CON­CED­ING TO COMMUNALIS­T PRES­SURE; THE RUINATION OF A NA­TION

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - EDITORIAL -

To be frank, the sup­port the hunger strike re­ceived was min­i­mal even among the Sin­hala polity

Iam not a Bud­dhist, at least in the con­ven­tional sense; i.e. that my Birth cer­tifi­cate does not state ‘Bud­dhism’ in the slot where the topic ‘Reli­gion’ is to be filled. But the lit­tle Bud­dhism that I know tells me that it is a great sin to take a life just be­cause some­thing you de­mand is not given to you. For ex­am­ple, I can­not go to a job in­ter­view and threaten the Board that if I am not cho­sen they would be killed. Worse still, I can­not say that un­less se­lected I would kill my­self. When it comes to tak­ing one’s own life, the grav­ity of the sin is greater... I sup­pose. But when such a threat of com­mit­ting a sin is done in a saf­fron robe, and right in front of the sa­cred Tem­ple of the Tooth relic, the ramificati­ons seem to be dif­fer­ent.

Ow­ing to my medi­ocre knowl­edge of Bud­dhism, I could have al­most agreed with the likes of Ven. Galago­daaththe Gnanasara, that such a threat, in the form of fast unto death by

Ven. Athu­raliye Rathanathe­ra

is a heroic, and mer­i­to­ri­ous act! But gen­eral in­tel­li­gence pre­vents me from do­ing so.

What was the end nett re­sult of the much hyped hunger strike staged by Ven. Rathana in the vicin­ity of the Tem­ple of the Tooth relic? A mass res­ig­na­tion of the Mus­lim Ministers of the gov­ern­ment in ad­di­tion to the three, whose blood, the Sin­hala na­tion­al­ists were after. No doubt this was not some­thing that Ven.

Rathana or the real in­sti­ga­tors be­hind the hunger strike had reck­oned for by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion.

FAST UNTO (AL­MOST) DEATH

To be frank, the sup­port the hunger strike re­ceived was min­i­mal even among the Sin­hala polity. In gen­eral, there is a lack of se­ri­ous­ness about hunger strikes and fas­tunto-death ac­tions, among the Sin­halese as nobody who has threat­ened fast­ing till death has kept to that threat. As in the in­fa­mous case of Wi­mal Weer­awansa be­fore the UN Of­fice in Colombo, the en­tire thing ended up not only as a fi­asco and the coun­try be­com­ing a laugh­ing stock, in ef­fect, it wors­ened the sta­tus of Sri Lanka in the face of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, which was fac­ing chal­lenges given se­ri­ous charges of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions at that par­tic­u­lar time. The end re­sult in that case also, the com­plete op­po­site of what was ex­pected. Char­ac­ters such as Palitha The­warap­pe­ruma went on hunger strike to get chil­dren ad­mit­ted to school, mak­ing a mock­ery of such ‘fast unto

death’, which has been made sacro­sanct by self­less activists such as Thileepan, An­nai Poobathi, re­lated to North­ern Tamil mil­i­tancy and Bobby Sands and the ten Ira(ir­ish

Repub­li­can Army) pris­on­ers who fasted unto death in 1981. Yet there is a marked dif­fer­ence be­tween the Weer­awansa fi­asco and the en­tire episode re­lated to Ven. Rathana. The for­mer fasted unto (al­most) death, at a time when the gov­ern­ment in power did not give a tup­pence worth to the due process, rule of law, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions or any other such thing that had to do with good gov­er­nance. We all knew that Weer­awansa was run­ning an er­rand for the Ra­japaksa regime and that there would not be any ‘death’ but an aban­don­ing of the fast un­der some pre­text (with le­mon puff to boot...). The dif­fer­ence be­tween that and Ven. Rathana episode was that it took place when the very gov­ern­ment that came with a man­date for good gov­er­nance, to up­hold the rule of law and due process, was in power.

VEN. RATHANA VERDICT

When one adds the fact that all the three politi­cos, Bathi­udeen, Sally and Hisbullah have not been found guilty or even charged, legally, with any con­nec­tion with the Easter Sun­day bomb­ings, de­spite sus­pi­cions among some Sin­halese that some of these fire­brand Mus­lim politi­cos were at least sym­pa­thiz­ers, if not ac­tive abet­ters of fa­nati­cism and ex­trem­ism,they have not been sub­stan­ti­ated. To de­mand re­moval of them from their des­ig­na­tion was not only de­nial of the due process of law that is the en­ti­tle­ment of ev­ery ci­ti­zen, it was plainly mo­ti­vated by racial bias.

