Colombo, Peace and Conflict

Concerns over Cattle Population

In 1982 the cattle population in Sri Lanka had been 6.7 million, Athuraliye Rathana Thero has said while participating in budget debate in the Parliament. Out of this, normal cattle had constituted 1.3-million while the rest were buffaloes. But by 2000, this cattle population had decreased by 114000, Thero had sadly pointed out.

It is not clear whether his sadness is caused because the cattle population is being dwindled as an economic resource or because he is upholding the cattle’s right to life as a supreme principle. As he is a Buddhist monk, drawing on the Bhuddist tradition and going by the spiritual values of Bhuddism, we can safely presume that it was his pure compassion for animal life that had inspired him in bringing this matter up in the Parliament. If that is the case, we would further expect him to stand up for the cause of other animals’ rights as well, like cocks, pigs, sheep, fish etc, for in Buddhism no animal is to be deprived of life for whatever reason.

Brigitte Bardo, a popular actress up to 70’s and today very old, who is spearheading an animals’ rights organization in France had a poster campaign some time back to sensitize her society to the plight of animals at the cruel hand of the so-called civilized Man. In that poster I can remember some of the animals depicted like dog, cat, seal fish and horse. One thing, I vividly remember: there was no animal that is taken as a delicacy in the western menu!

Brigitte Bardo does not subscribe to the Buddhist creed. Hence she has the right of preferential compassion towards the animal kingdom. That is why there was not a single animal that she liked to eat in this list of so-called “poor creatures” depicted in the poster.

But Athuraliye Thero being a Buddhist monk cannot claim to have the same right. As long as he is in a saffron robe he is duty bound to protect not only cattle but also all other animals, including chicken, goat, pig etc that are voraciously consumed in Sri Lanka.

This special compassion for cattle is to be generally seen in our society, which I suspect to be a Hindu influence. Those who don’t eat beef but eat other meat always rationalize the discrepancy by pointing out to the usefulness of a cow in our daily life. So, as a mark of respect to the service a cow had rendered to man in the agrarian society, we should refrain from eating its meat, argument goes. Usefulness may be a strong ground for Brigite Bardo to use a discriminative yardstick to love animals and eat animals at the same time according to her palatable desires, but Buddhism has no place for such discrimination.

On Poya Days all butcheries are closed in this virtuous Sri Lanka. Even in super markets meat is not available but fish is in plenty. Not only that, by-products of meat like sausages can be bought. Once I asked a salesgirl jokingly whether it was not a lesser sin to sell one bullock’s meat than selling thousands of sprats on a Poya Day. How the flesh of a fish is not considered as meat is beyond my comprehension.

Such contradictions are abound when a country is going to be governed by pseudo ethos no one seriously adheres to. The prohibition of showing scenes of smoking and taking of alcohol even if such scenes constitute an integral artistic part of the film is laughable, to say the least. In some films, while the scene where the offending bottle of Arrack is discernible is ruthlessly censored, its follow-up, namely the same drunken man staggering towards his home and beating his wife or killing someone under intoxication is shown with no qualms!

Cattle population (9 million) in New Zealand is double that of human population (4.5 million), our Thero pointed out. The fact that a country where there are more cattle than human beings happens to be more developed than Sri Lanka is interesting material for some academic research, I suppose.

It is true that environment friendly political thinking is firmly taking root in the developed world. We can see green parties exercising immense power in Australia, New Zealand and Europe. But one thing is certain: that these people have ventured into rights of the animal kingdom only after ensuring – not only in legal terms but also in social conventions- the basic rights of human beings. Before the 70s when human rights were not firmly codified and faithfully adhered to, there were no Greens as such in politics.

Now, what is the principled stand of the political party that Athuraliye Rathana Thero represents in Parliament on this point? According to them, there is no ethnic problem but a terrorist problem in Sri Lanka, which has to be crushed militarily. What instantly comes to my mind is the ancient story of Angulimala who was a bloody terrorist to whom Buddha preached Dhamma.

Before protecting the cattle population, we as laymen in general and they as Buddhist monks in particular, should strive to protect human beings. If President or any other minister campaigns for war and asks for blood of the enemy, as Bhikkus who are coalition partners in the government should discourage that destructive tendency and make some concerted efforts to seek a peaceful solution. Under no circumstances are they permitted to condone violence, directly or indirectly.

Last week, the parcel bomb at Nugegoda took 19 innocent lives including that of a little school girl. LTTE is alleged to be the perpetrator of this heinous crime. Three days prior to that, 11 school girls traveling in a bus near Kilinochchi were killed by a claymore bomb alleged to have been masterminded by government security forces or their paramilitary groups. Now, is there any difference in the value of life between that of the girl killed in the south (Nugegoda) and the girls killed in the north (Kilinochchi)? We witness this type of killings in Iraq on a daily basis. Even today (7th) a female suicide bomber has exploded herself in killing 16 people and injuring 27 in Iraq. There, rather than accusing those human bombs we tend to hold George W Bush as culpable for making Iraq a killing field. The picture of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that George W Bush tried to portray as a menace of terrorism at the beginning of the invasion is in tatters today even in his own camp.

Adolf Hitler was an animal lover to the extent of being a strict vegetarian. While loving animals like this, he slaughtered 6 million human beings from the Jewish community alone during a short period of 5 years. That Brigitte Bardo, today in her old age is an activist in the extreme right anti-Semitic National Front in France, which denies the historical existence of concentration camps and gas chambers in Europe, does not stop her still fondly loving animals!

It is good to love animals. But better to love human beings first.

Gamini Viyangoda
[email protected]