Who is really discriminated in Sri Lanka? Even after 66 years of Independence Christians have 106 Sabath holidays while Buddhists have only 13 Poya holidays a year
Posted on July 28th, 2014

Sudath Gunasekara 20.7.2014

I know for certain none of my readers will believe this. But I dare say it is a real fact.I wonder whether any Buddhist, lay or ordained, has ever noticed this gross injustice continued to be done to them in this Island called Sri Lanka, which had been a Buddhist Kingdom for 2500 years and where, even today, over 70 % are Buddhists. I do not know whether any Buddhist has realized this, even in a dream. Can you believe such a situation to exist in a country even 66 years after Independence?

In Uk the national slogan is ‘God Save the King’. In North America ‘God save America’ and even on the back of their Dollar they print ‘In God We Trust’. In the Arab world, in one voice, they cry ‘Allah Akbar’. Furthermore in most of these countries no one can become the head of the State unless, he/she belongs to a particular religious sect. None of these countries and not even an apostle like Navi Pillay on Human rights sees any of those conditions as discrimination against adherents of other religions or as a violation of human rights in those countries. But they all in unison cry Buddhists in Sri Lanka discriminate people of other religions and violate their human rights.

Even today Sinhala people in this country are said to be around 75% and Buddhist 70%.Tamils 18% (12+6) and Muslims 7% and according to 1981 Census percentages for each religion are as follows. Buddhists 69.3 (in a land where they had been over 90 % few decades ago), Christians 7.6, Hindus 15.5 and Muslims 7.6. The official apportionment of religious Public Holidays in this country, are as follows. Christians 104 Sabath Holidays+ (Saturdays and Sundays), Good Friday and Christmas, all together 106. Buddhists 13, Tamils 3 and Muslims 3. Anyone can verify this by going through the list of Public Holidays published by the Government. In addition all these people have Feb 4th and May 1st also as holidays. Together all of them enjoy around 127 public holidays a year. The total can be either few days less or more when Poya days overlap with Saturdays and Sundays.

The Need to reduce Public holidays

Of all religious groups, though they form a tiny minority of about 7 % of the total population, Christians are the most privileged lot as they have 104 sabath days as holidays. Sabath Day is the day of religious observances kept by Christians on Sundays and by Jews on Saturdays and Muslims on Friday. Fortunately so far Muslims have not got on to the road asking the Government to declare all Fridays as Govt holidays. I am not surprised even if Hakeem and his band wagon include that too in their next election manifesto or start a stone throwing campaign like what they did at Wallahagoda in 1912, on the Kurunegala Kandy road in 1915 and more recently at Aluthgama.

The Saturday and Sunday holiday is a creation of the western industrial society whose religion is either Catholicism or Christianity and it was forced on us only after 1815. So my question is, now that we are supposed to be an Independent Nation, where 93 % of the population is non Christians, why on earth should we continue a Christian holiday system any longer? Removing the 52 Saturdays as holidays will have no religious implications as there are hardly any Jews in this country. Since Christians constitute only about 7 % removing Sundays also should not be a major religious problem in this country as they still can go to the church conveniently on Sunday, either in the morning or in the evening like the Muslims on Friday.

In this backdrop I would suggest that we adopt the following Public holiday scheme to restore justice to Buddhists in this country and usher in a new era of religious brotherhood and national development. That is 13 for Buddhists, 3 for Hindus, 3 for Muslims and 2 for Christians. When we add 2 days for the Sinhala and Tamil New year as they call it and the Few 4th as National day and Mayday, then the total will be 25 Public Holidays for a Year for everybody. Of this even Feb 4th could also be scrapped as it has not brought us any meaningful freedom to this country. Then we will be left with only about 24 public holidays for a year which means we can save more than 100 additional working days a year at our disposal for nation building. I think this proposition should be a very rational and pragmatic solution to the existing national crime of having 125 to 130 public holidays a year.

