May the UNHRC respect the common humanity of all Sri Lankans before seeking to punish them for human rights violations uncommitted
Posted on February 14th, 2021

By Rohana R. Wasala

The 73rd anniversary of independence was officially celebrated in Colombo on February 4 with some of the accustomed pomp and pageantry associated with the event. Faced by the still rampant Covid menace and the looming economic and political crises, the current regime, which is still struggling to reach its cruising altitude, couldn’t have done better in the circumstances. This is so, particularly, in view of the fact that today the relevance of celebrating the 1948 dominion status independence to the emerging Sri Lanka is increasingly coming into question. The independence anniversary has become a virtual political-cultural anachronism that keeps Sri Lankans religiously reminded of the eminently forgettable fake independence grudgingly offered after the humiliating experience of one and a half centuries of rapacious British colonialism, whose evil legacy is still blighting their beloved motherland. 

Meanwhile one could see that the occasion was observed in different, but ultimately complementary, ways in two particularly significant venues apart from Colombo where the national independence anniversary was perfunctorily observed. Let’s for the moment forget about various other places that may have held customary annual freedom day functions. The two centres meant here are Jaffna and Kandy. A group of young Tamils including women and school children (as reported in the media) marked the day in Jaffna with a march displaying national flags and placards calling for national unity and peace and expressing opposition to conventional Tamil politicians who, they alleged, were working to create divisions and disharmony for narrow party political ends. The group was led by a young Tamil known by his birth name Arulanandan Arun or his alias Arun Siddharth, who claims that his grandfather was a toddy tapper, fiercely criticises the entrenched Tamil political elite of the north . (He revealed during a subsequent TV interview that he was not so young being forty-three already.) He has gained some popularity among ordinary people in the south as well as in the north as a sincere critic of the existing reactionary political elite of the north who reside in clover in Colombo or live in and/or operate from Europe, while doing nothing to improve the lot of the suffering Tamils in the north. His criticisms of prominent northern Tamil politicians are so authentic that one feels that he should be able to play an important liaison role, if he wishes, with similar minded young southerners of all three communities that will ultimately contribute towards forging national unity. Ordinary Tamils don’t want separation; what they want is development and jobs, free from interference from India and the West. 

It has long been argued that ordinary Tamils in the north actually suffer from casteist discrimination among themselves, and not from any Sinhalese majoritarianism as falsely alleged by separatists and their ignorant backers abroad. This is a truth that Arun has clearly pointed out. The same news sources reported that a supposedly anti-government protest march which had started from Pottuvil in Ampara in the east the previous day (February 3), was planning to finally arrive at Polikandi in Jaffna on the 7th after a five day trek.. 

Though police had obtained a court order against the protest march, it went ahead, nevertheless. These demonstrators were demanding a halt to what they called encroachment of ‘Tamil lands’ under the pretext of archaeological excavations, fulfilment of the promised Rs 1000 daily pay for upcountry estate workers and for a relaxation of the mandatory cremation order in respect of corona-dead Muslims, etc. (Important: These are fake demands; there are no Tamil, Muslim, or Sinhalese lands in Sri Lanka; the whole island belongs to all the communities; archaeological sites come under the archaeology department, and lawful excavations are done under its supervision; the extensive archaeological relics of the country are now the common heritage and property of all Sri Lankans; much of the tourist industry depends on these, and as such, they are also a big economic asset to the country; the Rs 1000 daily pay demand is duly being met; the decree to burn corona-dead corpses is a scientific decision, not a political one; the PM revealed in parliament February 10 in reply to a Muslim MP’s query that burial will be allowed hereafter, implicitly because it has now been established that the virus is not transmitted through water.) 

The protest march organized by some TNA-led Tamil political parties and NGO elements provoked a negative response from the young enlightened Tamils among the northerners in the form of  counter demonstrations. These northern Tamils held rallies against the seemingly anti-government march at the old bus stand in Vavuniya (February 6) and at Murungan in Mannar (February 7). According to them the march that started on February 3 from Pottuvil was completely unjustified. It was organized only to promote the exclusive interests of some regional political parties, and to hoodwink the common people”. Of course, the march had little to do with independence day  celebrations. It may be suspected that its actual aim was to further undermine Sri Lanka at Geneva in two or three weeks’ time. TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran expects India to support West-sponsored anti-Sri Lanka resolutions at the UNHRC at its 46th session there next month, according to The Island/February 13. However, as public security minister Sarath Weerasekera says, more countries than before are likely to support Sri Lanka this time since the country has withdrawn from co-sponsorship of the those baseless resolutions under the present government. 

