Where have Buddhists in Sri Lanka got Privileged treatment?
There is a notion being spread that the Sinhale Buddhists are a privileged lot in Sri Lanka & that Buddhism’s foremost place is responsible & therefore should be removed. This notion is being peddled by the usual culprits who have for donkey’s years being peddling all types of solutions for various problems in society none of which have been workable or even successful. Nevertheless, it is time we take this notion head on & ask some direct questions for those who are making the allegations.
Attempting to erase Sri Lanka’s Buddhist heritage has a long history. It needs to be mentioned as the present efforts to remove Buddhism from the constitution & state patronage is linked to that historical attempt.
Ever since foreign invaders landed in our island nation to destroy the cultural, historical heritage that had been part & parcel of the civilization that proudly stands over 2500 years, efforts to erase that proud past & replace it with anything non-Buddhist has been taking place. Part of that objective is to erase people’s knowledge of the history so that people do not feel proud of their roots/heritage or feel a duty to protect that rich heritage except maintain at a ceremonial level while at the other end, there is a well-planned, well-funded campaign to vilify, embarrass, ridicule the Sinhale Buddhists and make them feel small, feel scared to speak up for their heritage & psychologically adopt a defeatist attitude, giving in to & allowing anyone to walk in & take over their heritage. Confounding matters is that we have to deal with a set of brown sahib Buddhist kalu suddas who have come to think that anything is better than being a Sinhale Buddhist & they are roped in to further embarrass the Sinhale Buddhists.
Before explorers went travelling the world, every land & territory followed their own customs & traditions & had their own social/legal systems. Sinhale, as the island was known at the time of signing the Kandyan Convention ceded rule to the British in 1815, too had its own historical customs, legal systems etc which revolved around the philosophy of Buddhism & practiced by King & all citizens. Therefore, there is a long & cherished link that ties Buddhism to society & that is something no new government voted for a term has any right to delete, diminish or replace. Anything new cannot erase that proud past or overturn that proud past or undermine that proud past. Every country in the world preserves their past history and take pains to teach their history as a national syllabus while legal provisions are set in place with strict rules & regulations denying any new religions to change their past. Same right should apply to Sri Lanka.
Having said that we come to the real question – what is it that the Sinhalese Buddhists are enjoying that the other communities are not enjoying because they are not Sinhala Buddhist? This is the question anyone who is throwing stones at the Sinhala Buddhists must answer.
Do we get special treatment while waiting for the bus/train, are Buddhists given special seating areas? Do the banks have a special queue for Sinhale Buddhists? Do Sinhala Buddhists wear a special attire that differentiates us from the rest? Do we have Buddhist food labels? Do hotels and public places not serve beef because majority of Buddhists do not eat it? Are jobs given to only Sinhale Buddhists? Do Buddhists get special discounts because they are Buddhists? Do hospitals & doctors give preferential treatment to only Buddhists…We can ask many more such questions – so for anyone to claim grievance and blame Sinhala Buddhists, they must show us what special treatment we get that they do not get because they are not Buddhists. We would seriously like to have an answer for this.
Falsely claiming to be discriminated & demanding as solution the erasing of our Buddhist history is nothing we will tolerate or even consider for discussion or even compromise.
Nothing & no one can change the historical past of Sri Lanka & the traditions & customs that come with it & associated to governance, cultural, ritual, traditions etc. The State is bound to foster, protect & preserve Buddhism because all others are institutionalized religions with their own lobby groups that are tied to foreign governments which in turn are connected to NGOs that foreign governments fund & to aid & other assistance given by these governments. Therefore, preservation of Buddhism is mandatory of the State (any government that comes to power)
The state patronage of Buddhism has not in any way stopped plethora of churches, kovils, mosques, prayer centres and now radicalized faiths emerging & being spread across the island. We can even statistically prove this. Some areas where minorities are the majority – the minority rule prevails to such levels that the Buddhist majority have politely shifted residence to avoid conflict and this has created a new electoral demographic change now seen in the delimitation proposals made. Has that ever happened to minorities where majority is the majority? Be honest & answer.
Therefore, before anyone even touches the constitution to replace the place held by Buddhism we want to know where Buddhists are a privileged lot just because we are Buddhists – do we not suffer poverty, unemployment, housing, paying bills, saving money for a rainy day, victims of loans/interest as monthly income is not enough, issues in admitting children to schools, transport & other issues just like the minorities?
As an example just take the present government – the Prime Minister has taken an additional portfolio of developing the Northern province – how fair is this of all the other 8 provinces? The Minister of Higher Education is a Muslim, Minister of Industries & Resettlement is also a Muslim, Minister of State language is a Tamil, Minister of State Education is also a Tamil similarly, how many more minorities hold public & private sector roles are these in keeping with even the ethnic ratio?
It has become a fashionable trend to shout down majority view by flagging it as racist/racial/communal etc… but when minorities flag mono-ethno religious demands we have to accept it as their rights and any questions posed immediately becomes racial profiling.
It is now time we question and demand answers instead of meekly being subjugated.
Sinhalese are just 14.8m people globally against 1.3billion Muslims, 1.2b Christians & 1.1b Hindus. Who are the real minority – it is the Sinhalese Buddhists.
However, we have never said that the island is ours, we have said that the island was built by the Sinhale kings following the Buddhas teachings and that identity is a sine qua non while all other communities are welcome to live peacefully, but no mono-ethno religious ghetto areas/shadow cultural rule/dual governing systems. One law equally applicable to all without discrimination is what we have always promoted and if you count the prison population it clearly showcases Sinhalese do not get favoritism legally either – so we again ask all those claiming Sinhalese to be discriminating them – what is it that we enjoy because we are Buddhists that others are not enjoying because they are not Sinhale Buddhists?
If anyone is being discriminated at all it is the Sinhale Buddhists at every level.
Shenali D Waduge