By Haider Abbas
There is hardly even as a ‘hard news’ visible in mainstream media about the large-scale temple attacks in Sri Lanka, specially when the government’s (BJP) main plank is temple-building, particularly on sites where mosques have stood for centuries. Babri Masjid site has been handed over to the Hindu side by the Apex Court and the two Kashi and Mathura sites are being contested in the courts again. What however, will be far more curious is to find that the same contrasting faultlines are available in today’s Sri Lanka, but hitherto almost ignored from the media outcry. Why has India not ‘officially’ taken up the issue with Sri Lanka? This assumes more significance when BJP, the party in power since 2014, never shies to make India become a Hindu state! Sri Lanka is a tiny country which has a population of about 21 million, of which around 70% are Buddhist Sinhalese, 12% Hindu Tamils, 10% are Muslims and 8% are Christians.
The long civil war inside Sri Lanka between the Tamils and the Sinhalese led government had long ended in 2009, but the ramifications have refused to die. There is a robust Sinhalization (Buddhist’s) project going-on inside the country, which broadly is to superstage Buddhists hegemony over the nation, and the primary target are the Hindu Tamils, who are present in a large number in the Northern and Eastern region of Sri Lanka. Jaffna is the capital of the Northern Region. This had been the stronghold of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil group which led the fight against Sri Lanka but after the death V Prabharakan, its Chief, the movement died out.
What however we broadly find in media reports ‘with cheerful delight’ is the way Sri Lankan Presidential House was raided by its own people, in July 2022, out of the ‘outrage from Chinese loan’ to Sri Lanka, and predictions that Pakistan economy is set to go the Sri Lankan way, yet, there hasn’t been any prime time discussions on the rampant vandalism of temples in Sri Lanka, since Ranil Wickremesinghe took over as President.
There has been all kinds of cries, in the wake of temple-attacks in Brisbane, Melbourne in Australia or in Canada. PM Narendra Modi even raised it with Australian PM Antony Albanese when the latter visited New Delhi on March 11, but there is a studied silence over the same developments from Sri Lanka? Why? Perhaps, the answer lies, that BJP which internally subscribes to robust Hindutva, does not want to pander on what Sri Lanka is doing to Hindu temples, as that would give a negative message to Hindu-right, that BJP is not able to ‘protect’ Hindu temples in its immediate neighbourhood, more specifically, when India enjoys an upper-hand in its relationship with Sri Lanka.
The deafening and muted BJP response over the massive spurt in attacks on temples, in all these recent days, is deeply-surprising, as several Tamil Hindu political parties , had even gone ahead to give a protest call over it on April 25, reported The Hindu 1 . The issue becomes all the more important as what is being witnessed in the name of Sinhalization project in Sri Lanka, where the ancient Tamil Hindu sites, sacred places etc are being taken-over by the government bodies, have a striking resonance back home, as the same project is being conducted against the second biggest majority of the country-the Muslims. In Sri Lanka, there is now a stage that Tamil Hindus are being forced to forsake their right to even worship! This is how the Sinhalese majority, perhaps, wants to score historical equalizers. A La ‘balance-of-history’, on the lines of what VS Naipaul had suggested for implementation in India.
There has been a splurge in Hindu temple’s vandalism, Hindu idols and deities desecrated or missing, that too, in and around Jaffna, where there is a sizeable Tamil Hindu population. Tamil Hindus, in their backlash had started to put deities on public places, which are getting removed by government authorities through the courts. There is also a leap in Buddhists structures and shrines being erected inside areas of Tamil Hindu dominance. Here, it may be noted that Sri Lanka is using its Department of Archaeology to stop Tamil Hindu access to temples citing archaeological research into the historical sites! Does not that sound so similar to the issue as to how Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi, is into fresh controversy over the carbon-dating of the fountain (Shiva Ling) found at the site? Any research scholar or a writer can vouch as to how the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report tilted the balance in favour of the Hindu side, which ultimately led to the case of Babri Masjid get decided in favour of the Hindu side, after a prolonged legal battle 33 years (1986-2019).
BJP is very cautious and not indulging into any rhetoric against Sri Lanka, owing to the upcoming 2024 general elections. It does not want its core-Hindutva vote bank to ‘blink to realize’ that why ever BJP remained silent? While Tamil Hindus, with their immediate compatriots in India, coupled with a Hindutva champion government in place, just succumbed to the present President Wickremsinghe’s United National Party agenda to rebuild (snatch-back) around 1000 Buddhists Viharas (temples)! Tamil Hindus had once taken-up to arms but after 2009 it has all been silenced.
Hence, the neo-Buddhist Sri Lanka is now easily putting at work its policy to erase the Tamil Hindu identity, its historical remnants etc from Sri Lanka’s life, which has all the portents of an imminent genocide lurking to happen. Here, too, its strikes the same resonance? Does not we saw the renaming of Aurengzeb Road in New Delhi, and now NCERT books are to have no reference towards the Mughals/Muslims who ruled over India for centuries in continuation?
The references to even Maulaza Azad, who had led Congress as its President, against the British have also been deleted. The Sinhalese linguistic and religious chauvinism against the Tamil Hindus, has the same parallel anathema, that the language Urdu has been totally relegated from offices! The corollary is same, Sinhalese consider Tamil Hindus as invaders of Chola Kingdom ( III Century BC) , on the same lines that Muslims are considered as invaders in India, who instead lost their kingdom fighting the British. The ideological fathers of BJP,on the other side, ironically do not consider Britishers as invaders but as liberators! From the Muslim rule!
No wonder, what is happening in Sri Lanka is not merely out of cultural incompatibility but also is a reflection of centuries of power struggle. There have been hundreds of enforced disappearances of Tamil Hindus, particularly after 2009, when the so-called civil war had ended and peace-had-occurred. An entire generation of Tamil Hindus still waits for homes after displacement. Civil rights guaranteed are just on paper. Instead, Tamil Hindus are subjected to one of the most stringent Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) almost on the same lines, since at least 1993, when draconian laws like TADA, POTA and UAPA have been in place.
There is everywhere a Sinhalese dominance as road signs, street and village names have Sinhalese denomination, like inside India, when recently Allahabad was changed to Prayagraj, Faizabad to Ayodhya, Mughal Sarai Railway Junction to Deen Dayal Uphadaya etc . The same is happening in Sri Lanka but without a fuss over it, that too, from the party at the helm, which plays the pro-Hindutva card to the hilt! How government of India will take it up with Sri Lanka is what all is needed, but when, is to be seen.
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on international politics.