Defending Building of Buddhist Viharas and Erecting Buddha Statues by the Army/Navy in the North is Bad Politics – Open Letter to the Northern Province Governor
Hon. Reginald Cooray
Governor’s Secretariat Old Park,
Kandy Road, Chundukuli,
Sri Lanka. (Email: email@example.com)
Defending Building of Buddhist Viharas and Erecting Buddha Statues by the Army/Navy in the North is Bad Politics
We wish to draw your attention to the resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council last week condemning the building of a Buddhist vihara by Sri Lankan troops on land belonging to a Hindu temple in Kilinochchi.
The resolution called for the immediate halt of construction work on land within the premises of the historical Kanakambikai Amman Temple at Kilinochchi.
It is claimed the military has occupied the house of the temple priest (Gurukkal) located inside the temple premises and approximately 4.5 acres of land. The army is constructing unlawfully a Buddhist Vihara in the courtyard of the house.
Thamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Sivagnanam Sritharan has aptly described the construction of the vihara as systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing of Thamils from their traditional homeland deploying the armed forces.
This is not the first case where Buddhist viharas/statues have been erected by the Sri Lankan armed forces occupying the northeast, especially since May, 2009.
(1) At Kanagarajankulam in Kilinochchi district a Buddha statue and a Stupa have been erected.
(2) At Mankulam in Vavuniya district a Buddhist vihara has been built. Electricity has been provided to this elaborate structure.
(3) At Iranaimadu in Mullaitheevu district a sculpture of a meditating Buddha has been installed under a peepul (Bo) tree.
(4) A Buddhist vihara has been constructed at Vadduvaakal in the Mullaitheevu district.
(5) A huge Buddhist vihara is under construction in Kokkulai in Mullaitheevu district after destroying the Hindu temple Karunaaddu Pillayar.
(6) A Buddhist vihara named Mahatota Raja Maha Vihara has come up within 50 meters of the famous Thirukethiswaram temple in Mannar district. The ancient name for Thirukethiswaram area was Mahathottam.
Sadly, but not surprisingly His Excellency has defended the building of Buddhist temples in the province saying that it is only part of a boom in the building of places of worship there.
“Big Hindu kovils are being built and many Christian denominations have come up with their buildings. But there are only 13 Buddhist temples in the entire Northern Province, we don’t object to the Hindu kovils and Christian churches coming up. We welcome them, I wonder why some s should object if the Buddhists built their viharas.”
His Excellency was answering a question put to you at a press conference held in Colombo on 16th August, 2016 about the Buddhist temple being built on a person’s private property at Kokkulai in Mullaitivu district. This has created tension among the local population.
Defending the construction, you said that the Buddhist temple had secured the permission of the local Pradesha Sabha and in a case against it; the court had upheld the construction. It also has the support of hundreds of Sinhalese families living there”.
The Thamils see the mushrooming of Buddha statues and construction of Buddhist temples as a projection of Sinhalese-Buddhist power in the North after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam (LTTE). Thamils wonder why Buddhist temples are being built and Buddha’s statutes are erected in areas where there are no Buddhists. Most of them are constructed by the armed forces. (http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/North-Sri-Lankan-Governor-defends-building-Buddhist-temples/2016/08/18/article3585909.ece). The message is just a reminder telling the Thamils they are under a Sinhala – Buddhist regime run by colonial governors. They are second class citizens with inferior status compared to Sinhalese.
His Excellency is adding insult to injury by claiming “if Hindu temples can be built in the south, why not Buddhist viharas in the Northern province.” This is like comparing oranges with apples.
If any Hindu temple is built in the south, it is on land purchased by the Hindus and cost of construction borne by them. This is a far cry from what is happening in the Northeast where Buddhist viharas are constructed by the army/navy out of public funds on lands owned by Thamil citizens. Unlike viharas which are built in places where there are no Buddhist worshippers (the only Buddhists are the Sinhalese soldiers stationed in the Northeast) the Hindu temples, if any, is not built where there are no Hindus!