Ven. Athu­raliye Rathana got Sally, Hisbullah and Bathi­udeen to re­sign, al­right; but there was another fac­tor that he had not bar­gained for; the mass res­ig­na­tion of Mus­lim Ministers. The Mus­lim politi­cians had not only made the voice of their con­stituency, which we all know is pre­dom­i­nantly, if not en­tirely, Mus­lim, heard; they have shown how po­lit­i­cally shrewd and as­tute they are. Even if one did not buy the of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion given by them after dis­cus­sions at the res­i­dence of for­mer SLFP Min­is­ter Fowzie, that it was done to sta­bi­lize the coun­try and to avert a com­mu­nal cri­sis, one has to agree, that they man­aged to pull a fast one , that none of the Sin­hala na­tion­al­ists had even re­motely thought pos­si­ble.

DÉJÀ VU

Their col­lec­tive action, has an un­canny sim­i­lar­ity to ac­tions of the con­ven­tional Tamil politi­cians, dur­ing the JR Jayewar­dena era lead­ing up to the sep­a­ratist war, where they opted to boy­cott south­ern pol­i­tics in gen­eral and par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics in par­tic­u­lar. The ab­sence of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Tamil com­mu­nity on main­stream plat­form, only strength­ened the hands of youth mil­i­tancy which ul­ti­mately ended with Velup­pil­lai Prab­hakaran be­com­ing the sole rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Tamils. I am sure the Mus­lim politi­cians were well aware of the mag­ni­tude of the reper­cus­sions of their ac­tions and would not per­ceive such ab­sti­nence as a per­ma­nent mea­sure. With re­gard to the abil­ity of the likes of Ven. Rathana and Ven. Gnanasara to ap­praise the mag­ni­tude of the dan­ger, I am less con­fi­dent.

The coun­try is go­ing down a pre­cip­i­tous path that if not checked with­out de­lay, will take us all to ruination. It will be more ru­inous than the out­come of the Tamil sep­a­ratist war which haunted us for over thirty years. The saf­fron robe bear­ers who are in the habit of boast­ing ‘sav­ing the na­tion’ through­out his­tory (although from what they man­aged to save this coun­try, es­capes my com­pre­hen­sion) seem to be at the helm of that cruise ride to de­struc­tion.

The coun­try is go­ing down a pre­cip­i­tous path that if not checked with­out de­lay, will take us all to ruination

MI­NOR­ITY ONLY IN SRI LANKA

To­day’s daily news­pa­pers re­ported the for­mer Eastern Prov­ince Gover­nor as say­ing that although the Mus­lims were a mi­nor­ity in Sri Lanka, they were a ma­jor­ity glob­ally, and hence, should not be in­tim­i­dated by any­body. This was the first time that I heard a main­stream Mus­lim politi­cian talk­ing in that ag­gres­sive and al­most dis­dain­ful vein. Un­like the threats made by Ven. Gnanasara and the ilk, the state­ment by Bathi­udeen should be taken very se­ri­ously.

As much as the Sin­hala na­tion­al­ists might at­tribute sin­is­ter and com­mu­nal mo­tives to the mass res­ig­na­tions of the Mus­lim ministers, the def­i­nite and dis­tinct divide that such action threat­ens , if al­lowed unchecked, could cre­ate, does not au­gur well for our coun­try which has had a respite of a mere ten years of peace after a bru­tal 30 year civil war.

We must face it; the gov­ern­ment did not do enough to pre­vent racist mobs from torch­ing houses, shops and places of wor­ship of the Mus­lims, even when emer­gency reg­u­la­tions were in op­er­a­tion. The author­i­ties could not pre­vent ordinary Mus­lims be­ing ha­rassed in pub­lic trans­port, at state of­fices and even su­per­mar­kets, thus cre­at­ing an at­mos­phere of in­tim­i­da­tion and ha­rass­ment. To top it all, it suc­cumbed to the pres­sure ex­erted by Sin­hala Bud­dhist ex­trem­ists led by saf­fron robe bear­ers which re­sulted in a deep split be­tween the Mus­lim and Sin­halese com­mu­ni­ties.

Un­like the Sin­halese politi­cos, their Mus­lim coun­ter­parts take what hap­pens to their con­stituency, very se­ri­ously!! And they know where their strength lies!

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