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Sri Lanka: Buddhists on warpath




Lord Buddha may have stood for peace and benevolence, but his disciples in Sri Lanka are an angry lot. Buddhist monks in the country allege that Christian groups are busy weaning away Buddhists from their ancient religion, reports OneWorld.

Colombo, Jan 31 (IANS) -- The monks have taken to the streets and held noisy demonstrations, urging the authorities to intervene and "protect" Buddhism in a country where the religion, constitutionally, occupies a pride of place.

In the melee, some churches have faced the wrath of hardcore Buddhists.

The National Bhikkhu Front (NBF), a grouping of Buddhist monks, rallied here last week urging President Chandrika Kumaratunga to clamp down on foreign NGOs allegedly promoting conversions to Christianity.

They also want a law by the end of February banning religious conversions.

"We are prepared to take drastic steps if the government fails to keep the February-end deadline. It is bound to protect Buddhism as per the provisions of the constitution," NBF secretary Venerable Galewala Chandraloka Thera said.

The constitution gives prominence to Buddhism over other religions, holding the state responsible for its protection.

Agrees Ellawala Medananda Thera, president of another key Buddhist organisation, Jathika Bhikku Sammelanaya, which organised a hunger strike last month.

"Buddhists and Hindus want to eliminate Christian fundamentalists, whose activities have caused most damage to religious co-existence here," he said.

On their hit list are 37 NGOs who have alleged links with Christian sects said to be promoting conversions in Sri Lanka.

Interestingly, the list includes several prominent local and international NGOs.

Most of them are involved in community development work in the country. Among them are World View International Foundation (WIF) and Save the Children Fund (Norway).

Also in the dock is the country's largest NGO, Sarvodaya, which, ironically, was formed to promote Buddhist teachings.

Buddhists form 71 percent of Sri Lanka's 19 million people, while Catholics comprise 6.4 percent. Other Christian sects comprise a little less than one percent. Most Sri Lankan Tamils are Hindu.

Medananda Thera alleged that the failure of successive governments to monitor foreign NGOs operating in Sri Lanka had resulted in the poor being exploited by them.

Added NBF secretary Kalavelgala Chandraloka Thera: "While the government is trying its best to dodge the issue, laws alone will not help remedy the situation. It is mandatory for the government to identify and ban all NGOs engaged in anti-Buddhist activities."

Says Minister of Buddhist Religious Affairs W.J.M. Lokubandara: "We are trying our best to introduce the laws as soon as possible."

Social activists are not amused. Sarvodaya spokesperson Neetha Ariyaratne said: "We have been into community development for the last three decades, and serve all communities irrespective of their race and religion."

The resurgence of the demand for anti-conversion laws followed last month's mysterious death of one of Sri Lanka's most widely respected Buddhist monks, Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera, while in Russia to accept a doctorate. His death whipped up anti-Christian sentiments, resulting in a slew of attacks on Christian churches and prayer centres.

© Copyright 2001-2004 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.

Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), formerly India Abroad News Service, was conceived in 1986 to enhance the flow of news and information between India and North America. IANS today is India's first multinational and multilingual wire service.
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