05/29/2013, 00.00
SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka split over Buddhist monk who took his own life in protest against conversions

Melani Manel Perera
The Ven Bowatte Indrarathana Thero was cremated yesterday in a solemn ceremony amidst tight security. Some in the country said they understood his action even though it was de facto against religious freedom. Others said his action was not worth it, expressing fear that it might lead to copycats. For many ordinary Sri Lankans, instead of self-immolating the venerable should have opposed the killing that took place during the country's civil war.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Buddhist monks, politicians, activists, and many ordinary citizens yesterday attended the cremation ceremony of Venerable Bowatte Indrarathana Thero, a Buddhist religious leader who took his own life on 24 May, the feast day of Vesak, to protest against "conversions and cattle slaughter."  The funeral was held amidst tight security for fear of riots and violence.

The monk and his extreme act set off mixed reactions in government circles and civil society. Some said they understood his "sacrifice" on behalf of his cause; others slammed the deed, fearing it might set of copycats.

Ven Thero Bowatte Indrarathana poured two litres of petrol on his body and then set himself on fire on 25 May in front of Sri Dalada Maligawa temple.

Before he died, he cried out that his act was not a suicide attempt, but a "sacrifice against cattle slaughter and conversions."

In the past, the monk had appealed to Parliament to ban Buddhist conversions to other faiths, a sensitive issue in a country split by sectarian violence.

Several supporters of Sinhala Ravaya, a Buddhist Sinhalese extremist group, spoke about his "heroic act" in defence of the nation's values ​​.

Udaya Gammanpila, a member of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party, promised to "transform his demands into reality" through a law that would soon be "approved in parliament."

However, equally large segments of the Buddhist community and civil society have criticised the venerable's action because the price of a life is not worth paying for his cause.

Some senior monks and JHU lawmaker Ellawela Medhananda reject the idea that committing suicide to save cows is a "sacrifice".

Many ordinary Sri Lankans are also wondering why the monk decided to take such a dramatic stance against religious freedom, i.e. the right to convert, and the rituals of other faiths, when in fact he did or said nothing about the countless number of deaths that occurred during the country's 30 years of civil war.

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