Is Dambulla, Babri Masjid Redux?

A Buddhist monk flashes a mosque in Dambulla. Screen grab from News 1st TV footage. 

The events in Dambulla over the past week, when Buddhist monks led the storming of a mosque, bear chilling resemblance to events in Ayodhya, India, on and around the 6th December 1992, when mobs lead by Hindu fundamentalist clergy demolished the Babri Masjid. The consequences of the events in the run-up to the demolition and its aftermath are still being felt across India today.

The similarities between Ayodhya 1992 and Dambulla 2012 go well beyond frenzied crowds trying to storm a mosque egged on by saffron clad clergy. The reference to this act as shramadaanya sounds disturbingly akin to kar seva, a euphemism coined by Hindu fundamentalists for an otherwise unholy act. Images of a monk apparently exposing himself to the mosque in a vulgar frenzy underlines the same deeply macho, misogynist militancy that Hindu fundamentalism has embodied in India, paving the way for the brutal sexual violence against hundreds of Muslim women in Gujarat in 2002.

The arguments that the mosque in question was illegal, that it stood on sacred grounds, that it was not new or not used regularly etc., are all well rehearsed and nor will this be the last time they will be heard, with respect to a mosque, a kovil, or a church for that matter, as past and present are rewritten. The call to Sinhala race and blood, the brazen defiance of rule of law and the eventual capitulation of the government also bear ominous similarities.

Needless to say, one can point to many differences between Ayodhya and Dambulla. The former was central to a massive nation-wide mobilisation while the latter was far more localized, though arguably reflective of a larger nation-wide trend. No doubt the Sri Lankan government will claim that the mosque is being ‘relocated’ not ‘demolished’. And there are many others too but all that apart, there is no mistaking the basic message and nor should anyone be under the illusion as to which side the Sri Lankan state stands with. The events in Dambulla, especially the alacrity with which the state consented to a chauvinist clergy, will no doubt further embolden militant Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalists, already well fed by the Rajapakse regime on a heady cultural-nationalist diet.

The rising tide of Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalism in a society already brutalised by war and ethnic cleavages, coupled with a resurgent militarisation that is undermining democratic institutions and restricting political freedoms, poses huge challenges to Sri Lanka. In a post-war context, this will leave nascent social movements, progressive political forces and a section of politically engaged NGOs, all already hounded by the state, struggling more than ever to build precariat and proletariat solidarities across ethnic and religious divides.  A fractured Tamil and Muslim political society, long hostage to identity politics from the inside, will possibly dig deeper still and render no favours. Precious little can be expected from the middle and upper classes anyway, already well on their way to being wooed by the cleaner streets and well-trimmed parks of Colombo, all thanks to the military of course, and lop-sided economic development.

If the recent history in India is anything to go by, events in Dambulla are a cause for alarm. Ayodhya 1992 came to pass, despite Indian civil society continuing to harbour hope (alongside deep fears) that the Babri Masjid would survive, that India’s institutions were strong enough to withstand that test. However, civil society could do little of significance to even stop what followed the demolition. Worse, ten years later Gujarat happened. The events in Dambulla may not have cost lives, like the many still unaccounted for tragedies in the final stages of the war. Yet, the consequences of what it portends are likely to be as far-reaching and as damaging to the wider polity and social fabric.

  • Hettiararachi N

    The strategy of the Muslim politiccal leaders so far has been to support Sinhala communal tendencies as long as it is not directed at them.

    Now that the Tamil threat is no longer serious.

    The Muslim leaders are getting a taste of what they have been supporting as recently as the Geneva episode.

    I hope at least now they will realize that Political opportunism will come back to bite them…

  • anbu

    The violence by Budhhsit in Sri Lanka has been continually happening since post independence. Trying to frame Dambulla incident as if this was just the beginning is disingeneous.

    The destruction of HIndu and Christian places of worship used by Tamil citizens have been happeining for quite some time now. The slow government sponsored take over of Kataragama( including the murder of Tamil Hindu pilgrims,) is a sure sign of this. Adams Peak is now a sole preserve of the Budhists and tourists. The gradual decline of HIndu, Christian and Muslim devotess is tied in with the rise of ultra Budhist natioanlism in Sl. Military( read goverment) sponsored mobilisation has been instrumental in building Buhist chaitays and iconogrpahy all over Tamil dominated lands. In recent times Sinhala Christians and recently Islamic places of worship have also been targets.
    I find it amazing that the witer seem to pat his back that we are not so bad as India type of attitutude.
    The grad mobiloization of Budhists happening on a national level since Budhism was made to have special privileges.The formation of the mINISTRY OF bUDDHA SASANA IS PART OF THE GVERNEMTN SPONSORED mobilisation.

