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Rohingya refugees in our Constitution

6 October 2017 12:00 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Neither President nor PM ever thought it right to condemn attacks on Rohingya refugees

Monks violated rights of refugees and basic tenets of Buddhism

Politics of anti-Rohingya campaign outright Sinhala Buddhist racism

“These are Muslim ‘terrorists’ who have killed Buddhist monks. Sri Lanka is not for them. They should be sent out immediately,” shouted protesting Buddhist monks who broke into the UNHCR safe house sheltering 31 Rohingya refugees at Mt. Lavinia. 

This is not the first such violent anti-Muslim mob attack led by Buddhist monks. Neither President Sirisena nor Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who vow to safeguard Buddhism and the Sinhala ‘Unitary’ State, ever thought it right to condemn these attacks on Rohingya refugees, while they hurried to condemn the massacre at LA, USA. These monks not only violated the rights of Rohingya refugees which the Sri Lankan Government is bound to safeguard as a UN member state, but also violated the basic tenets of Buddhism; Meththa, loving-kindness; Karuna, compassion; Muditha, sympathetic joy; and Upekkha, equanimity. 


A group of very concerned people including me addressed a letter to the Premier as the Head of Government on September 29, demanding the immediate arrest of all those involved in the attack on the safe house including Buddhist monks, for breach of peace, violence and hate speech. The letter very clearly stated, “This racially-motivated violent incident brought international disrepute and proved the government is uncertain in stopping such hate-mongering violent protests when led by Buddhist monks. It is therefore the government that is wholly responsible in allowing law enforcement agencies to violate the rights of the refugees and avoid taking action against hate-mongering violent groups that create a social mindset that would never allow any degree of reconciliation in this country.” 


The first arrests reported were however not made by the three police units deployed. The much-delayed statement by the Secretary to the Law and Order Ministry said they were by the CCD.First a man and thereafter a woman were arrested. This followed with the arrests of three more men. It took another two days to summon a leading monk of Ravana Balaya to the CCD and then arrest him. A public call was thereafter made asking for information about another leading monk and a man. With these few arrests, action against those police personnel who failed to carry out their duties at the protest was casually forgotten. 

Most unfortunately, this remains the dilemma the ‘Yahapalanaya’ leadership is unable to face with political acumen and courage 


Politics of this anti-Rohingya campaign is outright Sinhala Buddhist racism. It is fundamentally anti-Muslim. While the degree of violence and focus are somewhat outside the usual target, the thinking, the ideology is Sinhala Buddhist supremacy. It is the same Sinhala Buddhist ideology that drives these violent and ethno-religious hate campaigns against other ethnic and religious presence in the ‘Land of Gautama Buddha.’ They are all linked to the politics of the joint opposition (JO) that is dished out with the brand name ‘Rajapaksa.’ 


It is ‘Rajapaksa politics’ that is played out by Buddhist monks who drive the ‘Yahapalanaya’ leadership scared stiff. Different platforms from Rohingya refugees to Wilpattu deforestation to the Constitution are used to push through the campaign the JO is part of. The present focus is on the draft document of the Steering Committee presented in parliament as a proposal for a new Constitution. 


“It is impossible to give Buddhism the foremost place without treating other religions differently,” a statement issued by the Buddha Sasana Kaarya Saadhaka Mandalaya, signed by Ven. Kotugoda Dhammawansa Mahanayake Thera, Ven. Ittapane Dhammalankara Nayake Thera, Ven. Tirikunamale Ananda Nayake Thera and Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Nayake Thera among others stated very clearly and openly. What they shamelessly say is other religions should not be treated in the foremost way Buddhism should be treated and that must be clear in the Constitution. 

A very timidly-faithful and leading ‘Yahapalanaya’ apologist told the media the previous Friday that this government had three phobias; the Bhikkhu, the police and the State officer phobia

A very timidly-faithful and leading ‘Yahapalanaya’ apologist, who two years ago wanted the people to believe Sri Lanka had this time got the most democratic President and PM with whom an intellectual discussion could be held, told the media the previous Friday that this government had three phobias; the Bhikkhu, the police and the State officer phobia. He attributes these phobias as reason for this government’s failure in delivering the promises made during the two elections in January and August 2015. A ‘democratic’ government with ‘trusted leaders’ they vowed would not falter on promises made to people. All of them are far from understanding that they are fixated with a ‘Rajapaksa phobia.’ 


