The Sunday Leader

When Is Religious Impunity Going To End?

by Emil van der Poorten

What t provoked the title of this piece is a recent event to which I was witness when a man in saffron robes, a Buddhist priest I presume, jumped the queue at a major private hospital while several other obviously sick patients were waiting their turn to see a consultant who proved to be the epitome of professionalism and kindness.

There we were, a handful of patients awaiting the arrival of the doctor we had chosen to see, with the first of our number already in the consultation room, when in traipsed a man in the robes of a Buddhist priest.  Even though appearances can often be deceptive, he was certainly one of the healthiest looking people on the premises of that large private health institution!

And, mind you, he didn’t come alone.  He was accompanied by two women dressed in what is colloquially known as “western garb” who, on entry into the waiting area, immediately strode up to the young nurse who was shepherding patients into the doctor’s presence according to the sequence of the numbers they held.

Dalada Maligawa

Immediately after this confabulation, the nurse went up to the patient she was next due to usher into the doctor’s room and, after some whispering and head nodding, the already evident smirk on the priest’s countenance seemed to grow more pronounced.

Guess what? The moment the consultant was done with the patient he was seeing at the time the saffron-robed one, accompanied by his two female companions went in to see him, leaving the rest of us to take our turn after their queue-jumping.

I have seen queue-jumping all over this country and, in fact, it seems the rule rather than the exception.  However, this instance I found particularly galling because it seemed that people waiting anxiously and in obvious distress had added to their already-stressed-out condition this bit of “in your face” smirking arrogance.

I found it particularly unacceptable given the belief that the life of Bhikkus’ was supposedly a self-sacrificial one, not one where one rode rough-shod over one’s fellow human beings.

But then this is, after all, the Wonder of Asia and part of that wondrousness appears to be to fly in the teeth of accepted civilsed convention where people of the cloth are expected to stand aside in the presence of people in greater need. It is, perhaps, a piece of the “Three-Wheeler Culture” that is, increasingly, beginning to prevail in this self-proclaimed cradle of Buddhism, where “might is right” and, if you don’t have the “might,” you simply manipulate or weasel your way ahead of the next person (legitimately) standing in front of you.

Two days later, I see, in a morning English daily, a report of a Buddhist priest who had entered a large private hospital as a means of avoiding arrest for some crime he had allegedly committed. I just wondered then whether ……………!

This happens to be one of the less obnoxious instances of the exercise of power, authority and influence and certainly pales into insignificance in the face of what is happening in Kandy around the whole issue of traffic gridlock and massive air pollution in the hill capital.

In that instance the truly criminal obstruction of another saffron-robed dignitary to the re-opening of the road past the Dalada Maligawa has been compounded by the monumental stupidity of one of the ”senior” Ministers in the cabinet who has come up with a proposal to “rainbow” a bridge lengthwise over the Kandy lake to cure the bottleneck that the present arrangement has created and which was prompted purely and simply by an abortive attempt to destroy the Dalada Maligawa by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, goodness knows how long ago.

When last Kandy’s air pollution was measured – better than half a decade ago – I recall it as being four times as high as Colombo’s.  No subsequent readings have been taken because, allegedly, “the funds do not exist for the purpose!” Apart from the “reason” belonging in a grim Sri Lankan Fairy Tale which would have brought a wry smile to the original Grimm himself, it is downright criminal that such measurements are not taken regularly.

Or is it because, as is increasingly the case with the MR2 government, they are so determined not to offend people who clearly deserve to be offended for being prepared to sacrifice the very health and well being of the people of this country for the pettiest and most callous of reasons? This Minister for one could better spend his time seeking tutoring in how to tell the truth and not fill the air with vacuous idiocies.

That a High Priest of the state religion of this country should actively seek to make permanent a state of affairs that causes immeasurable damage to the men, women and children unfortunate enough to have to breathe the air of Kandy defies description.  Of course, some context in this regard might be the fact that those who live in air-conditioned places of residence and traverse the highways in vehicles similarly ventilated, would be the last to be concerned with what the hoi-polloi breathe!

Make no mistake: there is irrefutable proof in the matter to which I’ve referred.  Kandy’s is probably the most polluted air mass in Sri Lanka.

It is a densely populated city which serves as a hub for the entire hill country and there are, literally, thousands of men women and children who do not have air-conditioned abodes or air-conditioned vehicles that shield them from this insidious menace when they are compelled to enter the city’s environs.

Those compelled to breathe the poisonous air of Kandy need to devise a means of putting a stop to this patently unjust and potentially fatal state of affairs.

Even if reducing the traffic gridlock in Kandy is not going to produce the ultimate and final solution to that city’s problem with air pollution, it is an absolutely necessary beginning and no Minister with a propensity to utter idiocies nor priest of any denomination should be permitted to stand in the way of basic justice and good sense.


3 Comments for “When Is Religious Impunity Going To End?”

  1. gabriella

    Amazingly, no reporter has ever chosen to make comment about the greatest obscenity associated with the Dalada Maligawa. By this, I mean the charging of entry fees to tourists (Buddhists and non Buddhists alike).

    Nowhere in the world does any religions most sacred site charge entry fees. And, it definitely shouldn’t happen in a country trying to showcase a religion/philosophy tarnished by the questionable activities of its own venerable practitioners. The Dalada Maligawa has become reminiscent of the Bibles’ Den of Thieves.

    What would the worldwide condemnation be if St Peters Basilica charged entry fees to tourists simply because they weren’t Italian Catholics or the Saudis’ charged entry fees into Mecca because the pilgrims weren’t Saudi Muslims ?

    A far better approach would be an appeal to visitors for voluntary contributions; on the basis that this enables the maintenance of the temple and other charitable works to be performed due to the visitors generosity.

    The obscenity and embarrassment to Buddhism that the Dalada Maligawa perpetrates should be addressed as a matter of priority.

  2. it is high time that Sri Lanka enact the experience of Catholic priests in France.The French revolution taught the Catholic priests their limits, of course at the expense of some lives. This is the 21st century and the teaching the local thugs should proceed with a higher ratio.

    • carlos

      Why is the Govt. just looking at all this and not doing anything about it, enough is enough. Also where are the Good Buddhists who just look on with no display of outrage at whats going on. I last saw a man in yellow robes with a hairdo almost like Elvis Presley, where the hell are we going to, while the politicos just stand by as onlookers

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