A monk’s cremation on a temple’s premises, in violation of a court order, has triggered protests.
The recent passing away of a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka and his subsequent cremation in the northern district of Mullaitivu has brought to the fore an old concern — the power wielded by the Buddhist clergy and the impunity shielding them. It wasn’t the monk’s cremation that was the problem, it was the site.
On Monday, a group of saffron-robed men, led by controversial monk Gnanasara Thero (in picture) of the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force), gathered near the Neeravi Pillaiyar Kovil (temple) well in Mullaitivu, even as their supporters swiftly made arrangements for the cremation to be held there. They completed the final rites, defying a court order barring it on the temple’s premises. Around noon the same day, the Mullaitivu magistrate court had ruled that the cremation be held by the sea, near the Army camp facing the temple.
“When I returned from the court to the temple, I was shocked to see the monks going ahead with the cremation there, despite the court ruling against it. There were some 40 bhikkhus (monks) and maybe around 200 supporters with them,” said Kanagarathinam Sugash, attorney-at-law, who appeared for the temple administration in the case.
As the news spread, several locals — mostly Hindu Tamils — gathered around the temple in protest. “When I tried to draw the monks’ attention to the court order, one of them, speaking in broken Tamil, turned very aggressive towards me and told me — ‘This is a Sinhala Buddhist country and monks come first, they are above all’,” recalled Mr. Sugash, who was assaulted in the ensuing clash. The Jaffna-based lawyer found the monk’s remarks most telling. “He [the monk] was effectively telling me that monks are above the courts, above law and order.”