”The people of this country have resorted to protests to win their rights. We live in a country where even a letter written to a department goes without acknowledgement. Therefore the people have to resort to these kind of things.”
Ven.Inamaluwe Sumangala Thero Interviewed by Niranjala Ariyawansha
Ven. Inamaluwe Sumangala Thero, the Chief Priest at the Rangiri Dambulla Viharaya was in the forefront in recent times leading a protest at Dambulla to relocate a mosque which was within the sacred Vihara land, disputed by the Muslim fraternity. The issue is yet on the boil and the government has not resolved this sensitive stand off.
Inamaluwe Sumangala Thero is no stranger to controversy and has time and again led protests against the administrative and political structure. Our reporter Niranjala Ariyawansha interviewed the Chief monk. At the conclusion of this interview Sumangala Thero warned our reporter of dire consequences if she ever stepped foot into Dambulla.
SL: You are once more in focus for the second time when you opposed the existence of a building said to be a mosque within the confines of land belonging to the Dambulla temple. Will you have to backtrack on this protest too, in the future?
Ven IS: No. We learnt a lesson once. We learnt that there is no democracy in this land. Therefore, if anyone rules oppressively and against democracy, we will without fear of life, oppose such action.
SL: How do you think you should oppose a regime that is not democratic?
Ven IS: We showed that recently.
SL: By resorting to violence?
Ven IS: Yes. That is partially true. We started peacefully. But people’s feelings when aroused cannot be controlled. Look at it nationally and internationally. What did extremist persons like Bin Laden do? They have shed blood to propagate Islam. That is the truth.
Our people have built their hopes and dreams around Buddhist culture. They are patient. But here that patience was set aside a little. I do not see it as violence.
SL: Buddhist teachings promote patience. But you lent leadership to a section of Buddhists to practice the opposite. Why?
Ven IS: No. I do not accept that. It is the government that did such a thing. There was a plan made 30 years ago to protect the temple and the land surrounding it. By not implementing that plan it was the government that pushed the people. If you say the people wanted me to do so, it is correct For that too the government must take responsibility.
SL: When I met you on the 30th of last month at the Dambulla temple, you said the people of Dambulla though from different religious persuasions lived amicably. What happened to that? Why was this protest held in such haste?
Ven IS: Who says it was in haste? That is what the media has concocted. We have over a period of time informed the President and the Minister in charge. But they were silent. When the working class ask for higher wages by filling out a form for that purpose, does it happen? No. They have to strike. That is our country.
The super democracy you talk of will not work in this country. If one were to win any rights in this country, it could be only through protests. That’s the truth. No one can say that it’s a lie. The people of this country have resorted to protests to win their rights. We live in a country where even a letter written to a department goes without acknowledgement. Therefore the people have to resort to these kind of things.
SL: You say that this protest was not done in haste and that it is justified. The Buddhists have a limit to their patience. The government made them impatient, and the government is responsible for it. Then you say how Bin Laden acted violently to spread Islam. Do you then believe that blood should be shed in the name of religion?
Ven IS: Yes, what you say is true and the government must take responsibility. But on the 20th there was no blood shed.
SL: Yes, but on the 20th you said publicly, ‘today we came with the Buddhist flag in hand. But the next time it would be different’. So, the next time if it progresses to religious disharmony and bloodshed, would you take responsibility?
Ven IS: The responsibility for that should be taken by the inactive ruling class of this country. The Muslim leaders of their government are spreading falsehoods about this mosque. They must know that the Prime Minister has made a decision on this. The Prime Minister is the second citizen in this country. He is also the Minister of Buddhist Affairs.
Therefore, he has expressed the government’s view. So, can others who have now aligned with the government or even the cabinet minister who is representing Dambulla go against that?
