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Sri Lankan Buddhists threaten mass protests over cattle slaughter

Warning follows self-immolation death of a monk in protest over halal butchers

Sri Lankan Buddhists threaten mass protests over cattle slaughter

Members of Sinhala Rawaya, a coalition of Buddhist groups, protest on Sunday in Colombo over the slaughter of cattle reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

May 28, 2013

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A Buddhist group has warned the government of widespread protests if it does not ban the slaughter of cattle in the Buddhist-majority country.

The demand follows the death on Saturday of Venerable Bowatte Indraratna Thera, 30, who self-immolated the previous day in protest over the killing of cattle by Muslims and attempts to convert Buddhists by Christians.

The monk set fire to himself near the main entrance of the Temple of the Tooth Dalada Maligawa. 

“We will petition the president and the country’s chief monks to take immediate action to bring about laws against cattle slaughter and conversion,” said Venerable Akmeemana Dayaratne Thera, chairman of Sinhala Rawaya, a coalition of Buddhist organizations.

He added that the dead monk last year had carried out protest campaigns against what he saw as the encroachment of minority religious communities on the country’s predominant religion.

“We have planned to bring all Buddhists and other organizations working for animal rights to achieve the aim of the monk, who sacrificed his life for this cause,” he said.

Tensions among the country’s religious communities have increased in recent months as Buddhists have staged campaigns to boycott halal butcher shops and other halal products.

Security around Muslim-owned shops in Pepiliyana, a Colombo suburb, was increased in March after a Buddhist mob burned buildings, smashed vehicles and pelted government troops with stones.

Eating beef is common among Buddhists in Sri Lanka, despite Buddhist restrictions on the killing of animals.

A political analyst from the University of Colombo told that the protests over the slaughter of cattle have less to do with Buddhist practice than with discrimination.

“This death [of the monk] is an ongoing protest against minority Muslims in Sri Lanka,” said the analyst, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. 

“Muslims and Christians each represent about 7 percent of the population. The agitation against minority religions took a turn for the worst following a recent census that showed a higher population growth among Muslims rather than Sinhalese Buddhists, which account for about 70 percent of the population,” the analyst said.

Public Administration Minister John Seneviratne said yesterday that he supported calls for a ban on cattle slaughtering but that such a law would be difficult to enforce. 

Meanwhile, the Criminal Investigation Division of the Colombo police has opened a case against a journalist who shot video of the monk’s self-immolation, arguing that he had advanced knowledge of the monk’s intentions and should have informed police to intervene.

Charitha Herath, the Media Ministry Secretary, said journalists who had advanced knowledge of the monk’s intentions should have reported them to the police.

“My issue is that if you have already [been] informed by somebody that he is going to commit suicide, you are supposed to at least inform others to get rid of that disaster,” Herath was quoted as saying in a BBC report.

Local media reported that Bowatte Indrararatna Thera described his act as “a sacrifice of a life and not a suicide,” in a statement before setting himself alight.

“We have no problem with major religions like Catholics, Christians, Muslims or Hindus, and we believe in religions co-existing, but everybody must respect the country’s constitution and give foremost place to Buddhism,” the monk was reported to have said.

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