Rashmin Tirimanne de Silva
On the 25th and 26th of January a group of monks came in to conflict with the law when Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero, General Secretary of the infamous Bodu Bala Sena stormed into Court and disrupted proceedings by giving a speech which led to the Homagama Magistrate issuing an arrest warrant in his name on charges of contempt of Court. The following day a group of people, including some monks, created an uproar outside the Court upon his arrest by the Homagama Police.
The immediate response from any Buddhist when questioned about the eyebrow-raising behaviour of certain monks in Sri Lanka is that “They don’t stand for true Buddhism.” However, from Aluthgama to Homagama and everything in-between the nature of violence under the guise of religion and patriotism has been seen by everyone. This is not in anyway an abuse by Buddhism itself or by those monks who are devoted to the true principles of it but by a select few on a different agenda and may even come across to some as an abuse of the status that the religion itself holds in the country as the majority religion. We are proud to call ourselves a Buddhist country and celebrate our Poya days with gusto, all the while being okay with impostors using a religious garment for all the ‘benefits’ it brings.
A bigger problem?
An undisputed fact is that the law is supreme in a country irrespective of whether Gods walk amongst us mortals or not, and on several occasions Sri Lanka has been quite confident in stating that the Rule of Law is a prevalent principle of governance. However as commendable as the Homagama Magistrate’s actions were, the un-religious rise of our majority religion has gone unchecked for a long time by the religion itself and the rest of the country. Too long perhaps. It would be wrong to allow organizations such as the BBS to represent Buddhism in the island but sadly the questionable behaviour of monks is not only in relation to the discrimination of minority groups by organizations that were listed as a terrorist group. There have even been several violent clashes with the police on many of these occasions which may highlight a more widespread issue than just the BBS and may raise the question whether the same attitude would have been adopted if the creators of unrest were of a religion other than that of the majority.
The danger of a calm sea
As a religion, or a philosophy as some would consider it, with the absence of deities, Buddhism would seem the least likely with the chance of being radicalized since there is little room for diverse interpretations of one single teaching to be convoluted and muddied up to represent radical ideas. However it was not at all long ago that the Rohingya Muslims faced persecution at the hands of the Rakhine Buddhists in Burma. The other religious communities in Sri Lanka have faced similar, although admittedly to a lesser extent, discrimination in terms of violence and hate speech from a party comprising of Buddhists monks irrespective of the extent of religious representation.
One thing is for sure. In this conflict it was the law that prevailed. Mr Upul Jayasooriya PC, Former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka felt that it was the duty of the entire citizen body to condemn the events that took place on the 25th and 26th of January.
“This person’s criminal behaviour is of public knowledge. After the communal riots in Aluthgama I spoke to the then Attorney General and urged that Galagodaaththe Gnanasara be charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for inciting hatred among religious groups. Whether the disappearance of journalist Pradeep Ekneligoda was by the Army, the Police, politicians or even the head of the state the law is one and has to apply to everyone. Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, Member of Parliament, went to prison to visit these suspects in connection with the disappearance of Pradeep Ekneligoda and came out and made a public statement that they were political prisoners and had to be released. The Bar Association didn’t do anything to condemn this.
This battle has now been taken over by Galagodaaththe Gnanasara, he shouldn’t be called a priest, when he stormed the court house where he was not required to attend and forcibly made a speech disrupting the Court proceedings and subverting the justice of the Court.
While commending the police for controlling the situation this is a matter that the entire citizen body should condemn. The Bar Association should file contempt charges against him and everyone who joined him. We expect the police to do a thorough investigation and find who joined the suspect to breach the law in the presence of the court house.
This is an assault on the judiciary in total disrespect and contempt of the great religion of Buddhism.
The law didn’t take its course in the former regime but now it is working. The law has done what it should do and I commend the courage of the Judge”.
Geoffrey Alagaratnam PC, President Bar Association of Sri Lanka had this to say regarding the incidents in Homagama
“The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) strongly condemns the conduct of a group of persons including Buddhist monks at the Homagama Magistrate’s Courts Thursday, attempting to obstruct the decision of the learned Magistrate to remand the Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera. The BASL calls for the immediate arrest of these individuals and calls upon the authorities to deal with them according to law.
It is noted that the BASL has previously drawn the attention of the government and the authorities to the conduct of Ven. Gnanasara Thero and his organisation and the need to curb their unlawful activities.
The BASL also condemns the conduct of the Ven. Gnanasara Thera at the Homagama Magistrate’s Courts on the 25th of January 2016. The BASL notes that the Ven. Gnanasara Thero had insulted and attempted to intimidate the learned Magistrate as well as the Senior State Counsel who was present representing the Attorney General in the case relating to the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda.
All, attempts to intimidate judges, lawyers and investigators who perform a vital role in the administration of justice should not only be condemned but vehemently resisted by all right thinking people interested in making our nation a place where the Rule of Law prevails.
The learned Magistrate has acted in an independent and fearless manner for which he must be commended”
Time for attention
It is reassuring that the judiciary under the current Government is taking steps that need to be taken but contempt of court is a mere slap on the wrists. Less if at all. Ask Aluthgama. It is evident that our majority religion has to be given more attention to ensure that it is not used as a weapon of immunity. This is as ripe a time as it can be to bring about such checks and balances with a political environment in place that is working on bringing about executive, legislative and judicial change. Yes, the BBS does not represent Buddhism in any sense but nevertheless as unimportant as the cover of the book maybe it is nevertheless the cover that you see that even makes you pick the book up. We must not forget that the chapter on fundamental rights in our constitution is not just to fill up space. As much as there are calls to protect our territorial integrity from unwanted foreign influences we first need to protect ourselves from eating ourselves from the inside out.