The government minister Janaka Bandara Tennekoone says that the mosque will not be removed. The prime Minister says it will be removed. Minister Rauf Hakeem says it will remain. This shows that the government is divided. It also shows that there are people within this government who are bigger than the Prime Minister. How can that be?What has happened to collective responsibility within the cabinet and the government? Therefore we urge the President to take a decision against these in-disciplined political braggarts.
SL: When you speak of collective responsibility of the Cabinet, I would like to remind you that in Sri Lanka we have a multi religious, multi cultural and multi ethnic society.
Ven IS: What nonsense.You is speaking of a nonsensical theory. This country has fourteen million Buddhists. How many Muslims are there? For example in Thailand, the majority are Buddhists. In Myanmar too Buddhists are in the majority. Catholics are a majority at the Vatican. Therefore, we say that the Vatican is a Catholic State. Similarly in the middle east many countries have a Muslim majority. Therefore we call them Islamic States.
SL: That is not what I meant. When a society consists of multi religious people practicing different faiths, should they not have equal rights?
Ven IS: Are you trying to wrest away our Buddhist rights? We have respected all. What we have here is none of that. It is about protecting the Buddhist legacy against the wresting of it. There is no need for talking nonsense here. We are fighting to save the 2300 year old Buddhist heritage that is ours! They in turn are trying to wrest away our heritage.
Therefore it would be good for all to understand that reality. I am vocal to protect that right and not to wrest away someone else’s right or property. It is the Islamists who are trying something else here. That cannot be allowed. We never went to Iraq or the Middle East to wrest the rights of Islamists? This is robbery. You tell the whole country of this position clearly.
SL: So whilst fighting to protect one’s right you violate another’s right?
Ven IS: Are you trying to trample the rights of the Buddhists?
SL: No. They say that the Mosque was there from 1962
Ven IS: I will speak to you as a person possessing a third eye. I speak of what is happening globally. I am comparing what happens globally. Globally, Islam is on the rise. Some so called Sinhalese lend a hand (gotta allanawa) to them. I ask you also not to do so.
SL: Would you say there is Muslim fundamentalism growing across the world? As against Buddhist fundamentalism growing here?
Ven IS: There is no such thing. Others may have such intentions. I cannot condone nor certify that. I am not like that.
The Rangiri Dambulla Viharaya has a history of 2300 years and is a highly venerated Viharaya. Even UNESCO has named it as a historical site in the world. That has been done because the Buddhists protected it.
Now, Islamists (Thambis) are trying to creep into this. For those islamists (Thambis) and those who are propping them (Gotta Allana Aya) this may be good. But I say it is because of the Buddhists who protected this Dambulla Viharaya that the villages around this site came into being. Not because of a church or mosque. We have a history. What history does the Muslims have with Dambulla? They can do anything in their regions. I will not speak of history here. But, I am a monk who has studied history and archaeology for my degree. I have studied the history of Sri Lanka well.
The Muslims came to Sri Lanka by sail boats to trade in groceries. Only males came. Some of them settled down permanently in countries like Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives.
During the reign of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe there was a saying ‘ let us just have a bit of land to look after,’ by them. Having come like visitors they robbed the Sinhala and Tamil women. They fooled our Sinhala and Tamil women and married them. Now this purdah that the Muslims wear to cover their faces? It’s a plan by those men who came to rob women. They used it in every country. It has now become a religious practice. It’s however not a real religious practice. It’s a caddish ploy to rob women. If I am to say in proper Sinhala (Sudda Sinhalenma Kiyanawa nam , oka thamai mata kiyanna thiyennay.) That is all what I have to say about it.
SL: As a person who believes in globalisation do you accept the theory of a purist race?
Ven IS: You are perfectly right. I do accept globalisation. Similarly I believe that there is a Sinhala race without mixed blood. I do believe that I am such a person myself. So, if anyone says that there is no pure race, like you, if one speaks of reason, I think they are of mixed blood. I mean there must be some kind of mix. They must have a name like Thambi Mudiyanselage in their birth certificate.
Edited version of a longer article appeared in The Sunday Leader, 06.05.12