“Uba ganiyak nisa nikan innawa. Pirimiyek unanan tho polé gahanawa allagana (I am letting it go because you are a woman. If you were a man, I would dash you on the floor),” shouted the man draped in a monk’s robe.
Then he proceeded to give instructions to a police officer, one of the two police officers present at the scene, who stood amongst the crowd that gathered around the screaming man and visibly terrified woman. Next to the terrified woman was a little girl believed to be her daughter.
“Remand karanna ona. Danna ona usavi (Should be remanded. Should be sent to court),” he said.
The woman held her hands together, worshipping the man, and asking for forgiveness. On one occasion she bent down to worship him as he ignored her.
When a bystander asked the orange robe clad man to forgive her, he turned his wrath towards them.
“Thamusé hondata mathaka thiyagannawa eka ekata ona widihata eka eka dewal karanna ba. Meka Sinhala Baudda Ratak. Mé gani mewa adagana yanakota, damila thamusela kiyanne as wahagena inna kiyalada?” he asked.
His query translates into English as, “You keep in mind, people cannot do whatever they desire. This is a Sinhala Buddhist country. What you Tamil people are asking us to do is turn a blind eye when this woman goes around wearing this?”
The Tamil woman who his anger is directed at was at a bus stop in Trincomalee on Thursday (29) when a mob led by a visibly Buddhist monk surrounded her. She was wearing a black saree with images of a face printed on it.
The print on the saree aggravated the monk. He claimed they were images of the Buddha. It is questionable as to whether it was actually the images of the face of the Buddha, as some believe the images represented that of a Hindu deity.
“What one chooses to wear is not an insult to the Buddha, but if the wearer is harmed or harassed for wearing that piece of clothing then that is an offence directed towards the Buddha,” Galkande Dhammananda Thera told the Sunday Observer.
He explained that if a person is intimidated or put through mental stress in the name of Buddhism, then that person who is intimidating them is insulting the Buddha.
“These are innocent people. They wear what they can afford or what was gifted to them. It is not right to arrest or hurt them,” the Thera said.
The saree-clad lady was taken to the Trincomalee police where she was warned and allowed to return home. A police officer attached to the Trincomalee Police Station said the woman has apologized and changed into another saree before going home.
This is not the first occasion where thug-like men with their fragile Buddhist ideologies took revenge from unsuspecting victims who were mostly women.
On May 17, a Muslim woman was arrested and remanded by the Hasalaka Police for wearing a kaftan decorated with the logo of a ship’s helm, which was mistaken for a Dharmachackraya. She was charged under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act. On April 1, award winning novelist Shakthika Sathkumara was charged under the ICCPR Act when one of his short stories that hints on sexual abuse in Buddhist temples aggravated a few monks.
In a separate incident, in 2014, British tourist Naomi Michelle Coleman was deported for sporting a tattoo of the Buddha on her arm.
Following the Easter Sunday attacks, there were a heightened number of cases where Buddhist monks intimidated mostly people from minority groups for bearing items resembling anything related to Buddhism.
“The real issue is what the police is doing when the monks are threatening and intimidating innocent people. In the Trincomalee case, the police just stood and watched as this man (monk) said things like ‘dashing on the floor’,” asked civil society activist Gamini Viyangoda adding that police should have taken action against the monk for threatening her.
He further said that Sri Lanka’s law bends in the presence of a Buddhist monk, and that is a clear indication of a destructive future. He also said the acts of such monks’ echoes Talibanism.
“These persons in robes are given a sense of importance by Southern politicians who have given importance to religion and ethnicity. Now the monks have assumed a sense of great power and are behaving like thugs,” he explained. He said politicians and law enforcing officials are responsible for letting these situations reach to this level where we hear alarming incidents such as the ones that took place in Hasalaka or Trincomalee.
On July 2, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Dr. N. D. Udagama wrote to Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana Wickramaratne flagging arbitrary arrests. Stating that the commission received complaints ‘alleging illegal arrests’ Dr. Udagama noted down guidelines in order to avoid such instances.
The letter states ‘where cultural issues are involved, such as the identification of religious symbols or identifying contents written in an alien language, proper expert opinion should be obtained’.
Addressing Coleman’s case, Dr. Udagama stated the Supreme Court found that there was no possibility of a public outcry, though the police so alleged, due to the display of such a tattoo. Acting IGP wrote back to the Chairperson of the HRCSL, early last month, stating an ‘instructional message has been circulated among all police officers, based on the guidelines issued’ by the HRCSL.
Meanwhile, attorney-at-law and human rights activist Radika Gunaratne said several rights of the woman clad in the saree had been violated in the Trincomalee incident.
“Taking the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act into consideration, we see that this person’s rights were violated,” Gunaratne said adding that the monk’s threats can also be flagged as violence against women.
“But the issue here is where can she go to complain? She has to go to the police in the same area,” she said. The same police was present when the monk wreaked havoc in a crowded place.Gunaratne also said the police need not wait for a complaint from the woman as it is a conduct against society. “Police can commence prosecution against the monk.