BBS To Launch ‘Counterattack’ Programme In The US
By Raisa Wickrematunge
Academics have begun circulating a petition calling for a leading telecommunication service provider to remove the Bodu Bala Sena theme tune from their site, where it was uploaded as a ring-in tone.
“The anthem of the Bodu Bala Sena carries an incendiary message that seeks to depict sections of this country’s people as outsiders and destroyers. Its purpose is to incite distrust and hostility between ethnic and religious groups, promoting national disharmony in the country,” the statement said.
Over 60 people, including university lecturers, teachers and journalists had signed the petition. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, one of the signatories confirmed that a copy had been sent to the telecommunication provider as well. In response Executive Committee member of the Bodu Bala Sena, Dilantha Withanage said that while the organization supported academics the subscribers of a telephone company had every right to ask for a ring tone unless there were ethical issues involved or the artist was banned.
“I think the academics should be looking at other problems – like the destruction of the university system and all the unemployed graduates… and look at improving the education system, without looking at issues like this and wasting time,” Withanage said.
Reacting to the spate of hate attacks on Muslim-owned businesses, a lecturer from the University of Kelaniya, Ven. Dhammananda Thero spoke out against intolerance in general, in a video widely circulated on social networking site Facebook.
“If a social problem leads to a conflict, that indicates the total failure of the intellectuals, political movements, religious establishment and the elite,” Dhammananda said in the video, while adding, “We can blame our previous generation for the eruption of the last war. But if the same thing repeats it is a sign of our failure. It is our responsibility to prevent this sort of thing from happening again”. He called on the public to make maximum effort to avert incidents, which cause suspicion and disharmony among communities and religious groups.
Meanwhile, a separate Facebook group planned a candlelight vigil ‘to safeguard the Dhamma’ around the Bodu Bala Sena headquarters at Sambuddatva Jayanthi Mawatha on Friday (12). Attendants of the vigil planned to chant softly on ‘right thinking’ outside the building.
BBS heads to the US
In the meantime, representatives of the Bodu Bala Sena are visiting the US for an almost month-long tour, in part to counter wrong impressions given about the group, The Sunday Leader learnt.
The team, which includes General Secretary of the group, Ven. Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thero and National Organiser Viththarandeniye Nanda Thero are currently visiting a couple of cities in the United States. The trip was originally scheduled to take place last year but was postponed.
As they are travelling across the US, the representatives of the BBS will be planning to hold religious functions and other ceremonies in temples. These would include a popular meditation programme ‘Buddhanussathi’ initiated by Ven. Galagodaththa Gnanasara Thero, and will be carried out in different temples, Executive Committee member Withanage said.
The Bodu Bala Sena will also visit Sri Lankan members of the community there in order to hold an awareness campaign. Withanage described the campaign as a ‘counterattack’ to the wrong carried out by other parties against the group, with people terming the Bodu Bala Sena a ‘terrorist or violent organisation’.
“We want to clarify that we are a non violent organisation, and one that promotes tolerance,” Withanage said. The Bodu Bala Sena also aims to get the community more involved in Buddhism, he added. As such, the Bodu Bala Sena will also be looking at appointing committees of volunteers in different cities in the United States in an attempt to spread their network beyond Sri Lanka.
Upon being asked if the Bodu Bala Sena would be looking at fundraising activities, Withanage said that the group was ‘not focusing on fundraising yet’. The Bodu Bala Sena has earlier spoken out against Muslim extremists, especially proponents of the Wahhabi movement, receiving funds from Saudi Arabia to build mosques. On this trip Withanage assures there would be no unethical conversions (another issue the group has been vocal against). However, the delegation would be promoting Buddhism.
“We understand Buddhism as being more than cultural. There is philosophical Buddhism too. Here there is… Sinhala Buddhism but [the religion] is about more than that,” Withanage said. The group also wants to showcase the importance of critical thinking, which allows for disagreement with teachers and leaders, if their teachings clashed with people’s personal beliefs.
Community development plan underway
Withanage added that plans for developing community development networks within the country were also being developed, through different local temples.
There would be no elected Presidents or Secretaries to these groups, as elections only divided people, Withanage said. He pointed at state bodies such as grama sanwardena cooperative societies as proof of this. Instead there would be ‘managers’ and ‘officers’ appointed. Withanage said that all heads of these specially created community development networks would be appointed by the Bodu Bala Sena headquarters. Members would be nominated by community members but the final say would be had by the headquarters, Withanage said. After the names were nominated each office-bearer would receive training so that the nominee could understand the constitution and ‘structures’ of the Bodu Bala Sena, Withanage said.
There were also plans to develop a Bodu Bala Sena ‘Youth brigade’ consisting of a wide age group of people between the ages of 15 and 40 years. The aim of this brigade would be to attract young people to Buddhism and Buddhist values.
“There are many people who are born Buddhist, but we want to promote Buddhism by understanding,” Withanage said.
Withanage also reiterated that the Bodu Bala Sena was not involved in the letters, which were sent out to the Dematagoda Tawheed mosque and the nearby Islamic bookshop – as proof he said that the letterhead had the word ‘Sri’ typed as two letters in Sinhalese, whereas the real Bodu Bala Sena letterhead used just one letter for the word.
BBS Secretary reportedly involved in drunk driving accident
As the delegation headed off to the United States, a story was widely circulated online that the General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena, Ven. Gnanasara Thero, had been involved in a drink-driving incident 13 years ago.
The story, which was published by a news website, said that the Secretary had been involved in an accident on April 14, 2000 (on the eve of the Sinhala New Year) at Grandpass, seriously injuring a trishaw driver named Ravindra Kumar. The story claimed that the monk was seriously inebriated and a case (No. 6315/2000) was filed against him in court; among the charges filed were driving under the influence of liquor without a license and causing injuries as well as obstructing the performance of official police duties. On September 20, 2000, it said that the General Secretary had paid a fine of Rs. 10,000 and the case had been closed.
Executive Committee member Withanage said that the story could not be confirmed as he was unaware about the incident and was not involved with the Bodu Bala Sena at that time. Meanwhile, Ven. Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thero was unable to comment as he had left the country and his mobile phone had been switched off when The Sunday Leader attempted to contact him regarding the story. Police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena also said that he could not confirm the incident, as he needed further details as to which court the case was called at.