Featured image courtesy Mathrubhumi News

Many of our Parliamentarians ought to be told that it is far wiser to keep their traps shut and be thought of as fools, rather than open it and remove all doubt.

The latest to put his foot in his mouth (a seemingly favourite pastime of many a politico) is the Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages, Mano Ganesan.

The Minister appeared to be speaking on behalf of the majority of Tamils of Sri Lanka, when he claimed that “most” Tamils feel that the Government’s claim of 22,254 Tamil Buddhists in the island was a “gross exaggeration”.

If Tamils can embrace Christianity and still retain their identity as Tamils, why can’t they do so with Buddhism?

Or does Mano Ganesan also subscribe to the Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist notion that Buddhism is the sole ‘property’ of Sinhala-Buddhists and no other, and thus, in order to become a Buddhist one is required to change one’s ethnic identity as well?

Is the Minster attempting to create a monster out of thin air by implying, that Tamil Hindus are being converted into Buddhists and hence, into Sinhala-Buddhists?

As a Tamil of Indian origin and a Hindu by faith, Minster Ganesan ought to be aware that for most Buddhists and Hindus, both faiths are intertwined. And this has been the case for eons before he was born.

Throughout history, Sinhalese Buddhists have been worshiping at Hindu temples, and Hindus have been visiting Buddhist Viharas, without ever changing their faith or ethnic identity. In fact, there is hardly a Buddhist temple to be found in this country, without a shrine-room for Hindu Gods within its precincts.

Seemingly forgetting that he is part of the incumbent Government, Ganesan went a step further to add his own view on this purported “gross exaggeration”. According to him, “The Government’s claim might have been made “for propaganda purposes”, to show the dominant Sinhalese-Buddhists that significant inroads have already been made into the largely Hindu Tamil minority”.

Minister Ganesan appears to have been unaware of, or overlooked the fact that the Government’s claim was based on a 2012 official Census, and not concocted for what he terms as “for propaganda purposes”, out of the blues.

Is this what a Government Minister, tasked with the responsibility of promoting ‘National Co-existence’, ought to be saying? This is most worrying, as irresponsible statements such as these, is no way to forge post-war peace and reconciliation in this much tormented land, as it gives rise to further tension between the communities.

Apparently coming to his senses a few days later, Ganesan in an interview with the Sunday Leader retreated from his previous stance on the issue by admitting, “High norms of the human civilisation of this era tell us to treat religion as the private subject and keep it away from the activities of the State”. If this is not a volte face on his previous stance, what is it?

When the Government appoints Ministers and create portfolios to appease them, it ought to take cognition of the sensitivity and the responsibility of the subject being assigned, and appoint suitable people who are au fait with, and sensitive to, the issues of the relevant portfolio.

In this case, it is the portfolio of ‘National Co-existence’. Given Minister Ganesan’s mindset and stance, is he the suitable person to head such a sensitive area as ‘National Co-existence’, in dealing with issues faced by all communities affected in the post-war era?

This ill-conceived and ill-timed statement from Ganesan came, hot on the heels of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Chairman Basheer Segu Dawood’s demand for a separate Muslim Province. This certainly does not bode well at all for the Government’s post-war reconciliation efforts.

In fact, it will only serve as grist to the mill of Sinhala-Buddhist racists, hell-bent on keeping the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims polarized forever.

Of what use is a peace and reconciliation process, if all its stakeholders; Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims don’t speak in one voice?

  • Raja Mahendran

    Sharmini Serasinghe has brilliantly exposed the myth that only Sinhalese can be Buddhists. Some people sincerely believe Sinhalese and Buddhists are synonymous on this island.

    Sharmini has beautifully exposed the racist mind of Minister Mano Ganesan who obviously is fearing his tribe diminishing by becoming Buddhists. While it is clear Mano Gajesan is terrified that there could be as many as twenty thousand or more Tamil Buddhists, it is also interesting to note the deafeningsilence of the champions of Sinhala Buddhism on these numbers. Because to these chauvinists it is not good news as they want people to continue to believe in the myth only Sinhalese are Buddhists!

    Tamil racism and Sinhala racism are strange bedfellows. Both do not want people to be reminded that the early Buddhists in Sri Lanka were Tamils. And Buddhism flourished among Tamils. Buddhism did not die out among the Tamils but Tamil Buddhists got identified as Sinhalese in thousands if not in millions over years of the island’s three thousand year history.

  • puniselva

    Sharmini
    Excellent – you always hit the nail on its head.
    We need a lot more of this if we’ve to prod/push each of the 90 Ministers towards GoodGovernance.
    Very worrying situation at all horizontal and vertical levels of the cabinet.

  • raju

    Dear friends as a Tamil hindu, and when I read and read of past history and about the Buddhist all around the world and was in South India. I feel very often that my second religion should be Buddhism. However, in the past 50 years of political history no tamil will admit to being a budhist in srilanka so as Mr Mano Ganeshan’s slip of tounge.
    Let us not blame each other and respect each other and have some solutions so we could have a great SRILANKA. It is esy to blame all of racist. Even if we have become same religion we are not going to abandon our Singala or tamil language are we? The past political circumstances may have made the minister make some assumptions that is likely not true. So, let us not jump to wrong conclusions. Free speech is always helpful to resolve problems even if the views are aginst our thinking .