The existing Saturday Sunday holiday system was forced on our people by the British and continues to date in spite our own governments had been in power for 66 years.                                                                         All post-independent Governments have adopted the vela-messa nyaya’ (putting up the scaffold to suite the direction where the creeper goes) for political survival. This is what the Constitution of the country says. ‘The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place’ and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Article 10 and14 (1) (e). (Sec 9 of the 1978 Constitution).

Now you see how the Governments of Sri Lanka elected mainly by 70% of Buddhists, have given the foremost place to Buddhism and how they have restored the 2500 year old religious and cultural legacy of this country that was subjugated by the British invaders, by allowing 106 Sabath holidays for 7 % of the Christians while allowing only 13 days for Buddhists, the main cultural element of this Island nation, who have a 2500 year legacy religious rights on this land.

When the country was ceded to British in 1815 this country was called Sinhale and the Kandyan Convention was signed between United Kingdom of Great Britain and Sinhale. Section 5 of the Kandyan Convention clearly stated that the colonial Government will undertake to protect Buddhism, its Ministers and its religious places etc. Thereby they have accepted Buddhism as the State religion of this Island. The declaration of Saturdays and Sunday as religious holidays for another religious group, which was not available to Buddhists, therefore is contrary to the provisions of that Convention. The same argument holds true even for the continuation of the 1815- 1948 holiday practices after Independence. The Government can therefore invoke all four Poya days of the month even now as Public holidays for Buddhists if it wants to so. Such a decision can never be contested by anyone as that constitutes only a restoration of a legitimate right of the Buddhists of this country.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

I thought to focus your attention to this issue for 2 reasons.

Firstly, at a time when discrimination by Buddhist, rather Buddhist fanatics and extremists as some people say, against other religions and their adherents has become a burning issue, both at home and at International fora. As such I thought it is our duty to tell the whole world as to who has discriminated against whom, at last now.

Secondly, to highlight how many working days per year are taken off the Sri Lankan calendar as Saturdays and Sundays, the days of Christian religious observance, that are absolutely and utterly irrelevant to our culture and country. This was done by the British to recondition our minds and kill the native spirit in order to transform the Sri Lanka society to a model of what Macaulay was dreaming I India. My grievance is why the post-Independent governments didn’t change this colonial policy of indoctrination and subjugation even after Independence.

Before I proceed further I must clearly state here that my argument however should not be treated as an attempt by another ‘Buddhist fanatic’ against any religion or a section of the Sri Lankan society. It is only an eye opener to those who are sleeping on this type of national issues. More over it is my firm conviction that justice must be restored to Sinhala Buddhist people of this country, who are the architects of the civilization in this Island nation and who have lived and ruled it at least from the 6th century BC, if not before, at least now. Based on an analysis of the extraordinary number of holidays for the Christian Church there are few simple but irrefutable conclusions we can arrive at. The most important among them may be listed as follows.

1 Our society is continued to be molded within a Christian crucible even after 66 years of Independence

2 We are still governed by the ethos and dictates of the western Judaic – Christian Church

3 We continue to be vassals of the western Imperial Powers.

4 We are still not free as a nation though we boast to have got Independence in 1948. For a country to be considered as free, first it must get back its native land robbed by the invader free of all encumbrances, second it must have its own system of Government and legal system restored or evolved, language religion and culture restored, third it must have an independent economy.

Look at the 600,000 acres of land taken over by force by the British in the hill country and put under Tea and the 1.2 Indian labourers settled on it brought by them and the sad and clumsy political, economic and cultural problems left behind by the colonial power. So where is the freedom and where is Independence?

5 Even after 66 years still we haven’t been able to elect a patriotic Native Government in this country (of course except the 1956 Government which tried to restore the nations Language, religion and the cultural values)

6 A true national Sinhala Buddhist Messiah (A Diyasena Kumaraya as they say it) is still to be born.

7 Apart from a Savior of the Nation, we haven’t got even a single Buddhist Monk at least, who has the eyes to see and the brain to comprehend this national calamity and who has the religious fervor and the Sinhala Buddhist National feeling, the hall mark and the corner stone of a Buddhist Monk’s brain to lead this herd of sleeping giants. Weren’t they the people who had guided the destinies of this Island nation for the past 2500 years which even Christian Fathers like Marceline Jayakody had openly said?

