Colonel Rathnapriya Bandu shows the way to win the hearts and minds of Sri Lanka’s Tamil brethren
Posted on June 13th, 2018

by Senaka Weeraratna

The emotional and extraordinary farewell accorded to Col. Rathnapriya Bandu by the Tamils of Vishwamadu a village that once produced hard core LTTE cadres, has dramatically opened a new vista to win the hearts and minds of Tamil brethren living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka.

The Message is clear: Deliver Education and Training within a caring environment.

This is exactly what Christian Missionary Schools have been doing in the North and East during the last 200 years (since 1816) and in turn harvesting souls, loyalties and forging unbreakable ties between Tamils and Christian Missionaries.

A list of the oldest schools ( Wikipedia) in Sri Lanka that commenced during British colonial rule, clearly reveals that Christian missionaries (from both USA and Europe) supported heavily by the British Raj had a head long start over all other religions to spread Christianity, through the medium of school education.

Beginning with Richmond College in Galle (originally known as the Galle School founded in July 1814 by the Wesleyan Methodist Mission ) nearly 50 schools were established all over the Island but mostly in the North (beginning with Union College, Tellippalai founded by the American Ceylon Mission in 1816), before the first Buddhist School (originally known as Kotte Bauddha (Buddhist) Mixed School but later to be renowned as the Ananda Sastralaya, Kotte) was founded in 1880. It was followed by a number of other Buddhist schools such as Ananda College, Dharmaraja, Maliyadeva, Museus and Mahinda (1892). Almost all of these Buddhist schools were managed by the Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS) in the early days until the Schools Take over by the Govt. of Mrs. Srima Bandaranaike in the 1960s.

Buddhist Education in the last quarter of the 19th century pioneered by Colonel Henry Olcott, Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS) was mainly confined to the Sinhala majority areas in the South to check spread of Christianity into Buddhist households via education. If not for this far seeing effort in the form of a fight back by the Buddhist Theosophical Society and the Buddhist Revivalist movement, primary and secondary school education in Sri Lanka would have rested totally in the hands of the Christian Churches and their Missionaries.

While engaged in protecting the South, if only the Buddhist leaders and the Buddhist Theosophical Society had also developed a greater vision to spread Education to the North and East of the country by establishing BTS run Schools in these regions thereby preventing one religion from monopolizing school education, the future ramifications would have been extraordinary. No similar to what we are witnessing today in terms of the highly moving farewell accorded to Col. Rathnapriya Bandu by a grateful Tamil populace.

Lessons from the past

Tamils and Muslims who have attended Buddhist Schools like Ananda, Nalanda, Mahinda, Maliyadeva Vidyalaya etc. in the southern regions of Sri Lanka have established strong bonds with fellow Sinhala students and acquired deep seated and respectful understanding of the culture and ethos of the Buddhist Civilization. The Sinhala Buddhist culture is the dominant culture of the country and the centre of gravity of the nation. It is this Buddhist civilization more than any other religious or ethnic grouping that has contributed over a long span of time i.e. over two millennia, laying the foundation for the moral, spiritual and economic development of this country. The welcome given to others entering the country and allowing them to peacefully reside and integrate with the Sinhala majority stems from the compassion and tolerance emphasized in Buddhism. There has never been the likes of an Inquisition launched by the Buddhists of this country requiring everyone to embrace only one religion and practice it uniformly with the rest. This is the historic ground reality that must be accepted by everyone if we are to proceed together to live in nation building and peaceful co – existence.

Non – Buddhist students have been grateful for the education and the kick start in life that they have received from Buddhist schools. It is very unfortunate that the initiative of Col. Olcott and the BTS to give an education within a caring  and ethical Buddhist environment was not extended to Tamil students by establishing schools in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, thereby resulting in various Christian denominations getting the opportunity to monopolise the delivery of education to Tamil students in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. It is mostly old boys of these Christian schools (and some Hindu Schools) that formed the bulk of the cadres of the terrorist movement, and the political leadership of the Tamil separatist movement beginning with the Federal Party in the late 1940s.

Any strategy to prevent a recurrence of what the country went through in the last 35 years must include a well thought out plan that will orientate the young child particularly in the North and East to be patriotic, accept and respect the culture and history of the nation, and most importantly to integrate socially with the Sinhalese and the Buddhists, and other sections of the society in nation building.

It is the failure of existing schools in the North and East to instill patriotism and sense of belonging to the rest of the country that has contributed to a feeling of alienation among Tamils and other minorities. We must correct this situation by addressing grievances that will eliminate or reduce the prevailing distrust, rather than exacerbating it. Reconciliation, if it is to succeed, must be based on patriotism and respect for the national ethos.

We must also take note of the fact that Christian schools in the past had a different agenda which was not in line with the national agenda. While Christian schools do provide an education of value to kick start a career of a young student, it was by no means in their scheme of education to bring students close to the dominant Buddhist culture or the national ethos of the country. In fact the Christian Church is by definition missionary. Its primordial goal is evangelization.

I remember reading in one of Professor G.P. Malalasekera’s articles of an incident relating to Reverend Reginald Stephen Copleston, Bishop of Colombo. Rev.  Copleston had visited Calcutta, India at the beginning of the last century (1902), and delivered a lecture at the local Y.M.C.A. on the type of education delivered at St. Thomas College, Mutwal (and later at Mt. Lavinia). During question time members of the audience had asked Father Copleston whether he was enrolling Buddhist students and if so, why he was spending valuable resources on the education of non – Christians. Father Copleston had then replied by saying that their primary aim was to convert a Buddhist student to Christianity. However those who fail to be converted to Christianity would remain weak Buddhists, he had added.

Dr. N.M. Perera in his autobiography (incomplete)  published in the ‘Sunday Observer’ some years ago referred to attempts made by a teacher at St. Thomas College to convert him to Christianity while he was a student there which were unsuccessful, and he further said that when he changed schools from St. Thomas to Ananda College in the early 1920’s he had experienced a marked difference in the respective school cultures. The focus of attention in the former was usually on matters outside Sri Lanka, while at Ananda College the class room discussions were centered around day to day events in the country and imbued with a patriotic flavor and sense of achieving independence from British colonial rule.

The establishment of modern Schools based on a Buddhist value system in the North and East on a long term basis with the full backing of the Government and the Buddhist Community within and outside Sri Lanka can be expected to create goodwill, gratitude, friendship between the three major communities and arrest fissiparous tendencies among some sections of the Tamil community.

See also

List of the oldest schools in Sri Lanka

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A list of the oldest schools in Sri Lanka that are still functioning.


Senaka Weeraratna

One Response to “Colonel Rathnapriya Bandu shows the way to win the hearts and minds of Sri Lanka’s Tamil brethren”

  1. Sarath W Says:

    I was educated from Kindergarten to HSC in one of the oldest Catholic schools in Colombo. The school never celebrated the Sinhala New Year or Wesak. We were given the impression UNP was like a part of the religion and other political parties like the SLFP, LSSP, Communist Party were evil. No prominence was given to Sinhala/Buddhist culture. The private sector always favoured the students from Catholic schools, even to the students who could not pass the GCE O/L exams.

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