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Sri Lanka's Buddhists Question Extremist Sinhala-Buddhists

A number of Sinhala Buddhists are standing up against the recent violence against Muslim and hateful speech initiated by the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), an extremist Sinhala-Buddhist organisation based in Colombo.

A candle-light vigil against hatred and bigotry was met with protests from police and members of the Bodu Bala Sena before it could begin at Havelock Road Colombo on the evening of April 12, 2013.

A police battalion and riot squad arrived on the scene. Bodhu Bala Sena members started accusing the organisers of the vigil of distorting the national anthem and called for their arrest pointing at a chant sheet to be recited at the vigil. The police arrested five vigil participants and dispersed the crowd who later re-assembled near Gower Street. The arrested individuals were later released.

Legacy of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)

The Bodu Bala Sena, created by hardline Monks Kirama Wimalajothi and Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, has generated a lot of controversy since its launch on 07 May 2012. Many of their actions were provocative to people of other religions.

In a meeting in Maharagama, Colombo on 17 February 2013 BBS general secretary Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara stated “This is a government created by Sinhala Buddhists and it must remain Sinhala Buddhist. This is a Sinhala country, Sinhala government. Democratic and pluralistic values are killing the Sinhala race”. He also told the crowd at the rally that they “must become an unofficial civilian police force against Muslim extremism. These so-called democrats are destroying the Sinhala race”.

In February 2013 BBS leader Kirama Wimalajothi called for banning burqas in the country. They held large rallies throughout February 2013 calling for the abolition of the Muslim halal system which forced Muslim clerics to drop the practice of labeling of Halal products (see Global Voices report).

Candlelight vigil

A Facebook group titled ‘Buddhists Questioning Bodu Bala Sena’ recently announced a candle-light vigil of all races and religious groups to peacefully remind the buddhist monks the words of the Buddha which preaches “non violence”.

The announcement read:

THE VIGIL TO SAFEGUARD THE DHAMMA: 7 pm, Friday the 12th of April. In front of the Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya Thummulla Junction at No. 32, Havelock Road Colombo 05. Like if you will be there. Bring candles to share. We will be softly chanting about right speech.

Invitation to the candlelight vigil. Image courtesy Buddhists Questioning Bodu Bala Sena Facebook Page

Invitation to the candlelight vigil. Image courtesy Buddhists Questioning Bodu Bala Sena Facebook Page

Here is a FAQ on the purpose of the vigil published in the Facebook page.

Blogger Abdul Halik at Going Global writes about the participants:

The crowd was diverse; academics, theater and arts, media, civil society, corporate, intellectual and just young people concerned with the state of affairs.

The blogger asks:

How do you mobilize ‘the rest’ to participate? how do you turn this into a ‘people’s movement’?

Journalist and Blogger Meg questioned cops favoring BBS members in trying to disrupt the vigil. She explained:

The print-outs that the attendees had with them were not, in fact, a new National Anthem, but a Buddhist prayer that they had planned to chant at the vigil.

She posts some pictures of the event.

Journalist Malinda Seneviratne provides a critical first hand account of the vigil. However former ambassador Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka at Groundviews posts a rebuttal on Malinda's piece. Groundviews questions the role of the police and posts a number of audio interviews including this of Jake Orloff, who participated at the candle-light vigil:

Ramishka Dasanayaka (@ramishkad), a blogger from Kandy tweeted:

@ramishkad (Ramishka Dasanayaka): So Bodu Bala Sena disrupted an anti-hate protest. Now I'm beginning to wonder if there really is a difference between LTTE, Thalaiban and BBS

Veteran journalist D.B.S. Jeyaraj (@dbsjeyaraj) tweeted:

@dbsjeyaraj (D.B.S.JEYARAJ): An Eye-witness Account of How the Police Suppressed Peaceful candle light Vigil Opposite Bodu Bala Sena Headquarters http://t.co/0YexuQzmMG

Blogger Kath Noble has some hope:

The monks of the Bodu Bala Sena have inadvertently done Sri Lanka a favour. Their speeches are so crass and their actions so crude that they have provoked a backlash – the media is full of criticism of their anti-Muslim campaign, much of it coming from Sinhala Buddhists themselves.

Sri Lankan Muslims hold a placards during a protest after Friday prayers outside a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Image by Colombo Wire. Copyright Demotix. Friday, March 22, 2013

Sri Lankan Muslims hold a placards during a protest after Friday prayers outside a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Image by Colombo Wire. Copyright Demotix. Friday, March 22, 2013

Subha Wijesiriwardena, a dancer and blogger writes:

The Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya and other similar groups obviously have a clear agenda – we are done with the Tamils, so let’s make the Muslims our new enemy. This suits the agenda of our current regime, in fact they were just done with a civil war and wondering how to keep the masses further mesmerised, hypnotised – fear of a common enemy, naturally, is just the way they’d like to do it.

She asks:

The battle lines are being drawn. The fundamentalists are always quick to do so. Where do you stand?

Recently The Sunday Leader reported that the government is thinking about banning a number of extremist groups including Bodu Bala Sena.

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