8 Besides we haven’t had a single True National leader, man or woman after Anagarika Dharmapala. Apart from having a Sinhala Buddhist leader of that caliber, we also did not have even a   ‘Naked little Brat’ who could see this glaring Nakedness of the Sinhala Nation, like in the famous Emperor’s New Clothe, even after 66 years of ‘Top hat-tail Coat Freedom’ we got in 1948. Though there was a ‘distant light at the end of the dark tunnel in 2005, when Mahinda Rajapaksa from Magama the land of Dutugemunu came to power, I have a strong feeling that that light too is now fading out or traveling to infinity along an elusive trajectory dictated by petty political realities.

9 So how on earth can we call this a Buddhist country or a free country any longer?

10 Finally after 66 years of groping in the dark, today we are left with a sad legacy of 66 years of classic misgovernment and mismanagement and blindly following the same old colonial system wearing a camouflaged Independent cloak.

Is not the loss of 104 working days (52 Sat & 52 Sundays) every year, for a country struggling to raise its head from 133 years of colonial repression, exploitation and destruction a serious problem?

Prior to 1815 as everyone knows there were no public holidays as such in this country. Only those worked in the Royal household and allied activities then had ‘holidays’ under a shift system, where they had to work for 15 days in the Kings service, which was called Rajakariya” and the balance again they were back in the field doing their usual jobs, mainly ‘Govitena’. Sri Lanka then Being a Sinhala Buddhist state the people abstained from working on Poya days which came to a total of 48 days a year, as against nearly 130 public holidays under the present system. (I think at present Sri Lanka has the highest number of holidays in the whole world)

During the pre-colonial times holidays were not imposed by the state but voluntarily observed by the people as a moral and ethical compulsion. While Buddhists adhered to the Poya days as their days of sabath Hindus and Muslims observed their religions privately in their own way without interfering and meddling with the native socio-political machinery, that was Sinhala Buddhist’ unlike today. During that time Both Tamil and Muslim communities accepted Sri Lanka as a Sinhala Buddhist State. There was no disagreement on that issue. This was possible then as the King was not elected by pubic vote at that time and Kingship was hereditary.

This abstinence from working on poya days also had other implications both cultural and economic being an agricultural society where they had to struggle mainly with the land that involved harm to life and human health.

Declaration of Poya holidays

All Poya days were first declared Public Holidays in 1966 by Dudley Senanayaka but again in 1972 the then Government restricted it to the Full Moon days making it 13 for the year.

If one suggests declaring the Poya days as holidays and scrapping Saturdays and Sundays, I know that there will be a big hue and cry saying that it is shear madness, Buddhist fanaticism and violation of basic human rights, particularly by America, Canada, UK and France and their allies who have their own interpretations and notions on human rights. They will cry foul with all sorts of arguments on religious freedom and human rights of those who profess other religions, particularly Christianity. They also will ask as to how an internationally accepted public holiday system like Saturdays and Sundays could be done away with and how are we going to work with the international community. They also might pose the question as to how the schools are going to function. To me this is shear humbug. To those who raise international argument the answer is we don’t need to comply with it. Even now different countries have different systems.

Also even now the working days (Monday to Friday) are not similar in all countries. For example when it is Monday in Sri Lanka it is still Sunday in USA. Similarly it varies from country to country although it may be the same day in the same time Zone

The other thing is there is no divine compulsion that we should have a 5 day week. As such after Poya days are made holidays still we can work on other days and schools could be kept open on other days. It is interesting to note that most countries both in history and even now had and have different week systems.

