Buddhist clergy stage protest rally

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 01 October 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The interim report of the Sinhala Commission continued to create powerful reverberations in the Sinhala polity as more than 1500 people, including five hundred Buddhist monks, gathered yesterday to muster public support for the 'Sinhala cause'.

The 500 Buddhist monks and a thousand supporters assembled at Colombo's Victoria Park (now renamed Vihara Mahadevi park) to publicise their 'Sinhala cause'. This is anticipated to be the first of many such meetings as the monks who spoke yesterday threatened to carry their campaign to all parts of the Sinhala region.

It is no idle threat. The Buddhist clergy wield considerable influence with the Sinhala public, particularly in the rural areas of the south. The clergy has traditionally been able to whip up public sentiment against the Tamils with relative ease.

The Sinhala commission is an organisation formed by the Buddhist leadership to look into the grievances of the Sinhala people since independence. It has no official status, but is accorded considerable status by the clergy, which in turn gives it authority within the Sinhala public.

A succession of Sinhalese governments have ruled Sri Lanka, implementing laws, such as the Sinhala Only act, which discriminate against other races on the island. The Sri Lankan military is also overwhelmingly Sinhalese.

The Sinhala commission unveiled a report last week campaigning against the Sri Lankan government's devolution proposals. Despite being considerably watered down, the Buddhist clergy are firmly opposed to the package, saying it would lead to the break up of the country.

The Buddhist clergy have consistently opposed any concessions to the Tamil people and maintain that there is no discrimination in Sri Lanka.

Wary of the Buddhist clergy's influence, the government's proposals give Buddhism 'a first and foremost place in Sri Lanka' and make it illegal to even solicit public opinion on separation.

However, the volatile situation has been fueled by the contempt openly expressed by a government minister for the Sinhala commission's report. The Buddhist clergy are asking the government to apologise for the 'insult' and have blacklisted the minister, effectively barring him from entering a Buddhist temple.

Political observers in Colombo said the People's Alliance regime is already showing clear signs of buckling to the hard-liners pressure, by issuing confusing statements and offering lame excuses to prevent this protest campaign from developing into general unrest.

Such unrest could easily snowball into considerable public opposition to the Sri Lankan government, particularly as the skyrocketing cost of living and widespread corruption are contributing to widespread dissatisfaction.

 

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