The Tur­bu­lence Con­tin­ues

Chris­tians in Sri Lanka are fac­ing a rough time. They are be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against and do not have re­course to the au­thor­i­ties or the law be­cause no one is lis­ten­ing.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Farhia Jab­bar

Sri Lanka’s his­tory has al­ways been tur­bu­lent. The is­land na­tion has seen every­thing from in­va­sions and colo­nial rule to ris­ing na­tion­al­ism and eth­nic clashes. The coun­try has also dealt with the con­flict­ing ma­jor­ity Sin­halese eth­nic sect and the mi­nor­ity Tamil Tiger rebels. But now the Chris­tians are the new tar­get af­ter the Tamils fi­nally lost in 2009.

The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment was badly in­flu­enced by Bud­dhist ex­trem­ism and the Chris­tians were of­ten vic­tims of vi­o­lent at­tacks. Over the years the at­tacks kept in­creas­ing and noth­ing was

done about it. With the change in the gov­ern­ment in 2015, peo­ple thought that things would be bet­ter and the Bud­dhists would not have such a strong hold on the gov­ern­ment. Un­for­tu­nately that is not the case and the Chris­tians are still suf­fer­ing. The Bud­dhists now have a more strate­gic ap­proach and they make the Chris­tians suf­fer in the form of le­gal re­stric­tions be­sides in­crease in per­se­cu­tion by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

Even though other mi­nor­ity groups ex­ist in Sri Lanka, it is the 7% Chris­tian pop­u­la­tion that ac­tu­ally bears the im­pact of per­se­cu­tion. This is mainly be­cause Chris­tian­ity is a colo­nial re­li­gion for western­ers.

The Chris­tians can­not pray openly, churches and prayer groups have been forcibly closed, their buri­als have been stopped sev­eral times and sev­eral vi­o­lent at­tacks have taken place. It is not just the vi­o­lent acts against the Chris­tians but it has be­come dif­fi­cult for the Chris­tians to lead peace­ful lives in the neighour­hood that they want to be in. Chris­tians are not al­lowed to rent a house in the vil­lage. This makes their lives very dif­fi­cult. They can­not choose where they wish to stay and even if they do get the house by chance, the vil­lagers and the land­lord will be pres­sured to take the house back. If a Chris­tian man­ages to set­tle in a house some­how, that is when the ac­tual vi­o­lence starts such as as­sault, be­ing chased away from the vil­lage, demon­stra­tions and protest marches. Es­pe­cially in the case of Chris­tians, state in­ter­ven­tions have of­ten in­volved vi­o­lat­ing con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tees of the free­dom of re­li­gion and the right to re­li­gious wor­ship and prac­tice. Of­ten, churches have been de­clared il­le­gal or unau­tho­rized de­mand­ing wor­ship ser­vices to be stopped. Such acts have been ig­nored and over­looked by the gov­ern­ment and no sub­stan­tial steps have been taken to re­solve the prob­lems of the Chris­tian com­mu­nity.

The prob­lem is that the gov­ern­ment of Sri Lanka has tact­fully shaped a na­tional iden­tity, keep­ing the Bud­dhist phi­los­o­phy in per­spec­tive. It is broadly un­der­stood that to be Sri Lankan is to be Bud­dhist. Bud­dhist monks have been placed in key gov­ern­ment po­si­tions of power with the re­sult that these Bud­dhists have even led planned at­tacks against the Chris­tians as they are con­sid­ered a part of colo­nial­ism.

The main per­pe­tra­tors are state ac­tors ex­er­cis­ing ei­ther ad­min­is­tra­tive or po­lice pow­ers. What is shock­ing is that there is re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion, mis­use of the law and fail­ure to main­tain the law, re­fus­ing the rights of vic­tims and act­ing beyond the lim­i­ta­tions of their au­thor­ity. Per­se­cu­tions against the Chris­tians are ex­pected to in­crease in the fu­ture. Mil­i­tant Bud­dhists have been work­ing to­wards anti-con­ver­sion laws and to have a ban en­forced on mis­sion­ary groups. There have been many oc­ca­sions where the Sri Lankan par­lia­ment has to pass anti-con­ver­sion laws, which Chris­tians fear could be mis­used to tar­get church ac­tiv­i­ties. The ex­ist­ing rul­ing party in Sri Lanka has led a cam­paign called "A Brighter Fu­ture for Sri Lanka." The fear is that the Chris­tians would suf­fer and may not be able to agree with the theme of the cam­paign.

Such ex­treme prac­tices in Bud­dhism do not fit the im­age of this peace­ful re­li­gion with its main re­li­gious be­lief re­volv­ing around med­i­ta­tion and men­tal peace; vi­o­lence as­so­ci­ated with the re­li­gion is hard to imag­ine. There are dif­fer­ent forms in Bud­dhism where acts like vi­o­lence and re­li­gious wars would be un­think­able for some prac­tic­ing Bud­dhists. There are ex­trem­ists in the re­li­gion who use it to jus­tify their vi­o­lent acts. In Sri Lanka, monks are given a lot of im­por­tance which means the per­cep­tion of Chris­tian­ity in the coun­try is very dif­fer­ent and it is seen as a colo­nial re­li­gion.

Atroc­i­ties against the Chris­tians are pos­si­ble only be­cause there are loop­holes in the law. There are se­vere gaps where le­gal ac­tion against per­pe­tra­tors of re­li­gious ag­gres­sion and dis­crim­i­na­tion needs to be re­formed. In many cases, they have been re­ported and po­lice or gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have played a role in the vi­o­la­tions. In some cases, they have not been able to pro­tect the vic­tims – even though the Con­sti­tu­tion of the coun­try states that all mi­nori­ties have a right to equal­ity, re­li­gious free­dom and non-dis­crim­i­na­tion. The laws for the mi­nor­ity groups have to be fol­lowed and re­in­forced so that the ma­jor­ity Bud­dhists do not take un­due ad­van­tage.

The gov­ern­ment has to take strong mea­sures re­gard­ing vi­o­la­tions that take place against the re­li­gious mi­nori­ties by al­ter­ing rules and reg­u­la­tions, mak­ing sure that they are treated equally and hold the violators ac­count­able. There has been an in­crease in threats, protests and hate speeches against the Chris­tians. All com­mu­ni­ties have to be given equal pro­tec­tion in Sri Lanka so that the coun­try can rid it­self of the trauma of the past and move to­wards a peace­ful fu­ture. The per­cep­tion about Chris­tian­ity be­ing a colo­nial re­li­gion should be changed over time and co­ex­is­tence should be en­cour­aged by al­ter­ing the rules and reg­u­la­tions and en­sur­ing that the au­thor­i­ties are not part of the vi­o­lent acts in the name of re­li­gion.

The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

Atroc­i­ties against the Chris­tians are pos­si­ble only be­cause there are loop­holes in the law.

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