Back to the Pottuvil to Polikandi march, going by media reports, no one can deny that a fairly large number of Tamils and Muslims (strange bedfellows, no doubt, with conflicting long term ambitions) took part in the protest march though obviously it was well short of the highly exaggerated figure of 60,000 that MP Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam mentioned in parliament on February 9, 2021. He however claimed that the march was not something against the government. GKP stated what he called ‘the four core demands’ of the marchers: 1) recognition of the north-east as the Tamil and Muslim Tamil speaking people’s homeland, 2) the recognition of Tamils as a distinct nation, 3) the right to self-determination of the Tamil nation, and 4) the referral of Sri Lanka to the ICC and other international accountability mechanisms to look into and investigate the acts of genocide that happened and that continue to happen that is being committed by the state”. GKP’s risible  nonsensical definition of alleged ‘Tamil genocide’ as dismantling the identity of Tamils” belied his charge. Listening to his loud speech in the House, I remembered the lines a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing” in the Shakespeare play Macbeth, and thought that probably he was himself in need of a referral letter from somebody to a specialist. But he was treated to a curative blast from MP Pramita Bandara Tennekoon who described him as a popular LTTE sympathizer”. PBT pulverized him point by point and reduced him to silenced embarrassment. No need to say that the tired, backward, Tamil old guard are still bent on avenging the defeat of the terrorist LTTE, instead of looking forward to building, together with the rest of the communities, a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka for all its citizens as PBT urged, and as the young generation Tamils and their fellow Muslims and Sinhalese across the country are now focused on doing. 

Nevertheless I personally believe  that these actions and reactions in the north and east demonstrate, instead a revival of the dead terrorism, a healthy democratic trend that is developing among Tamils, particularly the Tamil youth, who are set to work with their counterparts in the south in together creating a unitary Sri Lanka without allowing outsiders (geopolitical, military and economic powers with axes to grind) to get involved in our internal affairs in pursuit of their own selfish ends at our expense. They need to be mindful of the new religious dimension of the growing overall threat to pan-Sri Lanka unity: The vulnerability of peaceful, non-violent, and non-extremist multiethnic Sri Lankans (including the majority Buddhists and Hindus) who form 98% of the population, is being aggravated by various extremist fundamentalist sects of both types (Christian and Muslim), through their intensified activism by effectively adding to the anti-Sri Lanka arsenal of interventionist powers while the country is engulfed in political and economic crises amidst the corona pandemic.

Meanwhile the independence day was remembered with a twist in Kandy on February 4, that too, only by default, when a small group of white clad, mostly young people led by a hitherto unknown Buddhist monk named Medirigiriye Sikhi, prepared to hoist ‘the flag of Sinhale’ at the Dalada Maligawa premises, but were prevented from doing so by the police acting on a court order issued prior to the event. Two separate You Tube videos of the episode that I came across showed what happened outside and inside the Sri Dalada Maligawa that morning. Ven. Sikhi agreed to obey the court injunction after the head police officer on the scene explained to him that it was illegal to hoist his Sinhale flag in the Maligawa premises because it is not what the existing constitution decrees as the national flag, and that, besides, displaying a lion flag as the national flag without the two vertical bands is prejudicial to some sections of the society and so cannot be allowed even in terms of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) to which Sri Lanka is a signatory. But still, as an alternative, the monk wanted to make an offering of the flag to the Tooth Relic while stating his alleged intentions on the occasion. Police let him display the controversial flag to the media and the few people around, which was the correct thing to do in the emotion charged context, because it enabled the monk to assert his and his partners’ right to freedom of expression. He took the opportunity to re-stress the ‘One Country, One Law’ pledge that the present rulers committed themselves to during the elections. 