Rajapaksa phobia is what holds back this government from direct and firm action on the Rohingya refugee issue to postponing the LG and now PC elections too. It is the Rajapaksa phobia which compelled the parliamentary leadership of the ‘unity’ government to smuggle amendments during committee stage in parliament to both the 19th and 20th Amendments to the Constitution. It is that what is holding back the functioning of the OMP. It is also that what makes the government slip through war crimes probes, detention of youth and occupied private land in the North-East. They simply do not have the political will and confidence to address serious issues by publicly-challenging the Sinhala Buddhist politics of Rajapaksa. That explains in very simple terms what ‘Rajapaksa phobia’ is. 


For this very reason, the government leadership gets into contradictions on what is proposed for the new Constitution as well. When Sinhala Buddhist Rajapaksa campaigners accuse them, the proposed Constitution would dilute the status provided to Buddhism. When the Sinhala Buddhist campaigners accuse them of betraying the ‘Unitary’ State, they try to prove they have not. When they say the proposed Constitution is ‘federal’ and would pave the way for ‘separatism,’ they swear it is not a ‘federal’ system that is proposed. 


UNP National List MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, who claims to be an LSSPer while being the specially-appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the PM’s office, is also the most informed on the government’s stance on matters Constitutional. He told the media, “The reforms have not diluted the first and foremost place given to Buddhism in the 1978 Constitution as suggested by a section of monks and disgruntled groups who have failed to correctly absorb what was contained in the Interim Report.” He also told the media, “Recommendations of the Interim Report of the Steering Committee had not only further strengthened the unitary character of the State but included clear-cut provisions to prevent division.” 


If any of those contentious issues were not changed and would remain further strengthened, why should there be all this waste of taxpayer money for drafting a new Constitution? The present Constitution could remain with simple amendments to; (I) Prune ‘executive’ powers of the President as now proposed; (II) Strengthen the unitary character as Dr. Jayampathy says they have proposed; (III) Please the Sinhala Buddhist campaigners on the foremost place accorded to Buddhism. 


Sadly, these political figures in the ‘Yahapalanaya’ Government fear Rajapaksa so much, they do not want to spell out what they want done with the Constitution. They don’t have the political potency the high priest of the Malwatta Chapter of the Shyamopali Siyam Nikaya, Most Ven. Thibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera has. Last Monday, JO leader MP Dinesh Gunawardena who met Malwatta Chapter Chief Ven. Sumangala Thera to canvass support for their anti-Constitution Sinhala Buddhist campaign was rebuffed. The prelate told MP Gunawardena that there may not be another opportunity and it was time everyone got together in settling these issues for the benefit of the country. The Ven. Thera also said it was because the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam accord was not allowed to be implemented that this unwanted massive tragedy occurred with thousands losing their lives, and that it was best they acted in a way that would not lead to any calamity once again. 


This may not be the position of the Asgiriya Mahanayake Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera. As NP Chief Minister, Justice Wigneswaran, after his recent audience with the two high priests aptly described, “The two High Priests are personifications of contrary characteristics. I am sure Mahinda would find himself closer in spirit to Asgiriya rather than Malwatta.” 


The Asgiriya line of thinking came out loud and clear, when I sat with Justice Wigneswaran at the audience to explain the problems of the Northern and Eastern people is a stubborn assumption that this country is a Sinhala Buddhist State historically and it should remain so as ‘unitary’ State. Minorities therefore should accept this country as such. It is this political stand the JO and other Sinhala Buddhist segments like those who signed the ‘Buddha Sasana Kaarya Saadhaka Mandalaya’ statement stand for and would campaign for against the Steering Committee proposals for a new Constitution. 
Most unfortunately, this remains the dilemma the ‘Yahapalanaya’ leadership is unable to face with political acumen and courage. They tend to react to Asgiriya-JO politics that by default is Rajapaksa politics, instead of consolidating themselves on the political statements made by the Malwatta prelate. It is this utterly-timid political reaction that leaves them fixated on everything Sinhala Buddhist, contradicting what they propose as Constitutional provisions. It is this ‘Rajapaksa phobia’ that in turn has made them avoid elections; LG and PC elections for now. A government without a strong political backbone cannot stand erect, nor bend the way it should. That leaves even two and a half dozens of Rohingya refugees a frightening group to live with. 

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  • WAIT AND SEE Friday, 06 October 2017 07:06 PM

    THEY ARE FREE TO CHOOSE - BUT THEY ARE NOT FREE FOR THE CONSEQUENCE OF THEIR CHOICE


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