History of ‘Fasts-unto-death’ | Daily News

History of ‘Fasts-unto-death’

Nationalism is nothing but a glorified form of Tribalism - J. Krishnamurthi

When a government begins to help racial or religious emotionalism merely because it is a harsh and loud-noised demand made on it, and then obstruct in the management and enforcement of law and order for the benefit of its favourites or to win the praise of a crowd, however out of management it may be, adversity is certain.

Buddha declared that extreme fasting runs contrary to the Dhamma or Buddhist path. While relatively short- term, controlled fasts are sometimes undertaken as a support to meditation in all three major Buddhist traditions, but there are no clearly defined rules are in place.

Ultra-nationalists ‘fast unto death’ six decades ago

Threats and intimidation to end their lives if the demands are not met is nothing new to Sri Lanka. Fasting unto death by politicians and ultra-nationalists during the ‘Sinhala Only in 24 hours’ of the Bandaranaike days of 1950s when lawyer politician K. M. P. Rajaratne, and Prof J. E. Jayasuriya, a Peradeniya University Don, both extremist Sinhala Only campaigners went on hunger strikes or fast unto death demanding drafting of legislation for Sinhala Only with no concessionary clauses for use of Tamil language even in Tamil speaking regions. They selected the steps of the old Parliament for the disgraceful act that led to Prime Minister Bandaranaike to abrogate or delete that all important clause in legislation. The university students claimed both were sipping thambili. Later Maha Sangha sat on the lawns of Rosemead Place residence of PM, ably supported by JR and Dudley of UNP, demanding the abrogation of Banda-Chelva Pact that proposed regional autonomy in use of Tamil language forcing our man to destroy the pact.

Most of fasts to death since then have not been considered seriously.

Athuraliye Rathana Thera

The Chief Prelates of the Malwathu Asgiriya Chapters wrote to the President and Prime Minister, yesterday. “We request that these demands be met to reinstate the prestige and the security of the land for the security and well-being of the public, the issue should be resolved before Thera’s health state deteriorated”.

Governors M. L. A. M. Hizbullah and Azath Salley had resigned from their posts, making way for Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera to call off his fast unto death, expecting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to take necessary action on Minster Rishad Bathiudeen. National list parliamentarian (UNF) launched his fast in the Sri Dalada Maligawa precincts in Kandy on May 31, challenging the appointments of Minister, and Governors Hizbulla and Salley. The two Governors submitted their letters of resignation. The Thera broke fast and was rushed to the Kandy General Hospital for treatment. Many including Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Buddhist monks and politicians called on the Thera. His Eminence Cardinal said that Rathana Thera was fasting for the rights of those affected by the Easter bombings; he appealed for proper investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks and that it had not been exposed who backed them.

Wimal Weerawansa and Ban Ki Moon

In 2010 Wimal Weerawansa staged a ‘fast unto death’ on a platform erected opposite the UN headquarters in Colombo demanding the abolishing of the UN committee appointed by the Secretary General of UN Ban Ki Moon, to probe alleged war crimes committed by our military during the final stages of the war. Later as it was revealed by his former JVP buddies, Weerawansa had been fed with lemon biscuits and saline. Medical opinion is that a healthy person could go avoiding food for about a week on a saline drip. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his boss and mentor offered him a glass of thambili to end the drama.

Thevarapperuma on ceiling fan heroics

Controversial politician the Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs and Cultural Affairs, Palitha Thevarapperuma attempted suicide after staging a fast unto death before the Educational Office at Matugama, for refusal by the authorities of a school to admit some students. He even attempted to hang himself on a ceiling fan. His protests produced results with students being admitted. Thevarapperuma then gave up his fast but collapsed and was rushed to hospital. However the ‘heroic’ attempt of this minister was not accepted by some authorities for he was charged in courts for unlawful entry to the school along with his supporters and mothers of the children all of whom were arrested and remanded.

Thileepan’s death fast

About 9,000 Indian troops were in Sri Lanka under Rajiv Gandhi-JRJ Pact to enforce the peace. It was September 15, 1987. Amirthalingam Thileepan 23, began a fast unto death demanding that all Tamil political prisoners be released, that police stations remain closed in the mostly Tamil north and east, that resettlement of the majority Sinhalese in Tamil-dominated areas be stopped, that a Sinhalese civilian militia be disarmed.

He had been a leader of the political wing of most powerful Tamil separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. On September 27 after refusing to eat food or drink water for 12 days, Thileepan was compelled to end the fast in the environs of the famous Nallur’s Kandasamy Temple. The young Tamil leader, sacrificed his life in a bid to achieve freedom for his people. As hundreds of people prayed and watched, 12 days of complete fasting, without even water, wilted away the life of a gallant young man who sacrificed himself for the sake of his people. The sight of this young brave man wilting away, have left an unforgettable mark on the mind of all self-respecting people. There were no doctors examining him every two hours and no ambulances on call to rush him to hospital.

Students of Universities attempted for fast unto death on several occasions in the recent past. With the minimal impact they could create, the nation will hardly take note of their fast. A hunger strike, a non-violent pressure in which partakers fast as an act of political protest, usually with the objective to attain a specific purpose, such as a policy change. Most hunger strikers take liquids but avoid solid food.

blown up distress

Symbolic acts such as the sacrifice link acts of violence to religion and terrorism, suicide terrorism, or martyrdom has throughout history been planned and perpetrated by brainwashed factions with both religious and political motivations. Suicide terrorism or martyrdom is, inexpensive, efficient easily organised, and awfully difficult to counter, delivering utmost damage for slight cost. The appalling nature of a suicide attack also attracts public interest. Venerating the culture of martyrdom payback the terrorist groups and inspires more natives to join the group. Retaliation against suicide attacks enhances the group’s sense of victimization and dedication to adhere to principle and policy. This process provides to encourage martyrdom, and so suicide intimidation, self-sacrifice.

Violent protests and so-called ‘non-violent’ remonstration

Like terrorism this type of submissive confrontation cannot prosper without huge publicity. Today, protests receive fantastic media interest particularly passionate electronic media coverage.

Twenty to 25 protesters gather at a convenient point after contacting the regional media, TV channels engage a single reporter to cover all channels in remote places as well. Harsh words and action voice cuts delivered in ten minutes demonstrations and all disperse, but get wide publicity.

Fanatical patriots, ultranationalists, extremists and those suffering from tribal-mentality, both the educated and not-so-educated, are vulnerable and could easily be enticed to risk their life, for a ‘cause’ which they believed sacred; Somarama was brain-washed by Buddharakkitha to assassinate a Prime Minister.

“No government worthy of being representative of a large mass of people can afford to take any step merely because it is likely to win the hasty applause of an unthinking public. In the midst of insanity, should not our best representatives maintain sanity and bravely prevent a wreck of the ship of state under their care?”—Mahatma Gandhi

PS -Title of last week’s column should read “…Dutch Missionaries” instead of “…Methodist Missionaries” –We regret the error.

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