The Rohingya refugee issue, which was thrown Bangladesh into a crisis, is certainly having its spillover effect in Sri Lanka too. Some 30 Rohingya refugees, who had arrived in the country, as early as April this year, fleeing Myanmar's military crackdown, were dealt a double whammy the other day coming under a mob attack here. True to form the mob was led by a group of monks.
According to our front page report, in yesterday's edition, police were forced to move these refugees from their temporary safe house in Mt.Lavinia after a mob led by a handful of Buddhist monks attacked the multi-storied compound where they (refugees) were being housed. The 31 refugees, including 16 small children, were initially placed under police protection, after the group gathered outside the building demanding that they be expelled from the country. The police had removed the refugees after the organisation, calling itself Jathika Balamuluwa, insisted on their immediate eviction. However shortly after they were brought back to their temporary home, the monks and their supporters blocked the Galle road and pelted stones, smashed windows and furniture inside the building, while the refugees remained huddled in an upper storey of the building.
It is estimated that over half a million of Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh amidst, what some western government called, genocide against the this Muslim minority community in Myanmar, by the military. The multitudes continuing to flee Myanmar, in increasing numbers, have caused a huge refugee problem in neighbouring Bangladesh. India too, it is reported, is bracing itself for a massive influx, as the military in Myanmar continues with its relentless campaign. Under the circumstances, there is a justifiable apprehension in Sri Lanka, too, of an invasion of Rohingya refugees to this country, by most.
But, mob attacks led by Buddhist monks on a hapless group of a few dozen refugees, would certainly not be endorsed by a majority of Sri Lankans, who went out of their way to protect innocent Tamils who were attacked by mobs during black July, even risking their lives. Besides, Buddhist monks are the last persons one would expect to be in the forefront of such attacks, given the sublime teaching of the Enlightened One, to show love and compassion to one and all. Television footage showed some of these monks running helter skelter, as if possessed, to invade the building, housing the Myanmar refugees, and scuffling with police, which certainly is not conduct associated with the serene demeanour of a member of the Bikkhu community.
However, it is no surprise when one considers the identity of these monks, who behaved violently and in a manner disgraceful to the robe. These were all political monks, who have been running amok since the fall of their mentor, guide and philosopher in January 2015. These were the very Bikkhus who were in the forefront to collect money to pay-off the compensation of two convicts, who misused public funds, by sending novice monks on pindapatha rounds.
There is today a huge outcry by sections of the Sangha, to the remarks made by Sarath Fonseka and Ranjan Ramanayake. They charge the duo for insulting the Sasanaya and denigrating the saffron robe. One would have thought that the conduct of Buddhist monks, or clergy of any other religion, should be exemplary and display a sense of sobriety in public, as men entrusted with spreading the message of the religion, they champion. But can any right thinking person say, with any conviction, that the conduct of some of our monks confirm to this worldview of members of the clergy. Is the kind of aggression displayed by these marauding monks, where some were seen pelting stones on the dwelling of some innocent refugees, fleeing death, compatible with the teachings of the Buddha?
The Mahanayakas should be more assertive and take measures to rein in some of their disciples who do harm to Buddhism and the Sasana. The foot ought to have been put down the moment a pindapatha was organised to collect money on behalf of two convicts. True, the Sangha have been in the forefront to advise the rulers and protect the country at times of peril. Also aggressive behaviour of the Sangha is not of recent origin. The signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord saw the Sangha take to the streets. But what we are today witnessing is members of the Sangha being used as tools of a political project. Media conferences are addressed by monks, the content of which bear striking similarity to the issues canvassed by Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Joint Opposition.
There was not even a whimper made when the country's war winning army commander was thrown behind bars, the constitution manipulated to make Rajapaksa, President for life, or, when the country's first female chief justice was thrown out on her ear.
Be that as it may, the government should take swift measures to deal with the Rohingya refugee issue, before things escalate, permitting the JO and their political monks to inflame another Ahungalle.
Daily News, September 29, 2017