    Despite religious violence, India hasnt caved in to declare tht it is a HIndurepublic where as in Sl Budhsim is state religion. Despite caving in to the Budhist majoritarionism there is a continuing pattern of religious violence in Sri Lanka wher as in India violence is despite the states refusal to become a Hindu republic

    The present Dambulla sacred area fiasco has many parallels to the Kataragama too
    The place covering the main Murugan Temple in Kataragama and the ruined Kiri Vihare was declared “Kataragama Sacred Area.” Introducing the Development Scheme, the outskirts of the Murugan Temple were given a Buddhist outlook by demolishing all the 21 Hindu pilgrim abodes – like the 150-year old Chetty Madam – and shrines attached to each of them, like the Multumani Amman Temple. This included removing shops crammed with puja offerings, rudraksha malas and vegetarian food and other Hindu business establishments such as barber stalls for pilgrims taking vows.

    Under the same scheme, Kiri Vihare, about one third of a mile from the Murugan temple, was renovated and its environs, including lands formerly used by Hindus, were developed to facilitate Buddhist worship. In this way, the Hindus have been suppressed and their power and influence in the area reduced.

    On the land were demolition was effected, four new shrines, built according to Buddhist architecture, have come up. The Ramakrishna Mission Madam was taken over in 1960 by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government, given to be used as bhikkus’ quarters. More recently it has become a Buddhist Archaeological Museum, with a statue of Buddha at its entrance.

    Temple.

    A short run-down of the flurry of Buddhist incursions:

    1. An interested party forcibly took over the Kandasamy Temple at Kataragamalai in June 1969. Prior to this, a Reverend Bhikku Siddhanta stayed there with the residing priest, Sankaraswamy, and learned Hindu mantras and puja practice from him. The Bhikku demolished the Pillaiyar Temple at Pillaiyar Peak in 1970 and built a new shrine a few yards away from the old sacred spot.

    2. In 1971, the Thewanai Amman Devasthanam was looted and valuables taken.

    3. On September 26, 1979, the Manicka Pillaiyar Temple at Sellakathirkamam was taken over under threat.

    4. As late as 5th December, 1985, unwanted elements intruded into the Thewanai Amman Devastanam and manhandled Swami Dattaramagiri

  • Nithyananthan

    A well narratedm still well timed premonition – comparing a precedent that occurred in neighboring India twenty years ago with the recent bigotry in Dambulla – exposing the beastly face of unfolding perpetual religious racism perpetrated by a small section of saffron clan in our island. Are our countrymen – the Sri Lankan, those who espouse ‘Sri-Lankaness’, prepared to take note this friendly early warning? Are they disciplinable and amenable to take this admonishment? These events spread morally corrupt harmful influence on mind and behaviour of average feeble people of all communities. They should be classified as ‘Vermin / Terrorism’ and be destroyed. Let’s hope for the best! Thanks, Nithy!

    • Alex F

      … or in sri lanka they will run for president

  • muzammil

    Dear Hetti,let’s first come to an understanding that all other communities in Srilanka do have their leaderships and there’s no visible opportunism in them.How many UNP leaders pole vaulted to the
    ruling side?Not opportunism?Why JHU in the govt sitting with muslim
    congress?Not opportunism?Where is Vasu?D E W?Thonda?Wimal?List endless my dear.Not only muslims,Sinhalese are running in all directions to get their horoscopes read!This is the time right thinking sinhalese
    come forward to help protect their muslim compatriots from the clutches of emerging hatred spread by cheap,so that manifest calculated means.Sinhala people must tell their monks who eat from their pockets that they are not part of unholy acts.This will bring the situation under some control.These circuses are all being executed to satisfy the mindsets that are widespread.This is happening in the name of Sinhala Budhists and Budhist bloond.This is the slogan today.

    • christe

      JHU is not sitting with SLMC, JHU is there in the government right from the beginning and their agenda is very clear nothing hidden. All parties play oppourtunistic politics however for Muslim and up country tamil parties oppourtunism is politics, personal petty gains are the goals.

      When Ellawela theror inaugurate Hindu-Buddha maha sangh at Jaffna he categorically refused as some one suggested to include christianity and said we have no place for foreign religion. It will be interesting to see what are they going to do about the Hindu Temple located in Dumbulla sacred area and Hindism noted Buddha as avatar of lord Krishna.

  • Alex F

    There are zealots in every country. The difference is in normal countries the law acts against them … not in sri lanka

  • anbu

    The precedence for the destruction of religious places in Modern Times in South ASIa as typyfied bt the demolition of the Babri masjid( which HIndus claim had a pre Islamic history) was set a few decades earlier by the Budhists in Bodh Gaya.

    Since 1590, Shaiva monks had taken care of the temple, which had been abandoned by Buddhists after the massacre of the Buddhist monks by Muslim invaders in ca1590. In the mean time it was used a HIndu place of worship by a Mahant who looked after the property. Aggresive campaigning by the Mahabodhsi society( started by Anagarika Dharmalala – the stalwart of Sinhala Budhist nationalism in SL) resulted in the renewed Budhist fundamentalism in South ASIA today. It is to be noted the mahabodhi temple ewas built by a Brahmin of Saivaite persuasion. Having said that the dichotmy pof Hinduism/Budhism was not so pronouced then as it is becoming in recent times. Bodh gaya in its hey day was frequented by Budhists and HIndus alike.
    It is to be noted that the managment of Bodh Gaya is not insensitive to
    HIndu pilgrims but the The mahabodhi society and Political Ambedkarite Budhism in India spewed venom in its aggrevive a

  • Rohan

    “A Buddhist monk flashes a mosque in Dambulla. ”

    Sadhu sadhu sadhu…

  • Hettiararachi N

    Muzzamil:

    Are you saying because there is opportunism from other parties, it is OK that the Muslim leaders practice such opportunities against the human rights of other communities? untill of course they get it themselves?