There is no uniform holiday system all over the world. Each country has its own system conforming to, its culture and history and social needs. So why can’t we also have our own system. Saturday and Sundays are not holidays all over the world. This is a product of the western industrial society mainly based on their religious background. With so many holidays and interference by political and trade union interests today we have become a nation of lotus eaters heading towards poverty, beggary and disaster, apart becoming the wonder of Asia.

In any case to have nearly 130 public holidays a year is nonsense for a country like ours struggling to raise its head from the depths to which we have been pushed into by the colonial powers.

Way back in early 1990s I wrote an article where I pointed out that a man who has a life span of 6o years actually works only for 4 ½ years. This was published in the Sunday Island of 27th January 1990. Later I was thrilled to learn that Schumacher the famous German scholar had found that a man devotes only 3 ½ % of his total social time for actual productive work. My good friend Lalith Atulathmudali, then Mister of Agriculture, one day old me that he read my article thrice, and it was fascinating he said. In my analysis under reference I did not take holidays in to account. Had I considered that as well, even my calculation, would have been much less than 7.5% and perhaps closer to Schumacher. Why I mentioned this here is just to emphasize the importance of the value of time and point out how much valuable time we waste as humans. Any other thing lost, except life, you can always replace and recover but time lost is lost forever. Therefore, in dire need to make use of the available time, productively and usefully, to make this world a better place, for all humans to live.

It is in this context I argue that we have to reduce our holidays drastically. Of course in any given country it has to fit in to the indigenous socio-cultural fabric that had been woven over millennia within its own shores, which are always, country specific, place specific and time specific. Unless we do that we are destined to end up in disaster as a nation.

13 Responses to “Who is really discriminated in Sri Lanka? Even after 66 years of Independence Christians have 106 Sabath holidays while Buddhists have only 13 Poya holidays a year”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    I disagree with the heading.

    Sabath is an ancient holiday in Israel which fell on Friday. Then it moved to Saturday and to Sunday. NO ONE observes Sabath holiday today in SL.

    WEEKENDS are holidays in SL NOT because they have ANYTHING to do with Christianity. EXCEPT Islamic countries all other countries have these as holidays.

    AGREE we have to REDUCE the number of holidays.

  2. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The British Empire was the largest Empire the world had ever known. It was not just a Christian Empire but a Protestant Christian Empire. It was different from other Colonial Empires such as the (Catholic) Portuguese Empire or the (Catholic) French Empire. Even Tsarist Russia was under the Greek Orthodox church which is the Eastern form of Catholicism.

    When the British Empire fell it was replaced by the “American age” which defined the rest of the 20th century. It too was a Protestant Christian culture that influenced the world. Now Catholicism is coming back with a vengeance as South and Central America which are almost solidly Catholic rises in the 21st century. The recent BRICS summit held in Brazil symbolized its rise. Brazil is part of that group and soon Argentina will join changing the name from BRICS to BRICSA. Brazil, Russia, India, China South Africa and Argentina will form the first leg of this new group that is taking over the void left by the declining power of the United States. Brazil, Argentina and South Africa are by and large Catholic Chrisitan nations.

    At the very same time the rise and spread of Buddhism started in the 19th century and now is truly a global faith. In China Buddhism is the fastest growing faith as millions of Chinese return to their ancestral faith. In a multi polar world Sri Lanka needs to exert her Buddhist traditions more so than ever before. Sri Lanka has barely survived the notion to divide her to create a Hindu state, the relentless missionary programs by the Christians and the Muslims, and the relentless pressure from the Western created United Nations.

    If I am right most new converts in Sri Lanka had been induced by the new faiths with a better way of life. that means it is the poor Buddhist in Sri Lanka along with the tacit support of the ruling class that is facilitating the demise of Buddhism to other faiths for altruistic reasons. If so it is time that the Buddhist Sanga like the Indian Shiv Sena embark on a re conversion of these new recruits. Failure to convert would translate to doors being shut to economic opportunities. India’s low caste Christians have faced that due to the nature of the Caste system.

