OF the myriad news in the mainstream press on Friday, there was a report about Buddhists building two kovils in the Wanni. As per the article, Buddhists in Kandy and other philanthropists had contributed funds to build two Muththumari Amman Kovils for Hindu devotees in two villages of Madukulam and Sinnathampane in Vavuniya. Quoting security forces sources, the report claimed that people in these two villages lacked a proper kovil for worship or rituals.
Set up at a cost of Rs. 1.2 million, the Army had provided the labour for the construction under the supervision of the Wanni Security Forces Commander Major General A.K.S. Perera and the Kovil was opened by Division Commander of 61 Division Brigadier A. Kariyakarawana. Interestingly the initiative had been spearheaded by Mahanuwara Thisarana Sarana Bauddha Sangamaya and the Chief Buddhist Prelate of Africa Ven. Yatirawana Vimala Thera.
We do not know whether this development has been publicised in the vernacular press which is widely read by the majority of this country. If all that is said in the article is factual, which we presume to be so, then the news is of major importance.
A fortnight ago in an interview published in the Daily FT, TNA Member of Parliament M.A. Sumanthiran made some startling revelations. He alleged that in the north places of worship were being destroyed, new Buddha statues and Buddhist places of worship were coming up in areas where there are no Buddhist civilians at all, increased ‘Sinhalisation’ taking place, new Sinhala names being given, name boards being changed and so on.
Some of the descriptions which Sumanthiran outlined are true and a visit to the north on the A9 will confirm it. Most peace-loving people as well as those engaged in building greater ethnic harmony in post-war Sri Lanka have expressed serious concerns over some of the alleged acts of so-called ‘Sinhalisation’ of the north. One wonders whether such acts are even necessary for any responsible and sincere Government, which has said it was keen to achieve rapid reconciliation and rebuilding in the north.
There is certainly credence in some of the remarks made by Sumanthiran. It is also public knowledge that most of the new shops opened in liberated areas are run by people connected to the armed forces. Given the on-going resettlement operations in the former war-zone it is understandable that the Army has been having an expansive engagement. Perhaps those in the north, in setting about their daily chores, may have expected less of the military presence two years since the end of terrorism; but this may not be quite so.
The Government, especially the security authorities, may want to keep a close watch and a permanent presence in the north and east to nip in the bud any suspect acts of terror or separatism. However, the true challenge lies in demilitarising the north and east as much as possible, thereby ensuring a return to normality in every sense. With many of the displaced persons resettled and demining done, such a course can be expected.
After the valiant forces successfully defeated terrorism, everyone – even those in the south – has one wish: that greater harmony can flourish among all communities. In reaching this goal, the country needs greater acts of goodwill as exemplified by the building of two kovils in the Wanni, rather than more of what Sumanthiran alleged.
The rebuilding of the north must increasingly engage the very people from the area as it will be a catalyst to fostering trust and inclusive development – two components which are critical for credible and lasting reconciliation.