A Buddhist monk’s death threat to a Tamil village officer in Batticaloa — in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province — has gone viral on social media, worrying many who are hoping for speedy reconciliation in the war-torn country. Such incidents could adversely affect ongoing efforts towards reconciliation, civil society organisations have noted with concern.
The video shows the monk using foul language at the provincial government staff. The angry monk, identified as Ambitiya Sumanaratna Thera by local media, is also seen shouting at the village officers in Sinhala, “you all [are] Tigers, you all [are] Tigers”, referring to the LTTE.
Located along Sri Lanka’s east coast, the Tamil-majority district of Batticaloa is also home to a sizeable population of Muslims, and a tiny population — about 1.3 per cent — of Sinhalese, as per records of Sri Lanka’s Department of Census and Statistics.
The monk’s remarks, according to local Tamil newspaper Veerakesari , were made in the context of a controversy surrounding illegal occupation of land, reportedly by the Sinhalese people. The Tamil officers, seen standing quietly in the video, were there for follow-up action, reports said.
A senior government official in Colombo said such incidents would not be tolerated, as they “damage reconciliation efforts”.
“The police will soon refer the matter to the Magistrate Court in Batticaloa, and we are keen that an impartial investigation be undertaken for due legal action,” Ranga Kalansooriya, director-general, Government Information Department. told The Hindu .
Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka have in the past made news for resorting to hate speech. Two years ago, leader of hard-line Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thera, made a controversial speech with derogatory references to Muslims in the coastal town of Aluthgama, a town to the south of Colombo. His remarks sparked violent communal clashes, claiming three lives and injuring nearly 80 people.
However, the country has also had Buddhist monks at the helm of the campaign for reforms that preceded the country’s historic January 2015 elections. “This very small minority of violence-prone and foul-mouthed monks are not only profaning a religion of peace, but also disgracing the memory of such champions of civility and reconciliation as the late Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera, an architect and inspirer of the reforms now taking place,” observed the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a Colombo-based advocacy organisation.
Referring to recent incidents of hate speech, including the monk’s outburst in Batticaloa, the organisation observed that the disturbing events come at a time when the country is still less than halfway through the political and constitutional reforms that were popularly mandated. “They imperil the establishment of the necessary foundations of reconciliation, justice, and good governance — which are the bedrock of our future peace, prosperity, and happiness — and threaten to take us back to a dark and rancorous era from which we were at last emerging,” the CPA said in a statement.