Racism is a colonial hangover | Daily News

Racism is a colonial hangover

We are committed to all citizens being equal:

I am going by the data given to me by the Police:

I was misquoted:

PTA will not be Repealed in full:

Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe in an interview with the Daily News spoke on the recent controversy involving him and issues pertaining to minorities among others.

Q: In a recent interview with the BBC, you said that there were "four minor incidents" (sulu siduweem) regarding attacks on Churches.

A: Not attacks. I meant incidents some of which were issues among themselves.

Q: But there is documented evidence that it is beyond that. For instance, 100 villagers attacked and destroyed the Kithusewana Church in Karuwalagaswewa on June 9th this year. A Church in Ingiriya was vandalized on May 29, 2016. The Assembly of Christ Church in Veyangoda was attacked on June 26. The Jeewanadiya Church in Moragahahena was attacked and the list goes on and on. There is so much of documented incidents of these types of attacks. How are you saying it is 4?

A: You can’t say it’s documented. There are no two Police services in Sri Lanka. Police are not maintained in Churches. We have only one Police Department in Sri Lanka. I am speaking of the relevant period that is after January 8, 2015. There are only 4 incidents in Police records. There is nothing more than these 4 incidents in Police records and I have shown in to the people.

Q: But the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka and other groups which include minority rights groups both local and international, are saying that there have been more and that they are documented and that there have been complaints made in Police stations?

A: Let them produce the list. I have produced a list of four. If there are other incidents which occurred during that period, they could submit the list and point out that I was wrong. I got the official report from the Police and most of these publications on websites and social media are run by various NGO people and they know how to make money by providing these details. In fact, there have been 15 or 16 incidents against Muslims, 13 or 14 against Buddhists, 1 against Hindus and no incidents against the Catholic Church.

Q: But again, you do know that there is an ideological difference between the Catholic Church and these?

A: it is not a matter for us. When we have to implement the law and render justice, we have to apply the same law. I am sure you agree.

Q: I am reading this report Mr. Rajapakshe ' Confronting intolerance; Continued violations against religious minorities in Sri Lanka' by Minority Rights Group International.

A: That is some rubbish group. Why can’t they bring the official statement made to the Police and produce it?

Q: But...

A: What is the use of putting these up on websites?

Q: Are you categorically saying that there were only 4 attacks?

A: Not attacks, just incidents.

Q: Are you categorically saying that it was only 4?

A: Yes, during the relevant period. Correct.

Q: Let me move on. In an interview published today (on Thursday) in a local newspaper, you specifically said with regard to the hate speech coming from a monk, you said that you agree with the view expressed by the Asgiriya Chapter. That you agree in the substance of the hate speech, but it is the conduct that you object to?

A: No, that is not about incidents or anything like that. That was about their (Asgiriya chapter) statement about the purported takeover of the control of the Rangiri Dambulu Viharaya. It was not about the conduct of the monk or about anything regarding the incidents.

Q: Right...

A: I think they have apparently got it mixed up. I being the Minister of Buddha Sasana, I had to clarify the legal position of the temples to have their own control.

Q: So Mr. Minister, to clarify, the sentiment expressed by the Asgiriya Chapter which said that although the conduct of the monk is deplorable, there is substance to the sentiments. Don't you stand with that?

A: I don’t want to get involved in that controversy, that is their opinion. But I know and I speak with personal experience that the issues had arisen as a failure of the Archaeological Department. When there is an archaeological site, it is the duty of the department to preserve them. When they don’t do it people may encroach. That is the normal nature. And in certain places once identified, we made arrangements to preserve them. But still the Venerable Monks say that there are some more places. In fact, even the Minister was not satisfied with the conduct of the Director General and interdicted him. I think the issue the monks are raising is linked to the failure to preserve these archaeological sites.

Q: But Mr. Minister, we have had close to 30 Muslim owned businesses attacked, we have Christian groups and minorities saying that there is a rise of extremism coming from the majority community and you are the Minister of Buddha Sasana.

A: There are no 30 incidents of attacks on Mosques or Muslim Institutions. There are only 16. I can provide you the list.

Q: But this list?

A: You can't go by lists on websites. I can provide you the list which have been given to me by the Police. According to it, there have been only 16 incidents.

Q: Are you saying 16 between April and June 2017?

A: No I am saying 16 from January 8, 2015.

Q: Are you saying only 16 incidents have been reported ?

A: I will give you the list, if you say I am wrong, you can show me how. I have got the official details from the Police. I am not the one doing calculations and investigations. I vehemently condemn any act of violence against any religious place or institution. It is the duty of the State to protect them. But one thing you may have to realize is that I am not going to compare and say they didn't take action and we have taken action and give out a foolish argument, but the fact is that except with regard to one or two incidents, the Police have taken action in all such cases. Suspects have been arrested, produced and the cases are pending.

Q: Except when it came to the main suspect, who dramatically was given bail in three cases on the same day, including an arrest warrant being withdrawn.