    Those who converted to Christianity enjoying the limited fruits given to them by the missionaries later found out tha they are more isolated by the majority Hindus than when they were low cast Hindus. Many have re converted under the movement launched by the Shiv Sena. Needless to state the infrastructure of Mosques and churches have to go and such holidays changed to accommodate Buddhist holy days and not Christian. As in India names matter and as in the US street names to city names can be changed to reflect the Buddhist culture and not that of the dead British Protestant Empire.

    The BJP is an excellent example. even without making Hinduism a state based faith the BJP is issuing pro Hindu laws across India. If Hindu India can do it then so can Sri Lanka. If Sri Lanka’s Buddhist leaders do not do it no one else would.

  3. Sampath Says:

    Lorenzo is right

  4. RohanJay Says:

    Sudath Gunasekara like many commenters on lankaweb.com whinging about the British Colonial Days. But doing very little to change their supposedly unhappy status quo. Maybe its time Sri Lankans stopped blaming the British, Americans, Dutch or Portuguese for their shortcomings and started to take responsibility properly for their lives and their country.

  5. RohanJay Says:

    @Lorenzo and Bernard Wijesinghe the Isreali Zionists. No there was no ancient holiday in Isreal you idiot because Isreal didn’t exist. Just your imaginations willing to believe any crap coming out of the state of Isreal. Also Sampath your another idiot for saying Lorenzo is right regarding that there was an ancient holiday in Isreal. Because Sampath there was no Ancient Isreal get it you Zionist idiots?

  6. Sampath Says:

    True the modern day Israel was created in 1948. But, the Jewish state existed in that land since time immemorial; long before Palastine came into being. Muslim is a very new religion of the world. Jews follow the Old Testament. Don’t forget Jesus was originally a Jew

    RohanJay, please guard your mouth when addressing people; you seem to have an attitude problem. Do we really need to be rude to one another in this forum?

  7. Eusense Says:

    Sudath Gunasekara,
    You need to stop writing this kind of trash filled with misinformation. Keep religion private and practice what it preaches. Who cares whether you are a Buddhist, Christian or an Islamist. Sri Lanka has more important things to concentrate on.
    You degrade all Sinhala Buddhists with this kind of nonsense.

  8. Marco Says:

    I’m reasonably confident that the powers in Sri Lanka would not be daft enough even to contemplate such an ill conceived idea or suggestion from past experience.
    I’m sure the author was familiar and experienced the introduction of the lunar calender (Pre-Poya & Poya Days) when it was adopted by Dudley Senanayake’s UNP government on 6th January 1966, and abandoned by Mrs Bandaranaike after the SLFP election victory in 1970.
    It was an unmitigated economic disaster.
    It was considered at that time and assume the same by the author now as an example of a government pandering to the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist agenda.Fine, but at what economic cost to the Nation?

    I recall as a student the class time-table was a nightmare to fathom especially when at times we had a 4 day week or a 6 day week. (there were classed as P1 to P5 and sometimes to P6)
    On the business front i recall my father (then a Exec Director at Lever Brothers) had to work by the International calender and the lunar calender. Telexes from Unilever House when unanswered for days.
    At the Port there were Ships ready to unload with no workers on the ground.
    With so many International organisatons in SL (compared to the 60/70’s) now, i would not hazard a guess what chaos it would create in the business front.

    I’m sure there are better ways to portray and instil the Sri Lankan Buddhist heritage perhaps to begin with the Sanga and the Buddhist monks ought to set an example to the people.

    I however agree that Sri Lanka does have far too many public holidays.
    Even now I work from home on a Poya day or a Sunday. The business world does not stop just because there is a full moon outside.

  9. Lorenzo Says:

    Rohanjay is a well known Jihadist. His FOUL LANGUAGE is part of being one! How many SATANIC VERSES are there in that green book! So I don’t waste my time on him.

