At a time when COVID 19 is threatening to destabilise the country the various ways in which Sri Lanka’s citizens have responded to this pandemic have become topics of much discussion.
This is a nation where the literacy rate is over 90% (the calculation in 2017 was 92.98%). And when one considers the eagerness of the islanders to educate themselves and compete for slots in state universities it is obvious that Sri Lankans are obsessed with education.
But the sad part of the story is that this education they receive is not reflected when there is a national call. The majority are Buddhists and the world has been awed whenever there has been a need during catastrophes and similar disasters for the public to contribute. However that spirit to respond to a national call of duty has been sadly missing this time around; when the country is battling a pandemic.
When the country’s authorities asked citizens to remain at home to curb the spreading of the virus a good many were seen grabbing the opportunity to embark on trips.
Those who returned from abroad recently have been fighting shy to check into state maintained health institutes to be quarantined. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Sri Lanka along with Thailand, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal hasn’t done enough to curb the virus before it heads towards a state of community transmission.
We find it inconvenient to wear the facemasks, use hand sanitizer and avoid crowds. But most Sri Lankans find it quite convenient to be with crowds despite WHO warnings to avoid gatherings comprising more than five people. Recently the chief incumbent of Sri Pada Ven. Bengamuwe Dhammadinna Thera refused to comply with the President’s request to halt the pilgrim season to Adam’s Peak. This stance by the priest is taken at a time when the authorities heading churches and mosques have requested devotees to stay away from such institutes; in most of these religious places of worship routine prayer services have also been suspended.
There is clearly a tussle between the law of the nation and religious belief. The Chief incumbent of Adam’s Peak has reasoned that even in the past pilgrims had braved the threats from wild animals and various diseases to summit the mountain. He adds that in the past pilgrims had handed over assets to their loved ones before going on pilgrimage because the return journey was so doubtful. The devotees who scale Adam’s Peak also worship God Sumana Saman; hence there is also space for God belief in the minds of the devotees. The priest has in a roundabout way underscored that devotees don’t wish to see their faith being questioned even at a time of crisis.
If one asks the question whether people in this country are afraid of the law or God we might get some interesting answers. But sadly a dejected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said that though the government imposes restrictions ‘people of this country don’t care about them and move about freely’. Overall there has been many religious programmes carried out throughout the country to bring relief to those affected by this pandemic, but to no avail.
People of this country went to the extent of making the government impose police curfews in some areas. There are still some returnees from abroad who have not headed the call for quarantine. Some of them are reported to be avoiding detection and staying with friends and relations.
The Buddhist monks of this country organised a massive Buddhist stanza chanting ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy to bless the people of this nation.
At this time of great concern one can’t blame the people for leaning on the pillar called religion though their focus is mainly on what the medical experts say. Given the developments and mindset in Sri Lanka, this writer recalls a saying which was printed on a car windscreen sticker which read, ‘Have faith in God, but lock your car’.