A Role for Religions, Why Now and How

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It is sad that at a reported meeting with the ‘GotaGoGama’ protesters at Galle Face Green, Ven. Omalpe Sobhita Thera ended up declaring that they would not care for the proclamation of emergency or the imposition of curfew, which were already in force, in taking their anti-Rajapaksa protests forward. Alongside him was Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who, instead, appealed for calm, and thankfully so.

The irony was that Ven. Sobhita too, was there along with the good Cardinal only to appeal for calm and peace in these times of social turbulence, whose multiple fallouts may possibly be here to stay for a long time to come – and in forms unimaginable. Cardinal Ranjith too, should have thought wiser than talk of political retribution for the ‘Easter serial blasts’ whereas his calling is to preach the message of the Lord. For the rest of it there was/is law, and he and his faithful should have taken recourse only to the law, before it all came down to His Eminence appealing for peace and non-violence. Amen!

Compared to Cardinal Ranjith, it is sad to note that no other theological leader from any religion has done even this much. Visit or not visit the beach-front, but still appeal for an end to the mindless violence, the ‘Monday Mayhem’ that has changed the course of social history as only the unforgettable and unforgivable the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983 alone has done in living memory.

Maybe, from the side of the Mahanayake Theras, the purported decision of one of the Prelates not to meet with politicians from any camp after they had separately, yet strategically, ignored the former’s non-theological agenda for ensuring the return of political stability. In turn, it would have helped to ensure that the civilian bureaucracy and the Security Forces and their agencies got the right direction on what to do – not stopping with what not to do, as now!

On another occasion, no one would have imagined the ‘peaceful gathering’ returning to Galle Face Green, before the very eyes of those that had promulgated the emergency and announced the nation-wide curfew – who all look as ‘impotent’ in enforcing their duties derived from the Constitution and various laws deriving their authority from the same. But the people are celebrating their unbridled freedom to violate law, which is what the international community seems wanting the Sri Lankan State to yield, now and ever.

It is different from the Security Forces’ inability to end the previous day’s violence, which has since witnessed the demolition of D.A. Rajapaksa’s statue at native Tangalle. If someone drew a mental parallel to the destruction of multiple statutes of Saddam Hussein after the US troops took over Iraq in the Second Gulf War, then the comparison should end there.

Violence begets violence

It is no one’s case that those started off Monday’s violence should go unpunished. There are their pictures in the social media posts. There is still some hope that the police intelligence agencies too were doing their job before it all happened and after all of it ended – which is yet to happen. Still, violence begets only violence and that is what has happened. Still many people in the nation and many nations outside use one set of violence as if to justify the worst of the two.

But deep down the line, every villager or townsperson in whose vicinity a parliamentarian’s house has been burnt, his vehicle torched and memorials and statutes pulled down, the violator is known to the victim and the latter’s people – caste, class an added incentive / insult. One, they are going to take it down through generations, creating social divisions and tensions, when all religions supposedly preach only peace and social harmony.

The worst would be the case when the victims of today end up launching revenge attacks on the perpetrators of today, at a time, venue and method of their choosing. In self-defence in turn, the present-day violators could either go into hiding and retaliate, or stay together upfront, to do precisely as much. The former becomes revolution to begin with, and then takes the form of rebellion, insurgency or whatever. The latter is dubbed lawlessness, calibrated variously. The effect of both is one and the same, if no remedial measures are taken.

It is by now accepted that the nation’s Police Force is politically corrupted down to the last man. The way they stood by when Pogrom-’83 happened, and very many subsequent occasions bear testimony. Cardinal Ranjith has a point when he says that the Easter blasts probe has derailed, to protect the politicos. He should have encouraged the faithful to go to the courts, not curse the guilty through sermons.

Intra-communal

Where does it all lead to – or, should end? Unlike during multiple incidents of ethnic violence, starting with the brutal attack on Tamil protestors at the very same Galle Face Green venue as far back as 1956, this one is not inter-ethnic, not that it’s condonable. Nor is it inter-communal until both sides became well armed (which happened in the case of the Tamils, only when their youth formed armed groups in the mid-seventies, and the LTTE liquidating them all to become the ‘sole representative’ with guns and cyanide capsules for aid).

Today, it is intra-communal, confined near-exclusively to the Sinhala-Buddhist majority. Not that is it is anything better or worse. But through all these, the immediate task of religions and religious-heads in the country is to get down to the business of restoring communal amity and peace. Walk the streets of violence-ridden villages, and towns, walk hand-in-hand with co-religionists, including Hindus and Muslims, talking from where the other had left. Yet, that would only be a beginning when compared to the future tasks, through months and years, if not decades. But it all has to begin here and now.

(The writer is a Policy Analyst and Commentator, based in Chennai, India. Email: [email protected])

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent official policy or position of Ceylon Today

By N. Sathiya Moorthy