    • muzammil

      Hetti,I chose to focus on how opportunistic all our leaders in politics are.How they react to a particular situation, is depended on
      their safe journey in that given situation.And again it’s this same
      opportunistic politics that brought the muslims to protest against this Geneva resolution in Colombo.But to interprete this as the voice
      of all muslims,is a mistake I suppose.Muslims,Tamils,Sinhalese all have different causes to support different remedies.Muslims are sailing through a rough sea simply for being Muslims.Therefore how they react under a given circumstance,is certaily a matter in their
      best of interest.As for your question here,the reasonable answer I can give you is,Muslims are in all colours of politics representing many
      different views like other communities do and they are for justice like all others.

  • anbu

    along with Hindu fundamentalism in India there includes many other religious fundamentalisms too

    The various Islamic fundamentalisms are rooten in India
    Tablighi Jamaat
    Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) etc

    Christian fundamentlism in India
    In Assam, the Manmasi National Christian Army
    Nagaland For Chist in Nagaland

  • Don Quixote

    I can’t find the name of the Author of this peice ? It reeks of the so called “diapora” !

    What happened is wrong but to enhance with flowery prose and try to devide the Country on further ethnic grounds is only detrimental to the citizens’ of Sri Lanka.

    Beware DIASPORA you are losing the empathy of even the rational thinkers’ among the citizens’ of this Country.

  • http://www.hotmail.co.uk cyril

    There are Buddhist monks and Buddhist monkeys in SL!

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    A week ago, a violent a mob of about 2,000 Sinhalese, including a group of Buddhist monks led by the Mahanayaka of the Rangiri Dambulu chapter Inamaluwe Sumangala thero, stormed and vandalised a mosque in Dambulla. The mosque was declared an illegal structure, but it is unclear how this far this is accurate.

    The shameful behaviour and expression employed by the Mahanayaka of the Rangiri Dambulu chapter Inamaluwe Sumangala thero, along with the monks he led and the crowd of thugs is not remotely associated with or reflective of the philosophy of the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha, or the way in which a Buddhist monk is supposed to behave and speak. Many online have already expressed their dismay and deep concern over the actions of a few, placing Sri Lanka in the media spotlight again for all the wrong reasons.

    We have a choice, but time is running out. Speak up. Put your name in a comment below and say that this violence was not in your name, and that more calls to violence are futile. Renounce a fringe lunacy and resist extremism. By putting your name below, you are opposing mob violence and bigotry as ways to resolve disputes.

    If we have to fight, let’s fight to keep Sri Lanka free of extremists who threaten not only what they seek to destroy, but also who and what they claim to represent. Add your name below, and please pass the message on.

    Read and sign up today – http://notinournamesl.wordpress.com/

  • Independent Observer

    HIGHLIGHTS
    Dambulla’s Highest Budhist Priest decides the 60 year old Dambulla mosque is an illegal structure.

    The Chief Monk storms the mosque at the crucial Friday Prayer time with a group of fellow monks and 2000 violent mobs and threatning all Muslim devotees in the mosque to vacate the mosque immediately.

    The SL Police and the Army looks on at the hooliganism giving moral support to the mob.

    The Venerable Budhist Monk flashes the 60 year old Mosque in Dambulle.

    Crowd chants ‘SADHU’ ‘SADHU’

    The Chief Monk decries that the Muslims will not be allowed even to urinate in the area.

    The Prime Minister Orders the mosque should be demolished forthwith.

    The President announces the mosque is only two years old and orders the police and the forces to protect those stormed the mosque.

    Prime Minister says all these are done to nourish and protect Budhism and to show the strength of Sinhala Budhist Blood ‘ Sinhala Lay’.

    Many peace loving people are wondering whether this is Sinhala Budhism in its pure sense

  • John Gooneratne

    To: Ground views

    I have been trying to get the “facts of the case” ever since this violence against a mosque and kovil broke out.
    I have seen the use of words like “sacred area”, to justify the violence. The rationale being that you can’t hve a mosque and kovil in an area that has been diclared ‘sacred.’ My impression is that if an area is declared ‘sacred’, like has been done in Anuradhapura, then there are rules that apply about structures permitted in this sacred area. I get the impression that such words are used rather loosely by the initiators of the violence, and ournalists, and others writing on the Dambulla incidents.
    So can you kindly have us enlightened on the following:

    1) Has an area in Dambulla been declared a ‘sacred’ area, and when?
    2) What are the physical limits of such an area? A map of such a sacred area will be very helpful
    3) What is the location of the mosque and kovil in respect of this sacred area? A map of the location of the mosque and kovil will be very helpful.
    The above information will be very useful to us who are follwoing the issue, and watching how it will be politically resolved.

    Thanks

    John Gooneratne