by Dushy Ranetunge in London
At present the government is trying to introduce a gaming bill, while religious fundamentalists are betting on the Talibanist element in society to stall it. One can imagine Buddhist fundamentalist groups such as the JHU trying to ensure that we go "back to the future" to a puritanical era, which never existed, but opposition from the Catholic Church to this bill before the Lessons Learnt Commission is hilarious.
The Vatican has several billion US dollars worth of investment in terms of holdings in Gold Bullion and considerable investments in stock markets around the globe. Pray, what is the difference between betting on a horse, cards or roulette and betting on the speculative markets of the world stock indices and bullion trading? Surely greed is the driving factor, or is the Vatican investing for charity?
What is the difference between grief brought upon by losing your money in gambling to losing your money in stocks and other far riskier financial instruments such as futures and options, junk bonds etc., which are freely traded in international markets?
In the past, only the very rich owned or may I say gambled in shares and markets, but today, ordinary people routinely invest in the stock market directly by purchasing shares and indirectly with their pension funds investing in the stock market, without them even knowing it. Even their government buys and sells shares.
Is the Catholic Church trying to convince us in the 21st century that betting on the stock performance of a muti-national giant, or the price fluctuations in the bullion market is morally superior to betting on a horse?
Coming back to our home grown religious fundamentalism, there are no known lessons that Lord Buddha went around India trying to influence legislation or telling people how they should dress when coming to see him, or stop betting on a horse, or a chicken/dog fight they may have had during his time?
Unlike Jesus, the Sakyamuni did not drive the traders from the temple.
Certainly, questions could be raised as to his parenting skills and responsibilities, considering that he left his palace the day his child was born, but the great master never forced his opinions on citizens, whether it be Sinhala only, dress codes at temples or breathing fire on those who gambled.
His greatest lesson I would say is the adherence to the middle path, moderation.
In Britain, Hong Kong, Australia, the United States, Canada, Buddhist Thailand and Hindu India horse racing remains widely popular and most tend to place a bet at least once a year in Britain at the "grand national".
Moderation is very much in practice, but as to those who over indulge in gambling is no different to alcoholism, excessive debt, chain smokers and what about power hungry politicians who want to be in power for life?
If we ban everything in sight because it is a risk to family life and humanity, then I suggest that the church and the JHU start with motor vehicles, as it is one of the biggest killers in Sri Lanka.
Horse racing was once extremely popular in Sri Lanka, with racecourses in Colombo, Boossa and Nuwara Eliya and even in Ratnapura. It generated considerable revenue to the coffers of the state and employed tens and thousands of Sri Lankans.
As a comparison for what it could have been if it was allowed to develop, today the Hong Kong Jockey Club is one of the largest taxpayers in Hong Kong as well as one of the largest private charity donors.
Bandaranaike’s Sinhala/Buddhist fundamentalism shut it all down in Sri Lanka. He told us while puffing on his English pipe with foreign tobacco, that it was not in keeping with our culture and traditions.
But it was and has always been a fraud, no different to imposing a Sinhala education on the citizens while their children were educated in English abroad. Now they are all scrambling to learn Singlish and its taken 30 years for the masses to realize it was all a fraud. Then it was mawbasa, but now its mawbima and another 30 years may be needed for realization to dawn.
Gambling is supposed to be illegal in Sri Lanka, because its bad for us, says the Taliban. But in almost every large town in Sri Lanka you will find a "Turf Accountant" where you could bet on foreign horse races. They often have huge satellite dishes mounted on their buildings. It’s a big operation, owned by a "respectable" Kandyan Buddhist family.
It’s illegal, but the police don’t see it, the politicians don’t see it, the press doesn’t see it and the Taliban are ignorant as usual.
Considering that despite being illegal, it has all been around for decades and everyone keeps mum, the present uproar could only be rooted in ignorance. Are they worried that the masses might pour out of the present greasy "turf accountants" and commandeer buses and head towards Monte Carlo in Hambantota, where roses bloom and the sun always shines?