Diabolical act of desecration

Daily mirror, 05 April 2010

The Catholic Bishops' conference in Sri Lanka has been quite vocal for some time about the undesirable elements that are trying to pit Buddhists against Catholics. The accusing finger has long been pointed at some new churches and prayer centres which observe anti-Buddhist practices that amount to sacrilege thereby provoking the Buddhists.

Due to a variety of reasons, mostly due to stiff resistance the frequency of such incidents has witnessed a downward trend and the two religious communities today enjoy fairly good vibes as a result. This religious harmony has certainly contributed to the social stability of the country.

Against this backdrop, one was indeed quite shocked to hear what happened at Elamalpotha in Dambulla on March 26 where a senior government minister and his son had allegedly desecrated a Buddha statue. While attempts are made to make the incident look purely politically motivated, those in the area had attributed the act of vandalism to the influence of the minister's wife and the remarks from leading monks indicate that they had been quite concerned about her anti-Buddhist behaviour for some time.

One only hopes that the episode will not open a can of worms on the eve of elections and sour the relations between the Buddhists and the Catholics and Christians.

The fact remains that the sight of the Buddha statue with its broken neck disturbs any sensible citizen, Buddhist or non-Buddhist. It has the potential to provoke emotional Buddhists for strong action and create a sense of apathy among non-Buddhists towards the act of intolerance.

While one is yet to substantiate the Dambulla episode with proof that the minister and his son were behind the act, the incident had created a degree of unrest in the area. Attempts have been made by some groups to attribute the act purely to the intra-party rivalry among the UPFA candidates in Matale. However the villagers are refusing to buy that argument and urge that the minister and the son be brought to book.

As per Article 9 of the Constitution the minister being part of the Cabinet is duty-bound to 'protect and foster the Buddha Sasana'. Now that he had allegedly desecrated the statue one wonders what kind of punishment would await the minister, if proven guilty.

The danger of this kind of incidents is their potential to snowball into major events with the chances of anti-peace elements mobilizing innocent civilians to turn violent. One expects that the UPFA leadership would look at the episode with the seriousness it very well deserves.

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Himal Southasian