    Let Israel teach his clan a good lesson. :)

    Palestinians are actually ARABS today. Their language is Arabic, religion is Arabic. Songs are Arabic. Films are Arabic. Everything is Arabic.

    You are correct Sampath. Islam was invented in 622 AD. MUCH LATER than all other religions.

  10. Nanda Says:

    Remember we had “Poya” and “Pre Poya” instead of Sunday and Saturday ? A big mess.
    Why not change everything then ? We are using Christ calendar. 365 days wrong ?

    We cannot go back to bow and arrow. We need nuclear weapons to survive nowadays.
    These people wasting time. Even every Poya Hoilday is too much. Which country has such holiday ? Muslim buggers close all shops at 1200 in Colombo which looks like middle east. All these has to be stopped.

  11. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Rohanjay. In 72 Ad the Jewish province of Rome called Judea (which includes modern day Jordon, Israel and Palestine) rose up against Rome. Rome crushed that uprising. Years later the Roman Senate renamed Judea to Palestine. It is similar to renaming Ceylon to Sri Lanka. Then there were NO Muslims but Bedouins and mostly Jews. A large number of Jews started migrating to Europe and other parts of the ancient world.

    When the Byzantine Empire collapsed the lands that made up Jordon and what is now called Palestine were handed to the British Empire.

    When Nazi Germany formed they conquered most of Europe and changed Europe into “Nazi Europe”. the firs solution for the Jews was to send them to Madagascar, then they decided varies method of eliminating them. First was to shoot them in trenches, then to gas them in trucks where the exhaust pipe was channeled into the truck and the Jews died of Carbon monoxide. Then they were used as slave labor till they dropped dead. Werner Braun the father of rocket science used this method to build the Nazi V2 Rockets. When the war came to an end under “operation paperclip” Von Broun and a thousand other Nazi Scientists were taken to the US to the anger of the Soviet Union who also planned a similar move. Broun not only helped the US develop the rocket but was the head of NASA till the 1960’s

    The European Jews did not have any choice since no nation would accept them, not even the United states. There is a well known case where a ship of wealthy Jews were turned away from every port including New York. Ultimately they were forced to return to Europe where they ended up in the death camps.

    The ONLY choice they had was to reclaim their ancient homeland of Judea. They were promised all of Jordan and what is now Palestine, but modern Israel ended up with a sliver of her former homeland. first she got a larger region but due to the rise of the Muslims in Palestine sections of Israel were given up in exchange for peace. The Gaza strip was one of them. Now the war that is raging between Israel and Hamas is mainly due to Hamas attacking Israel for years with rockets and with tunnels. Egypt cut off those tunnels crippling Hamas’ finances a few years ago but modern day Palestine is Jewish territory. All one needs to do is dig a bit and the archaeology is Jewish and not Muslim.

  12. Lorenzo Says:

    “All one needs to do is dig a bit and the archaeology is Jewish and not Muslim.”


    This was why the great General Moshe Dayan became a part time archaeologist. There are NO MUSLIM historical evidence in Israel/Palestine. ALL are JEWISH and NON MUSLIM.

    IF Israel is NOT the homeland of Jews where is the Jewish homeland?

    IF mosque-itos do to SL what they did to BUDDHIST Kashmir, Buddhist Bengal, Buddhist Afghanistan, Buddhist Pakistan, they will say same thing about Buddhist shrines.

    KURAGALA Buddhist shrine was the tomb of some Jihadist according to them!
    DIGAWAPI Buddhist shrine was the tomb of some Jihadist according to them!
    Even DALADA MALIGAWA was claimed by them in 1915 until they were told otherwise in no uncertain terms.
    Even SIRIPADA is claimed by them as Muslim ADAM’S footprint!!

    Same thing.

    This is a GLOBAL problem. Gnanasara should visit Israel.

  13. Sampath Says:

    Lorenzo, Rohanjay has an attitude problem, that’s why his foul mouth

    Bernard, Nazis did not deliberately kill Jews; don’t bite that US/UK/French trash

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