The monk stated that he had concocted some indigenous medicines to fight the currently raging coronavirus disease, including a medicinal oil called ‘ahivaataroganivarana thailaya’ at his own expense. He offered this ‘hela osuwa’ (indigenous Sinhala medicine) to the rulers, advising them to use it on the local population against the coronavirus disease, presumably as a resistance/immunity builder, and to export it to other countries, which incidentally would, in his opinion, ease the debt burden on the country; but they didn’t listen to him, he complained. He expressed his deep disappointment that his medicinal preparations still remain neglected.  We don’t like innocent people dying; we are against extremist activities and the destruction of the environment. Many prominent speakers and monks, as media have reported, argue that there is no real independence (in the country). This is true”, Ven. Sukhi said. (Ill-wishers determined to harm Sri Lanka at every turn went to town in the media attacking the government’s alleged reliance on superstition instead of science, when it implicitly allowed practitioners of traditional medicine to try their remedies on potential victims of Covid-19 to boost their immunity. However, its failure to manage the damage done by quacks who naturally exploit such situations cost the government dearly in terms of an adverse press in this regard. That was unfortunate. So is its apparent wavering on the burial non-issue.)   

Then Ven. Sukhi offered kirihara (milk rice) and the medicines to the Sacred Tooth Relic and all other Buddha relics. Next, he  placed three copies of the Sinhale Flag on the altar, offering it to the Dalada, though he had been prevented by the state authorities from raising it in the sacred premises.  The monk exonerated the police officers from any blame for this, explaining that they were just doing their duty, but that they helped him do the offerings before the sacred shrine. His dedicatory words were: I am leaving one of these flags as a gift to the Tooth Relic, while taking the other two back; one of these two, I will hand over to the President, and I will keep the other with me. The flag that I am retaining with me is for honouring it and for getting all Sri Lankans to rally round it in unity. I solemnly pledge before you (the Buddha) to do this (i.e., dedicate myself for this solemn undertaking)”. 

The symbolism of the monk’s act is likely to be lost on many who experience no empathy with the majority Sinhala Buddhist community. Kandy was the last seat of government of the island kingdom of Sinhale, which, by the time of the British imperial takeover or annexation in 1815 (executed through intrigue), was hemmed in on all sides by the littoral provinces successively occupied by various foreign powers over the previous centuries. Nationalist movements invariably have the non-political leadership or patronage of Buddhist monks because of the over two millennia old organic linkage between Buddhism and the majority Sinhalese who built up the uniquely humane and hospitable island’s Buddhist civilization. What was brought down at Kandy when the British raised their union jack on signing the Kandyan Convention of 1815 was the royal standard of the last king of Sinhale, which had only the image of the sword wielding lion. This same royal flag was what was raised on February 4, 1948, the arbitrarily chosen day of independence. It remained the national flag of (at least nominally independent) Sri Lanka for the first three years before it was modified in 1951 by adding two vertical stripes to represent the two minorities (the green for Muslims and the orange for Tamils). It has been further modified since 1972 when Sri Lanka was declared a republic. Some nationalists argue that the 1951 addition of differently coloured bands to show minorities was an unnecessarily divisive innovation, because the lion image represents the whole country of Sinhale with all its diverse communities who are well ensconced and secure within its generously accommodating Buddhist culture (which is in that respect identical with the very tolerant Hindu culture of our big neighbour India that Jawaharlal Nehru described in his monumental ‘Discovery of India’ as enfolding alien cultures within its generous embrace), so compatible with secular democracy. 

The lion image in the Lankan royal standard is as old as the Sri Lankan state’s 2500 year written history. However, we have to accept the fact that today’s national flag is a product of historical evolution; an earlier form of it cannot be reintroduced a second time as it will be incongruent with the new realities. Historical wrongs cannot be corrected through individual arbitrary action. The government cannot allow it since it is against the existing constitution and is also in violation of the ICCPR treaty as explained to the monk by the police officer. Sri Lanka signed the particular covenant in June 1980. 

