Mar 16, 2018

Cornered to Unite

Sri Lanka needs unity beyond sympathy and solidarity

Strong platform with Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim presence to condemn and challenge extremism need of the hour

  • The GMOA could have easily addressed and provided a guarantee that there is no such drug or chemical that can make a person permanently barren
  • What then is their strength? It is their very loud and threatening presence in mainstream media, more than in social media.
  • In Sinhala Buddhist dominant rural districts, Buddhist monks came a cropper

Post-war Sri Lanka has by now gone through five violent anti-Muslim orgies, orchestrated by extremist Sinhala Buddhist groups-from Aluthgama-Beruwala riots in June 2014, through Mahiyangana, Gintota, Ampara and the still smouldering Digana-Theldeniya savagery in the Kandy District.

These are no conflicts between Sinhala and Muslim communities. There would not have been human stories of Sinhala Buddhist citizens in conflict areas immediately and voluntarily stepping in to provide safety and security to Muslim families and property, if this conflict were between communities

Sinhala people have not been part of these savage attacks led by few stray Buddhist monks and other extremist thugs. Distance the people keep with Sinhala Buddhist extremism is evident even in electoral politics.

The JHU (Then led by the trio Champika, Ven. Rathana Thera and Gammanpila) expected to sweep the board at the 2004 Parliamentary Elections by fielding Buddhist monks. The results were disastrous.

Just seven Buddhist monks were elected from four districts with an all island vote percentage of 5.9% that gave two more from the National List.

The JHU (Then led by the trio Champika, Ven. Rathana Thera and Gammanpila) expected to sweep the board at the 2004 Parliamentary Elections by fielding Buddhist monks. The results were disastrous.

In Sinhala Buddhist dominant districts, the JHU polled only 22,826 votes in Galle (94.1% Buddhists), 16,229 in Matara (94.1% Buddhists), 1,538 in Hambantota (96.9% Buddhists), 2,675 in Moneragala (94.4% Buddhists) and 37,459 in Kurunegala (89.1% Buddhists).

Where they gained from were all Sinhala Buddhist trader dominated urban districts; in Colombo (70%) JHU polled 18%, in Gampaha (71.7%) polled 19.4%, in Kalutara (82.9%) polled 10.1% and in Kandy (73.3%) polled 6.7%.

Politically what it says is, in Sinhala Buddhist dominant rural districts, Buddhist monks came a cropper, while in Sinhala Buddhist trader dominant urban districts they fared marginally better.

The JHU thereafter did not contest any election on its own. Nor did it remain intact to contest, splitting into three factions, Champika Ranawaka ending with the UNP.

Buddhist monk Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, the Sinhala Buddhist volcanic figure that dominates Sinhala Buddhist extremism fared even worse. He contested the 2015 August Parliamentary Elections from Kalutara District one year after he led the Muslim riots in Aluthgama-Beruwala, expecting the Sinhala Buddhists to rally round him. With a population of 70.4% Sinhala Buddhists, their all island total was only just 20,377 votes, while their leader Ven. Gnanasara Thera polled a Preference Vote of only 5,727 in the Kalutara District. Clearly, there is no people’s support for these Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups. It is an insignificant 0.18% endorsement they had from mainly Sinhala Buddhist dominated 16 districts.

What then is their strength? It is their very loud and threatening presence in mainstream media, more than in social media.

As an aggressive anti Muslim urban emergence, they have an attraction with the urban middle-class. They are assured financial and logistical support from big time urban trader community for their very openly hostile anti-Muslim campaigns.

Their “anti-Halal” campaign and this time too with Muslim business and property being targeted, it was more than evident these Sinhala Buddhist extremist violence is an anti-Muslim “market war”.
It is this “market war” against Muslims that provide them with urban middle-class professional and academic attraction and support too.

GMOA, as the voice of medical professionals, had the social responsibility of countering this false anti-Muslim propaganda with facts on could have easily addressed the media and provided a guarantee...

In this very competitive free market that has always been facilitated by a Sinhala Unitary State, competition is being reduced to ethno-religious divisions.

With Sinhala Buddhist dominance, the political strategy is to eliminate the competitor instead of competing on quality, service and efficiency.

Thus their support base extends from the Sinhala Buddhist trader community to the Sinhala Buddhist middle-class academics and professionals.

One serious negligence of professional responsibility is in the medical profession- its vociferous Trade Union the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA).

