Four months ago, on April 1st 2019, an award winning Sinhala writer Shakthika Sathkumara was arrested under ICCPR Act enacted in 2007 to give effect to certain provisions of the United Nations multilateral treaty, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The arrest was made following a complaint lodged by a group of ultra nationalist Buddhist monks, who accused him of inciting religious hatred by publishing a story on facebook, titled “Ardha”1, which revolves around a Buddhist monk who renounced the saffron robe. If found guilty, Shakthika faces up to 10 years in prison, for ‘propagating war or advocating national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’ as stated in section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act.
The Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) Translated the story for the first time into English and published it on their website. It is reproduced here with due acknowledgement.
Ardha (Half) :English Translation of Sinhala Short Story Shakthika Sathkumara
Translated by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS)
Halwelle Kassapa thero became Kasaan Palihawadana, not because of a particular fondness for lay life, he simply had no love of monastic life. After giving up monkhood, Kasan did not want to stay at university’s monastic accommodation any longer. There were many who began as monks but later became ‘ex-monks’ living in the monastery.
Kasaan was reading his old study notes when Dhammissara thero came in.
“Redeemed, redeemed, Kasaa, you ‘re redeemed… going to stay in the hostel, right? Now you don’t have to wait till evening to do groceries”
Dhammissara thero plopped into a chair. Medhananda thero who was lying in bed, reading the book ‘Budunge Rasthiyaduwa’2 , stood up with the book in his right hand.
“Our Sadaham Sena3 is going to file a court case against this book, this is entirely a work of fundamentalist propaganda ” said Medhananda thero, acknowledging the book.
“Kasa’s going to move out to a boarding place. Looks like this guy not only gave up monkhood, but want to give up us as well,” said Sumedha thero as he came in. Kasan stopped his work for a moment.
“It’s not like that. I will come visit you reverends very often.” Kasan’s voice sounded heavy with emotion.
“Come on, don’t take it too hard. Just complete your degree wherever you are”.
I just added that opening to my story because I didn’t want to use the word ‘Heeraluwa’4 to introduce myself. But now, everyone knows that I used to be a monk. I don’t know why I became a monk or why I gave it up. After the head monk’s demise, I had no reason to stay.
And just like that, I did not give much thought to the decision to move into Lloyd Ayya’s boarding place; I just wanted to get rid of the air I was experiencing. I met Lloyd Ayya5 as an enemy and he still remains an enemy to ‘Sadaham Sena’. He works for an NGO. We joined the ‘Sadaham Sena’, once when they barged into his work place.
“Is it true that you guys are building houses for Tiger families6 with foreign money?” Everyone was aghast by Gnanasara thero’s tone of voice. Media personnel armed with cameras were milling around in a show of support to us.
“Pardon me, reverend… We are building houses for people displaced because of the war.” A young man said as he confronted us.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Lloyd…. the project…”
“Looks like you are in a deep thought…. am I late?” Lloyd Ayya halted his motorcycle right in front of me. I grabbed my bag and sat on the back seat.
“Kasan looks much nicer in denim instead of that clergy-robe..” said Lloyd Ayya turning the bike to Vewelduwa7 . Even as I was caught between two worlds, his words brought a hint of a smile to my lips.
“I’m going to have a full string hopper kottu dinner, what would you have, Kasan…..? “ Lloyd Ayya stopped the bike at Green Garden Hotel.
“A small one is enough for me,” I said in a low tone.
When I was a monk, I thought the society had regressed. But now I know it hasn’t. I thought everyone would marginalise me; instead I was welcomed. The university and my boarding place both became more pleasant.
“Kasan, I started writing a short story, have a look…” Lloyd Ayya dropped a bunch of hand written papers onto the table. I started reading the untitled story.
“Yaśodharā8 was sobbing. Though she could have stopped what Channa9 was doing, she let him continue. ‘That’s because I yearned for it’, she thought to herself. ‘Did Siddhartha know that Rahula10 wasn’t his son? Was that the reason for his leaving? Did he know that I wasn’t satisfied? Wasn’t it true he was unable to please a woman?’ Rather than finding answers, Yaśodharā let out a long sigh, in an unsuccessful attempt to find some solace.”
“Oh my goodness, burn this, Ayya”
I read a chapter and tried to make him realise.
“Wouldn’t this be accepted as an art? Would I go to hell? Anyway, this concept is from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.”
There was a sardonic smile on Lloyd Aiya’s lips as he lit a cigarette. A ring of smoke that escaped rose up in a new found freedom.
“But this is a country of Theravada Buddhism.” The words slipped out of my mouth.
“Oh yes! In name only’.
I was dragged and then pushed into a dark room by two people. As I collapsed, the door slammed shut. I tried to peer through the faint light. I was able to make out the head priest lying in a corner. He was in some form of great discomfort. I moved toward him. He wasn’t asleep. His eyes were brimming with tears. Seeing me, he just stood up. I was terrified by seeing the blood that surged between his legs.
“What’s happening reverend?”, I screamed. But I was voiceless. He turned towards me and parted his robes: Oh god, his penis was cut – a gush of blood.
“Who did this crime…”
“Kasan, why are you screaming in the middle of night…” I opened my eyes to Lloyd Ayya’s voice. The room light was on.
“Nothing, I just had a dream”, I moved the mosquito net aside and sat.
“You are sweating crazily” he threw me a water bottle from the table. I held it with both my hands and drank thirstily. Lloyd Ayya was looking at me, smiling. He opened the door.
“Are you still living in hell?”
I did not reply.
I walked to the bathroom. Relieved somewhat after a rinse, I crawled back under the mosquito net. Singing softly, Lloyd Ayya shut the door, and then turned the light off. Not long after I could hear him right next to my ear. His scent really was the same sweaty scent that the head monk had.
I shut my eyes. Gently.☐
1. A Sanskrit word which means “half.”
2. ‘Buddha’s Vagabondage’, a novel written by Sri Lankan author Srinath Chaturanga, in 2018. The author was accused of being “anti Buddhist” and attempts were made to ban the book.
3. ‘Sadaham Sena’, (Army of Dhamma) is a fictional organisation of hardline monks.
4. A derogatory term used to stigmatise those who disrobed.
5. Ayya = Older brother in Sinhala
6. The families of the members of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), commonly known as ‘Tamil Tigers.’
7. A small village in Colombo suburbs
8. Wife of Prince Siddhartha
9. The head charioteer of Prince Siddhartha
10. Son of Prince Siddhartha