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  • » 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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    See also

    11/11/2015 SRI LANKA
    The Venerable Sobitha Thero, the “revolutionary" father of Sri Lanka’s democracy, is dead
    A steadfast opponent of the Rajapaksa regime, the Buddhist monk was a staunch advocate for a democratic society. Sri Lankan authorities plan a state funeral and a national day of mourning. Religious leaders, social activists and political prisoners remember his quest for “the light of truth, a righteous life, overturning mistakes and a free country.”

    19/06/2007 SRI LANKA
    Bishops’ solidarity with Tamils forced to leave Colombo
    In a message published in two local Catholic papers, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka expresses its solidarity with Tamils forced to leave abandon homes and livelihood. Bishops call for respect of the constitution’s human rights provisions.

    12/06/2009 SRI LANKA
    Jaffna bishop tells government that refugees must go home as soon as possible
    About 300,000 refugees are still living in dismal conditions. The United Nations, the Red Cross and Caritas are the only humanitarian organisations allowed inside the camps, all other NGOs are off-limits. For the Venerable Thero, a Buddhist monk and head of the Vipassana Meditation Centre, “Sri Lanka does not need foreign plans or advice. We won the war and we did it by following our own plans.”

    06/09/2007 SRI LANKA
    Christians and Buddhists remove veil of silence, pledge inter-faith solidarity
    In a meeting commemorating a Buddhist monk involved in inter-faith dialogue who was killed by “person or persons unknown,” some religious leaders slam government silence over recent crimes. Participants tell population to learn how to help others irrespective of ethnic or religious differences.

    05/05/2011 SRI LANKA
    Christian, Muslim and Hindu leaders with Buddhists this Vesak
    Sri Lanka is a "pluralistic society as it combines ethnic groups, religions and cultures," says Fr Hettiarachchi from the Inter Religious Alliance for National Unity. For this reason the faithful of all religions should celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of Buddha’s enlightenment.



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