For some time now, the Sinhala Buddhist extremism has been accusing Muslim traders and businessmen of using contraceptive medicine when serving Sinhalese that lead to permanent sterility. They alleged such chemicals are even spread on garments and intimate wear sold to Sinhala customers. This was campaigned vigorously through social media and by ‘word of mouth’ quoting unheard of sources as ‘proof’. On February 26, a restaurant in Ampara was stormed by a Sinhala mob and an employee was forced to accept that they mixed such drugs when serving food for Sinhalese. That video went viral on social media.

The GMOA as the voice of medical professionals had the social responsibility of countering this false anti-Muslim propaganda with factual evidence on sterility. The GMOA could have easily addressed the media and provided a guarantee to society that there is no such drug or chemical available that can make a person permanently barren.

Though the GMOA have been vociferous against the ETCA (Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement) that is hardly about health and medicine, and was against SAITM, they have not thought it their duty to step into educate people and avoid an unnecessary, unwanted
violence in society.

They instead remain silent supporters of this anti Muslim campaign.

So are academics. They have not engaged in serious intellectual discourses on politics of racial violence, of majoritarian extremism, that in Sri Lanka is not just racism, but “structural racism”. It is academics, who should raise issues with national education being a facilitator of “structural racism” beyond Sinhala language and its use in State administration.

Allegations over Police inaction and STF collusion in Digana, serious concerns about Police inquiries and investigations in Ampara and about pro-Sinhala bias in the legal profession and in the Judiciary- all reflect the depth of structural racism in the country.

These are issues that the academia should have been discussing with due intellectual honesty. The University teachers trade union federation the FUTA could have been the collective platform for such intellectual discourses within the academia and for the undergrad population. The FUTA never stood up to that social responsibility to date. It was also meek and weak in condemning racial attacks against minority communities.

The Sinhala FUTA leadership did not even introduce the Muslim academic representatives who were seated in the head table during the media briefing they held on 12 March, to condemn recent ‘communal violence’ as they termed it. The FUTA leadership thus played out a pathetic role in addressing the media avoiding their academic and intellectual responsibility in challenging the school curricula and syllabi.

Backed by urban Sinhala Buddhist trader community, such silent and willing compromise by professionals and academics is one major reason that allows space for these small groups to make big noise and create mayhem. It is their synergic effect that allows continued Sinhala Buddhist violence to keep coming back, more violent every time they emerge. Mainstream media and political leaderships then give them undue publicity and prominences, making them look much larger and dynamic than they are in real life.

Any Government with a decent and a civilised approach to politics that has authority over the State, can easily lock them up using law of the land and in the name of peace, unity and stability. ICCPR Act provides necessary provisions if the Government can find a strong backbone to implement the law. Continued emergence of these violent Sinhala Buddhist groups is proof that the Government is unable to command authority. This was what President Sirisena recently told a Sinhala newspaper, where he found fault with the Human Rights Commission (HRCSL). He needs to compromise with security forces and the Police and thus cannot allow HR as in Europe, was what he said.


He forgets as signatory to almost all international conventions and Charters, we are obliged to honour human and civil rights of citizens without bias or prejudice to any ethnicity, religion, caste, gender or employment/livelihood.

The President needs to know the HRCSL is not commenting on European standards, but on civilised human standards, he is held responsible for. It is also evident this unity government of President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe is not going to challenge Sinhala Buddhist extremism.

They are now more concerned about social media and worried about paying compensation to victims. That is made possible and easy for the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government with urban middle-class demands for unrestricted social media access than eradicating Sinhala Buddhist extremism. Therefore it becomes necessary for more concerned and politically aware citizenry groups to forge a tri-ethnic national platform to challenge this Sinhala Buddhist extremism, politically and stand for reason and justice to all citizens.

Muslim leaders need to understand that they cannot continue their frictions with and animosities against Tamil people with continued efforts to win the confidence of dominant Sinhala Buddhist politics. On the flip side, Tamil leaders need to know it is this same Sinhala Buddhist extremism that denies them their share of power in a united, single country. Thus they should also understand that they stand to gain, if they can unite with Muslim people in standing strong against Sinhala Buddhist extremism.

Therefore it is now an unavoidable ‘unity’ the country requires in a tri-ethnic national platform against this Sinhala Buddhist extremism, a violent menace that wrecks havoc on humanity.

A strong national platform with Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim presence is required to condemn and challenge Sinhala Buddhist extremism, while demanding the Government they walk their talk.