or their agenda.
    Our country may not be invaded by the US or the west though they are testing waters (is this not called ‘Digwijaya’ , the art of sending an unmounted horse and see the reaction of the state or the people?.). Our country may not be surrendered by the rulers but by our own women who will do the ‘Kuweni’ thing slowly.

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