As revealed in another You Tube video uploaded on February 4, 2021, something else had happened at Kundasale one day before, that anticipated the monk’s ‘Sinhale flag’ scene in Kandy. Police (from Kandy or Teldeniya) delivered a restraining order issued by Additional Magistrate’s court No. 2/Kandy to Amith Weerasinghe, at his residence at Kundasale, warning him that he would be arrested if he participated in a certain independence day celebration event (different from the officially scheduled ones) in the Maligawa premises to be held on February 4. Amith Weerasinghe (30) is the leader of a nonviolent (in spite of the name) nationalist youth group (known as ‘Mahason Balakaya’ or Mahason Battalion, named after an ancient Sinhala warrior) agitating against aggressive, unacceptable activities of Islamist extremists. As he credibly claims, among his 275,000 followers across the country are young Tamils and Muslims. His popularity makes him a challenge to the entrenched traditionalists among politicians in Kandy like his counterpart Arun Siddharthan in Jaffna to his established seniors there. He contested the last parliamentary election from the Kandy district as an independent candidate. 

He didn’t win a seat though he and his supporters had been sure he would. He firmly believes that he has been robbed of his certain victory ‘by an unseen hand’, and has initiated legal action demanding a recount of the vote. According to Weerasinghe, his case is to be taken up by the court next month. 

Weerasinghe says that he knows nothing about the so-called nationalist organisation dubbed ‘Sinhala jatikawadi sanvidhana’ (Sinhalese Nationalist Organization) mentioned in the court order, and that he was not due to take part in any independence day ceremony or protest in Kandy on February 4. He suspects that this could be the work of some senior politicians who are worried that he might contest the upcoming provincial council elections to their disadvantage, and who want him imprisoned so he would be neutralised and safely got out of their way. He is already facing twenty-seven cases filed under the ICCPR for his agitational activism against Islamist extremism over many years.To be arraigned under the ICCPR for opposing Islamist extremism is a sad irony, because it is actually Islamists who tend to violate all the five key human rights enshrined in that covenant. Weerasinghe doesn’t want a twenty-eighth case to be filed against him for no reason. The last time he was similarly trapped, he had to serve nine months in prison. Incidentally, Ven Sikhi who led the protest against what he believed to be unfreedom called his organization ‘jatiye peramunagath sinhayo’ (Lions Leading the Nation), not what Weerasinghe was alleged to belong to by the police. 

Weerasinghe does not approve of monks dabbling in politics or going to parliament. He says that he fights for only three key demands, occasioned by the need to neutralize the existential threat posed by religious extremists to the Buddha Sasana: a birth control law, a common marriage law for all, and an anti-unethical conversion law. The monks are agitating for the same, in addition to such issues as saving from vandals and landgrabbers the overwhelmingly Sinhala Buddhist archaeological heritage sites of the country for posterity, the preservation of the environment, and protecting innocent citizens of all communities from the depredations of totalitarian religious extremists. If they seem to fight for any political changes, that is incidental, but not central to their demands. Their methods are nonviolent, though the forces that they come into conflict with in the course of their activism have turned them into demons in the eyes of the world through adverse propaganda. The dead silence of the Ven. Mahanayakes who have so far failed to provide these well intentioned young monks the proper monolithic leadership they need is largely responsible for their present predicament. But now they are well positioned to facilitate the emerging enlightenment and desire for peace among the young of all communities. The fact that the Sinhalese are predominantly Buddhist and the Tamils predominantly Hindus is important to recognize. They are the common target of murderous Jihadists as well as fanatical Christian proselytizers. Unity among Sinhalese and Tamils favourably viewed by peaceful mainstream Christians and Muslims will be indispensable for defending themselves against their common enemies.       

One Response to “May the UNHRC respect the common humanity of all Sri Lankans before seeking to punish them for human rights violations uncommitted”

  1. Gunasinghe Says:

    My suggestion is will take this good Tamil brothet (Sidhathran) to Geneva in March with government expense and let him explain the real situation with Tamil diaspora to the morons in UNHRC. Another thing coming to my mind is too many monks are interferening with government development activities, I wish they teach Dhamma not robing wild trees and not talk about how to handle the economy. Monks are the biggest obstructionist today in Sri Lanka.

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