Meera Srinivasan, in The Madras Hindu, 28 September 2019, where the title is “When the Saffron Robe has the Final Say”
The recent passing away of a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka and his subsequent cremation in the northern district of Mullaitivu has brought to the fore an old concern — the power wielded by the Buddhist clergy and the impunity shielding them. It wasn’t the monk’s cremation that was the problem, it was the site.
On Monday, a group of saffron-robed men, led by controversial monk Gnanasara Thero of the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), gathered near the Neeravi Pillaiyar Kovil (temple) well in Mullaitivu, even as their supporters swiftly made arrangements for the cremation to be held there. They completed the final rites, defying a court order barring it on the temple’s premises. Around noon the same day, the Mullaitivu magistrate court had ruled that the cremation be held by the sea, near the Army camp facing the temple.
“When I returned from the court to the temple, I was shocked to see the monks going ahead with the cremation there, despite the court ruling against it. There were some 40 bhikkhus (monks) and maybe around 200 supporters with them,” said Kanagarathinam Sugash, Attorney-at-Law, who appeared for the temple administration in the case.
As the news spread, several locals — mostly Hindu Tamils — gathered around the temple in protest. “When I tried to draw the monks’ attention to the court order, one of them, speaking in broken Tamil, turned very aggressive towards me and told me — ‘This is a Sinhala Buddhist country and monks come first, they are above all’,” recalled Mr. Sugash, who was assaulted in the ensuing clash. The Jaffna-based lawyer found the monk’s remarks most telling. “He [the monk] was effectively telling me that monks are above the courts, above law and order.”
By then, dozens of policemen had gathered at the spot. “They didn’t allow me or the people to enter the temple,” said Ms Shanthi Sriskandarasa, the Mullaitivu parliamentarian from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), representing Tamils of the north and east. “Some of our youngsters were very angry. Instead of ensuring that a court order is adhered to, the police were busy protecting the monks,” said the MP, who plans to initiate legal action.
“The whole incident showed us how Buddhist monks in this country can get away with just about anything, it is very worrying,” she added. Ms. Sriskandarasa’s concern has to be seen in context.
Presidential pardon for monk
In May this year, President Maithripala Sirisena pardoned Buddhist priest Gnanasara Thero, who was serving a prison term after being convicted for contempt of court. The monk is notorious for hate speech targeting minorities, particularly Muslims, and is also accused of inciting anti-Muslim violence in the past. Monday’s incident has heightened anxiety among Tamils, who see the monk’s assertion of authority as yet another attempt towards “Sinhala colonisation” of the island’s Tamil-majority north and east.
In the post-war decade, locals have often pointed to new Buddha statues emerging in different parts of the north and east, where most residents are Tamil Hindus, Christians, and Muslims. In several cases, the military has erected the statues, residents said.
When contacted, a police officer-in-charge (OIC) in Mullaitivu said, “An inquiry is being conducted to look into what happened on Monday.” The BBS, according to local news reports, has claimed its leader was “not aware” of the court order at the time of the cremation.
Meanwhile, lawyers in the north and east are striking work, protesting against the violation of a court order. They have decided to raise the matter with the Attorney General before returning to courts.
Reacting to the developments, Northern Province Governor Suren Raghavan urged politicians not to create communal and religious tensions ahead of the presidential election. “At the moment, southern politicians are in the north in order to stir up things with regard to the final rites of the chief incumbent of Gurukanda Nayaru Rajamaha Viharaya. These are primitive and tribal political campaigns. We clearly know that the northern votes are a decisive factor in presidential elections,” the state-run Daily News quoted him as saying.
The Tamil vote may be crucial in the polls, but that has not prompted any strong condemnation of the monks’ questionable actions by national leaders. The people of Mullaitivu, along with many others elsewhere, are watching how the judiciary and state will respond to a blatant defiance of a court order.
Sampanthan urges President to order a probe …..The Island 30/9/19
TNA leader and MP for Trincomalee R. Sampanthan has urged President Maithripala Sirisena to ensure that those who cremated a Buddhist prelate’s remains at Chemmalai, Mullaivivu in violation of a court order are brought to justice. Sampanthan has, in a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena, said that failure to have what happened at Neeraviady Pillayar Temple probed properly will only confirm and further encourage the growing trend of impunity and cause immense harm to the country and all its people both nationally and internationally.
“I write to you in regard to the incident that took place on 23rd September 2019 at the premises of the Neeraviyady Pillayar Temple at Chemmalai, Mullaitivu. The facts briefly are as follows,
1) The Neeraviyady Pillayar Temple at Chemmalai Mullaitivu is an ancient Hindu temple which has existed for several centuries.
2) The people living in this area are exclusively Tamil people mostly Hindus.
3) After the War a Buddhist Monk attempted to take possession and control of a part of the Land and establish himself there.
4) This attempted take-over has been resisted by the Tamil Hindu people and this matter has been in dispute for some time.
5) This Buddhist Monk recently died in Colombo. Arrangements were made to take his body from Colombo to Mullaitivu to be cremated within the premises of the said Neeraviyady Pillayar Temple. This was a deliberate act of aggression.
6) This matter was brought to the notice of the Courts at Mullaitivu and an order was made by Court on the 22nd September 2019, prohibiting the corpse of the Buddhist Monk being cremated within the Temple premises.
7) On 23rd of September after due inquiry a further order was made by the Court prohibiting the corpse being cremated within the premises of the Temple. In terms of the Court order the cremation was to take place at an alternative site nearby.
8) Despite the said Court order the corpse was cremated in close proximity to the “Theerthakerni”/Tank in the Temple premises containing Holy water for use by the Deity whereby the temple and the premises were desecrated. Hindus do not even enter a Hindu Temple and its premises for at least a month after the death of a near relation.
9) The Police were present at the site and instead of assisting to implement the order of the Court were seen to be facilitating the actions of the persons who were attempting to cremate the corpse of the Monk within the temple premises.
I would submit that,
(i) Those persons who violated the court order should be dealt with and appropriate action should be taken against them.
(ii) Action should be taken against the Police Officers who failed to implement the order made by the Court and who on the contrary were seen to be facilitating the actions of those persons who violated the Court order and cremated the corpse of the Buddhist Monk within the temple premises.
“These actions indicate the failure of the Law enforcement process and also a violation of the order of the Court amounting to contempt of the Court. These matters need to be investigated.
“I would also state that a Culture of Impunity has been growing in the Country in recent times as a result of the Law not being enforced against alleged offenders. The required investigations have not been conducted and appropriate action has not been taken against such alleged offenders accused of grave violations of Humanitarian and Human Rights Laws. An executive pardon has been given to a person convicted of contempt of Court. A promotion has been given to an officer accused of violations of the Law without due investigations being conducted and appropriate action being taken in respect of such violations. I am not going into details now but your Excellency will understand the matters I am referring to.
“Failure to independently investigate what happened at Neeraviady Pillayar Temple will only confirm and further encourage this growing trend of impunity and cause immense harm to the Country and all its people both nationally and internationally. I would submit that the conduct of the Law enforcement agency the Police, should be investigated and that the persons who violated the orders made by the Court should be dealt with.”