Even essentially the most charitable account of Sri Lanka’s civil warfare can’t time period the “peace” that adopted its bloody, May 2009 finish something however tentative. The ethnic battle between the bulk Sinhalese and minority Tamils stays unresolved. The interval has additionally witnessed a spike in violence directed on the Muslim neighborhood.
News of each such assault in recent times has invariably come alongside an influential spiritual determine making emphatic claims in regards to the nation belonging before everything to Sinhala Buddhists. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara ‘Thero’ [as Buddhist priests in Sri Lanka are respectfully referred to], 46, is arguably Sri Lanka’s most controversial monk, whom President Gotabaya Rajapaksa not too long ago appointed as chairman of a 13-member process drive to evolve proposals for the federal government’s ‘One Country, One Law’ endeavour.
The saffron-robed monk, who hails from the southern Galle district and entered priesthood as a baby, got here to prominence in 2012 when he based the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, or Buddhist Power Force) with a fellow priest. The said imaginative and prescient of the organisation, which Gnanasara Thero describes as a “national movement”, is to guard Buddhism for future generations.
Within the subsequent yr the ethno-religious organisation unveiled the reasonably divisive phrases of its activism. In January 2013, the BBS, led by its General Secretary Gnanasara Thero, campaigned aggressively in opposition to the halal certification of meat, that attests meals gadgets as being compliant with Islamic conventions, subsequently permitting Muslims to eat it each domestically and within the export market. Around the identical time, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then serving as Secretary to the Defence Ministry, was the chief visitor on the opening ceremony of the BBS’s ‘Buddhist Leadership Academy’.
The following month, the BBS held a rally in a Colombo suburb, calling upon on supporters to grow to be a Sinhala civilian police drive in opposition to Muslim extremism. Releasing a 10-point declaration, it sought a ban — on halal certification, on sending Sri Lankan girls as home staff to West Asian international locations, on constructing mosques with funds from West Asian international locations, and on alleged contraception strategies, that the BBS claimed, “used to stunt” the nation’s Sinhala majority inhabitants. “This is a Sinhala country; there is a global principle that minorities must reside in a country in a manner that does not threaten the majority race and identity,” Gnanasara Thero stated on the rally, apparently justifying the totally different implies that militant Sinhala Buddhists would quickly use, to serve the tip of displaying minorities “their place”.
In March that yr, photographs of a violent mob led by Buddhist monks pelting a Muslim-owned retailer with stones, and setting hearth to a different took the nation by shock. It was the surest signal on the time, of the fragility of Sri Lanka’s post-war “peace”, underneath persisting risk with majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist forces that had now discovered a brand new goal.
The monk repeatedly made information thereafter, like in June 2014 when he referred to Muslims in derogatory phrases at a rally within the southern Aluthgama city. “This country still has a Sinhala police. A Sinhala army. If a single Sinhalese is touched, that will be the end of them [Muslims] all,” he warned. The ensuing violence, one of many worst communal tensions in recent times, claimed at the very least 4 lives and injured dozens. The identical yr, the monk signed a pact with Myanmar’s Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu of the extremist 969 motion. Gnanasara Thero was additionally current on the central Digana city forward of a sequence of focused assaults on Muslim properties and Muslim-owned retailers in early 2018, after a Sinhalese driver succumbed to accidents following highway rage incident involving Muslim youth.
While probing Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday terror bombings of April 2019, investigators pointed to the Aluthgama and Digana violence as attainable triggers for some Muslim youth to radicalise and be drawn to the suicidal terror community. In reality, a Presidential Commission of Inquiry appointed to research the serial bomb assaults even really useful that Gnanasara Thero be charged for for “inciting racial tensions” in Aluthgama. In a remark to native every day The Morning, the monk dismissed the advice as “laughable”
But he has been to jail. In August 2018, Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeal gave him a six-year jail sentence, convicting him for contempt of courtroom. Gnanasara Thero had stormed a 2016 courtroom listening to on the kidnapping of the dissident journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, and shouted on the presiding choose and legal professionals, whereas threatening Sandhya Eknaligoda, spouse of the journalist. Except, President Maithripala Sirisena pardoned him when he had served barely 9 months of the time period. Gnanasara tried coming into Parliament twice — in 2004, and 2020 — however was unsuccessful. He, however, chairs an important process drive on authorized reforms within the nation.