There is no doubt His Excellency is wittingly fanning the flames of communalism and religious fanaticism by drawing a parallel between the Buddhist viharas in the north and Hindu temples in the south. You also giving ammunition to those extremists on the Thamil side to fire at the moderate TNA leadership by confirming their oft repeated charge that Sinhalese cannot be trusted! They continue to claim that Sirisena is another Rajapaksa and difference between them is only in name. That Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is similar to the German nationalism of 1940s.
What is more, your pronouncements are sharply at variance with the policies of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who are striving hard to bring about reconciliation between the Sinhalese and the Thamils. The present government wants to reverse the chauvinistic polices followed by the previous regime under Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In fact, you are in good company with Sinhalese hawks like Wimal Weerawansa, Uthaya Gammanpila, Nishantha Sri Warnasisnghe and some others who pose as Sinhalese nationalists.
Addressing a news conference at the JHU headquarters at Battaramulla, Propaganda Secretary Nishantha Sri Wanasinghe asked why Thamil politicians in the north are vehemently opposing the construction of temples and Buddha statues in the north. He said, Hindu temples had been built in all parts of the country and no one in the South had opposed them. He further asked why some Thamil politicians were averse to Buddhist temples and statues being built in the north.
He claimed that according to the Constitution every citizen had a right to live in any part of the country and practice of his or her religion. Warnasinghe was of the opinion that some northern politicians were behaving like tribal leaders. He said the JHU was confident that their separatist agenda would never be successful and their dream of a federal state would never be a reality. (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=150861)
The argument that according to the Constitution every citizen had a right to live in any part of the country and practice of his or her religion is fine in theory. But, in practice it is a cloak to colonize the northeast with Sinhalese at state expense. There is no history of Thamils getting settled by the successive governments in the south. Those Thamils driven out by the Sinhalese hoodlums during the riots of 1958, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983 have not their land properties back.
This tall claim that every citizen had a right to live in any part of the country is typical tongue in cheek talk by most Sinhalese politicians in the south. If all are free to practice of his or her religion why is the army/navy constructing viharas and erecting Buddha statues in the Northeast only? Why the constitution (Article 9) gives foremost place to Buddhism and duty of protection by the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana? This provision which nullifies equality of citizens is an obstacle to the government’s reconciliation efforts. The Northeast remains under the jackboot of the armed forces (18 Divisions out of a total of 22) 7 years after the war..
Incidentally, not everyone agrees with His Excellency’s Sinhalese majoritarian and supremacist views. Government Spokesman and Minister Rajitha Senaratne has stated building Buddhist temples, placing Buddha statues under Bo-trees and at junctions by the security forces after defeating the LTTE in the North-East had not done any good other than to negate the government’s reconciliation efforts.
“On several occasions, I spoke to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on this matter. He accepted the negative impact of these actions but said it was not possible to stop armed forces personnel from doing so,” he said.
The Minister added that though places of religious observances had been erected at every opportunity, there were no Buddhist devotees to maintain them resulting in these places being abandoned. (http://www.dailymirror.lk/114599/-Building-Buddhist-temples-placing-statues-under-Bo-trees-Have-negated-reconciliation-efforts)
As the saying goes ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s, His Excellency should refrain from making explosive statements that negate reconciliation efforts by the government. As the executive Governor of the Northern province, you should concentrate to the economic, educational and social development of the province.
Thousands of IDPs are still awaiting re-settlement in their lands though the war ended 7 years ago. In Valikamam North only 1,934.3 (30%) acres of land had been released so far. The balance 4,447.2 acres (70%) of land has yet to be released. A total of 3,260 Valikamam North IDPs consisting of 936 families are still living in 32 welfare centres.
Also 79,000 war widows and 12,000 ex LTTE cadres are crying for sustainable development, livelihoods and job opportunities. Long-simmering tensions
Building more viharas and statues in the Northeast will worsen the long-simmering ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and Thamils.