Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)
EASTER ATTACKS AND ETHNORELIGIOUS THOUGHT PATTERNS
We have been critical in these columns, admittedly, of the role played by His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith in times gone by. It starts from his sometimes open, otherwise indirect support of the Rajapaksas; in his not standing up to the minority religious rights when they were under threat; in playing down the importance of fundamental rights as well as his part in bringing the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime in to power; specially in the context of the Easter Sunday bombings that took place during the Yahapalana regime. But ultimately, it appears that the Cardinal is convinced that no justice would be done to the victims of the bombings, prompting him to seek justice through the international community. That said, we have not been reluctant, either, to give due praise to the Cardinal for his exemplary role in averting a blood bath after the Easter Sunday carnage, not only by managing the indignation and anguish that arose among the Catholics but also in sending out a clear, deterrent signal to the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists eyeing an opportunity to victimize the innocent majority of the Muslim Community.
Now with his plea to the international community to unravel the mystery behind the Easter Sunday attacks, the stooges of the Rajapaksa cabal, especially, those in saffron robe have been mobilized to attack the Cardinal and other Catholic priests at the forefront of this cry for justice. The government and pro-rajapaksa private media are engaged in a mudslinging campaign aimed at the Cardinal and the Catholic church of Sri Lanka in an obvious attempt to instigate an ethno-religious conflict between the Buddhists and the Catholics. Claims about the Cardinal having a hidden agenda in calling international scrutiny, the church being instrumental in selling Sri Lanka to the west, politicians in the opposition like Patali Champika Ranawake, a serious threat to the scheme of perpetuating a Rajapaksa dynasty are publicized with the intention of instigating Buddhists. Fortunately, the Sinhala Buddhists are not willing to fall in to the same pit they fell once.
GRIEVANCE OF BEING ‘SINHALA BUDDHIST’
When some senior Police officers including those named by the Presidential Commission in to the Easter Sunday attacks as culprits of negligence visited the Maha Nayakes in late August, their ‘grievance’ was that they were Sinhala Buddhists and that they had nothing to do with the Easter Bombings, which was ‘a matter between Muslims and Christians’. We are not quite sure of the response of the Chief Prelates with regard to their complaint. But we are sure that they were not reprimanded on the basis that it was not a question of their ethnicity, but one of performing their duty as Police officers and that if they were negligent, they should not seek cover in being Buddhist or Sinhalese. That much we know.
On the other hand, the robe bearers at the service of the Rajapaksa power politics, such as Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera and others like him, in their vitriolic against the Cardinal, refer to the fact that the Church did not take action to seek justice for the victims of the attack on the Dalada Maligawa or the assassination of 31 monks at Aranthalawa, in 1987. Even those Buddhist monks who have now come in support of the Cardinal in his quest for the truth, unfortunately, sends the signal that the Cardinal as the head of the Catholic Church is the rightful person to represent the victims of the attacks and thus his cry to the international community is just and fair. Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, who commendably has come out in defense of the Cardinal, in a press release, did say that ‘it was a Catholic problem which had nothing to do with him and that nevertheless he stands by the stance of the Cardinal. In other words, the attack on the civilians on Easter Sunday and the consequent search for justice remains a ‘Catholic problem’ to Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera although he defends the Cardinal’s plea to the international community.
THE PRISM OF EXCLUSIVITY
The Vidwath Sangha Sabhawa which convened two days ago expressed support to the Cardinal and the Catholic Church in their move to secure justice for the victims. While denouncing the attempt made by Gnanasara Thera et al to attack the Cardinal to instigate anti-christian sentiment among the Sinhala Buddhists and defending the Cardinal, they revealed their intention to visit the Maha Nayakes of the Three Chapters to enlighten them on the justifiability of the Cardinal’s actions. Anyone listening to the statement would wonder whether the Maha Nayakes are still in the need to be enlightened on what is transpiring with regard to the progress of the investigations in to Easter Sunday attacks. Most probably, the Chief Prelates would adopt the same non-committal stance they always take in issues of this nature. Like the one they took when the Police Officers visited them with their ‘grievances’. The Maha Nayakes would consider them aloof from the entire issue.
Many Sinhala Buddhists believe now, that there will be no genuine effort by the Gotabaya regime to take investigations to the full length, as there could be unpleasant surprises that do not augur well for the Rajapaksa’s. The Rajapaksa clan resort to what they always do when confronted with such debacles; arousing anti minority sentiment. They might fail this time. But that is not because the majority thinks out of the ethno-religious mentality that bugs them for centuries. It is because they know that something fishy remains in the entire scenario concerning the mastermind of the bombings and they genuinely feel for the innocent victims of the attacks. That credit we give to them.
A LONG-LASTING AFFLICTION
Yet the same old ailment of not being able to think beyond and above ethno-religious lines still exists; even among those who commiserate with the Catholics. They defend the Cardinal’s move to seek justice for the ‘catholic problem’. The only difference and the positive is that the Rajapaksas would not be able to reap handsome dividends for such frictions this time. Yet had it been a question of Christians being attacked while engaging in preaching their faith in a Sinhala Buddhist village deep in the South, we know that empathy would not be there. It is a deep entrenched sentiment that has existed, exploited by Politicians and keeps the nation divided. Time and again these fault lines based on ethno-racial divides explode in to violent and disruptive conflicts as the last century of Sri Lankan history very clearly shows.
Yet, for the time being, the Catholics are grateful for those venerable monks who have come against the vilification of the Cardinal and the Church. The Rajapaksas will find it hard to hoodwink the Sinhala Buddhist majority this time in their bid for extended political power.
Yet as long as Easter Sunday Attacks remain a ‘Catholic problem’ while the Aranthalawa massacre, a ‘Buddhist problem’, meaningful and lasting national reconciliation is a very elusive commodity. It is not a simple question of supporting or opposing the Cardinal.