TamilWeek, Nov 6 - 12, 2005
For a secular Democratic Lanka

By K. Godage

Is our state a secular one or is it some quasi-religious state? The nature of our state
is of fundamental concern to us. Secondly, is Mahinda Rajapakse intending to hand
over the chickens to the wolf to mind?

We have, due to certain unfortunate circumstances, (which led the Sinhala Buddhist
to become paranoid that their religion and culture which had been preserved by the
Monks through the Portuguese, Dutch and British periods, was once again under
threat from misguided Evangelical Christians), allowed Monks into Parliament.

But if a Referendum were to be held now the majority of Buddhists in this country
would vote against the participation of Monks in politics. The last thing our people
would want is a monk as a Minister of the state. They would always remain a powerful
pressure group but there is where they should remain.

The so-called threat can be countered not through legislation but by many other
means. The Monks and certain lay groups have become paranoid; they should not
seek to infect us with their fears. This problem has arisen only because of the ‘sins’ of
omission of the monks and Buddhist lay society, they do not reach out to the poor and
vulnerable.

The big temples collect millions from devotees but do they use this money to help the
poor? Do they do any type of social work? What is the missionary work that they do?
Do they by practice set an example to the youth of this country and the public at
large? But for the Kalutara Bodhi Trust their record of social work would pale into
insignificance when compared to the work being done by Christian missionaries.

Can we then blame those who quite sincerely believe that they are indulging in the
highest ‘Punya kriyawe’ by helping the poor and needy and using the opportunity to
convert to their faith.

Yes these new Evangelical Christian groups may be ‘preying’ on the poor and
vulnerable with the help of foreign money and in the process creating a certain “Fifth
column’ and therefore a security threat, which is one of a kind but whose fault is this?
We are incidentally speaking here of conversions of Buddhists to Christianity not of
Christians being converted.

The blame should fairly and squarely be placed on the Buddhists of this country. The
monks should go out and preach the Dhamma and also live it, they should lead
exemplary lives; what do the so-called YMBAs (which have only the elderly managing
them though they are meant to be Associations of Young Men!!—these ‘Young Men’
are invariably over 70) do? Can they match the work of Christian organizations?
There is indeed much that Buddhist organizations in this country could do; for
example they could establish facilities to teach English in the towns of Lanka, they
could run dispensaries and maybe even rural hospitals, they can comfort those in
pain, care for the sick and dying, arrange for hospital visits, use the temples to
organize societies to help the poor, and indulge in other such acts of kindness.

We must not forget that our core values are non-violence, compassion and tolerance.
These same values are also the values of others in our multi-religious multi ethnic
society ---so there can be unity in diversity.

What, may I ask, are the functions of the Buddha Sasana Ministry? My impression was
that, in terms of the Constitution to protect Buddhism; that if they perceive of any
threat they should not only take preventive action but also be proactive. One of their
more important activities should have been to coordinate with the Social Services
Ministry and other relevant Ministries and mobilize temples to reach out to their flock.

If they have not done this it is because the politicians who have been in charge of the
Ministry and the bureaucrats have not been creative. If only they had addressed the
problems of the Buddhist poor and mobilized the temples to tackle the problem, the
Evangelists would have had no space to operate and we would not have been faced
with this explosive problem. The same goes for the unfortunate, much exploited poor
of the plantations whom Maheswaran states are being ‘preyed’ upon by Korean
Moonies. As for the monks, we do not need monks either in Parliament or as Ministers
to safeguard Buddhism in this country, all we need is for the Monks and laymen to
reach out and touch the poor and vulnerable, to make them feel that we care.

We do not need the State to help us either to protect Buddhism, for Buddhism is not
based on myth or superstitious belief and can unlike some religions, face the advance
of science without trepidation. Sri Lankan Buddhists need to be thought the essence
of Buddhism for they are today worshippers of Hindu Gods and other God-men; Be
that as it may religion is personal and the state should not intrude; we mix the two at
our peril.

India our great neighbour makes proud of her boast that she is a Secular State; even
the BJP claimed it was. Mani Shanker Iyer, India’s Minister for Petroleum, compared
the socio political ideologies of India with that of Sri Lanka and stated, “Secularism
and our nationhood are inseparable. Secularism is the bedrock of our nationhood.

It is the sine qua non of our existence. A secular India alone is an India that can
survive. And perhaps an India that is not secular does not deserve to survive. Indians
need only to look across the Palk Straits and Adams bridge to understand what
happens to a multi-religious nation if it loses its secularism to mean-minded
majoritarianism;” How absolutely true. Yes a Sri Lanka that is not secular does not
deserve to survive. Of India’s population of a billion people almost 85% are Hindus.
They are a people who have been ruled by the British for 200 years, experienced 700
years of Muslim rule. Don’t forget Buddhist Emperors Ashok from the 3rd Century up
to Harshavardaana in the 7th Century also ruled them. Yes this country of 85%
Hindus has a Muslim President, a Roman Catholic as the chairperson of the ruling
Congress, a Sikh as Prime Minister. Is this not something to be proud about? I
certainly admire them for it.

Hindu nationalism reared its head in recent times with the RSS, the Vishva Hindu
Parishad, Sang Parivar and the BJP, after the passing away of the architect of Secular
India Jawarhalal Nehru; but the BJP has today become a tolerant relatively secular
party itself for it understands that India cannot only be a Hindustan or a ‘Hindu India’ in
the present world.

There was indeed a time when Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and
even British who inhabited this land were proud to be associated with it and call it
home; we even had a Englishman who was a member of our Parliament (referred to
fondly as Singleton Salmon). We had Freeman, a Brit representing Anuradhapura in
the State Council! Those were the days when we were one Ceylonese family; but all
that is behind us now; a parochial insular education coupled with populist
irresponsible politics has spawned a parochial people who have become adapt at
naval gazing.

If we seek to build one integrated nation then we should have a strategy and a road
map; Most unfortunately, our leaders at the time of independence had no vision and
the foresight to conceive of one Ceylonese nation, weaving unity out of diversity.

Our leaders were neither professional nor realistic in the manner they handled our
affairs. We need to learn from our own past and from others particularly India,
Malaysia and Singapore in this regard. It is never too late, what we need is leadership.
Could we expect the metaphorical worm to turn after this election and see leadership
of the quality of Lee Kwan Yu and Mahathir Mohamed emerge or am I being absurdly
unrealistic and indulging in silly optimism?
We have no alternative but to live in hope. They must leave aside their frivolous
promises and set about the matter of involving the real stake-holders, all the people of
this country through national integration and build a truly national identity in a secular
Sri Lanka, where all its people can live in security as equals, with dignity and justice.

The writer is a retired Diplomat

[Courtesy: Daily Mirror]
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