A: I can't comment on it because it is the conduct of the Court. We are not controlling the Courts. Bail is a discretion of the Judge. So it is not something I can comment on. We can’t take the responsibility concerning the conduct of the Court. I also think that our people have a wrong attitude about bailin their minds. I am not referring to this particular case, but in general, there is a notion that when there is a charge, a suspect must be kept until the case is over. That is not the law. In 1996, the new Bail Act came in. The rule is you shall grant bail, the exception is to refuse.

Q: To take you to the focal point, Mr. Lakshan Dias commented on these incidents in his capacity I believe as an activist. What right does the Minister of Justice have to call for his debarring?

A: Not in my capacity as Minister of Justice, but as a citizen of this country. He said 195 Christian churches had been attacked, he reaffirmed. Then the compere said "you are going to burn this country and asked are you taking the responsibility" (to the figures). He said yes.

Q: But he is quoting from figures...

A: You can't quote from various places and make statements on live TV. The following morning there can be mayhem. You are trying to burn the whole country. You as a citizen of this country, would you ever say 195 mosques have been attacked without proper proof?

Q: But Minister the NCEASL was established in 1952 and since the 1990s, they have been cataloguing data. This data has been used...

A: No you are wrong. He said it was after January 8, 2015.

Q: Yes...

A: You give me the data since then. They have become a nuisance to the Catholic community. The first thing they have encroached upon are the Catholic people. They don’t come behind Buddhists or Muslims, because it isn't easy. The easiest catch for them are the Catholics and they are fighting against the Catholics.

Q: Right. So Mr. Minister you are aware of this ideological difference. Do you agree that it is futile to ask the Cardinal to verify this data? Do you understand that?

A: No, it is not futile. As far as this country is concerned, the most respected and responsible religious dignitary be it for the Christians and the Catholics, as far at the State is concerned is the Archbishop of Colombo. You can’t underestimate what the Archbishop says. He is speaking with responsibility

Q: But it is perceived as a threat what you said to a member of your profession...

A: There is no threat. People have already complained to the Supreme Court. If you are jeopardizing the interests of the entire nation or create a destruction or arouse communal tension and create what happened in 1983, a man like that - do you think he wants to protect human rights?

Q: With regard to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), you spoke of this today as well ( at a preceding press conference), what is you stance on it?

A: We are still studying it. Because even last week the British Prime Minister had tightened their law. The detention period has increased. When there is a threat the country has to react accordingly. Now the situation around the world has changed. The situation which prevailed in January, 2015 and now has changed and we have to take into consideration the proposals, depending on the situation arising within the country and in the world, we may have to change our stance.

Q: So there is not going to be a repeal?

A: Even if we are going to repeal it, that doesn’t mean it is going to be totally done away with. On one hand we are trying to restrict abuse and on the other hand we are trying to widen it to cover international issues which are happening or linked to those activities, which may cause a threat to the country.

Q: As an intellectual, do you not see that there is a dissonance between your government and the majority community? That this dissonance that had come up during the last two years, is because this government had failed to identify themselves with the Sinhalese Buddhist national ethos. Isn't this what gives rise and help perpetuate what we are witnessing today?

A: No, I don’t think so. In fact, when we came into power in January 2015 you know the situation we had in this country. You had no freedom to talk to me like this and even if you did, you won’t be able to publish it. During this period, we have established free media, the right to expression, we have established the Right to Information among many others. This is not due to our failure, but due to some unfortunate issues which we have to find out what the causes are and what resulted in this. It is very unfortunate that some people are trying to rile up communal feelings in the country.

Q: Let me ask you this once again, isn't there a massive feeling of despondency among the majority community, which results in this?

A: No, you can’t say that. Extremists are there in all communities.

Q: No I am not talking about extremists. Leave out the extremists. I'm talking about the masses of this country who feel that this government is not representative of the Sinhalese Buddhist ethos.

A: Yes, there is that allegation. There is this allegation within the Sinhalese Buddhist community. There are isolated incidents which takes place. We concede that this type of thing happens. We don’t tolerate them. But in all such cases, except one or two, action had been taken in all the cases. In fact, after a lengthy discussion between the President and the Prime Minister and all the senior Cabinet Ministers, we suggested that the Police OIC must take full responsibility and he must take care of the security in the area and dedicate himself and prevent such crimes.

Q: But you aren't answering my question. The feeling that this Government is run by the elite which is distanced from the average Sinhalese Buddhists - isn't that one of the causes the government is unable to react?

A: I answered this question before. Yes there is this feeling among certain sections. You are correct.

Q: And what would you do about this?

A: The first is to educate them. I am pleading with them to think as Sri Lankans. It is an attitude issue. I plead with them to look at everyone as equals, to shed away these personal identities. Even India had gone so far was because they go on grounds of a national identity and not ethnic and other identities. In fact at a recent interview I showed a Phd Research by Jane Russel, an English lady titled 'Communal Politics in Sri Lanka under the Donoughmore Constitution.' I think it is a very important book for all journalists to read. With her wisdom, the book was written in the 70's or 80's. She has said that nationalists in Sri Lanka is equal to racism. That is because the foundation of democracy was laid by the British in 1911 with this intention ( of Communal differences) and they wanted it to be there. And to have representatives in the Legislative Council on communal basis. Unfortunately in 1948, although the system was done away with, the attitudes haven't changed. 

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