Ballots, Bullets and Bhikkus
The Role of Buddhist Sangha in Sri Lankan Politics and Ethnic Conflict
By S. Y. Surendra Kumar
The book makes an attempt to analyse the Buddhist Sangha’s role in Sri Lankan politics and ethnic conflict. The Sangha’s role and growth before 1983 is also discussed in detail, as it laid the foundation for the Sangha to emerge as a potent force in Sri Lanka’s politics and played a vital role in the culmination of the ethnic conflict. Although there is considerable literature on Sri Lankan politics, ethnic conflict and peace process in general, there are only a few studies exclusively focusing on the Sangha’s role in depth.
In March 2018, the Sri Lankan government imposed the state of emergency and blocked the social media platforms to curb the violence against the Muslims in Kandy district. This emergency was the first since the end of the civil war. Although the alleged role of radical monks and Sinhalese-Buddhist outfits in this violence is ruled out, yet targeting the ethnic and religious minorities like Sri Lankan Tamils, Christians and Muslims is nothing new to the island. Apparently, the anti-minority violence and hate speech perpetuated by the radical monks and the Sinhalese- Buddhist chauvinistic outfits against Christians and Muslims have intensified in the post-2009 period. Hence, many wonder why a country which got its independence without any bloodshed and did not have violent political traditions underwent this kind of violence. Furthermore Sri Lanka’s dominant religion was Buddhism, and the Buddhist Sangha – preaching non-violence and peace – was highly influential. Yet, the society was afflicted with a protracted conflict and the Sangha itself contributed to the emergence of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism, generating and legitimising intolerance, hatred and violence. In this context, the book attempts to analyse the role of Buddhist Sangha in Sri Lankan politics and the ethnic conflict by particularly focusing on the entire gamut of issues since 1983.
This book is useful for college/university teachers, research scholars and students working on linkages between Buddhism, politics and ethnic violence in Sri Lanka.
Religion has been an important force in the political realm, which at times has resulted in the rise of religious nationalism. Both concepts – religion and nationalism – are ambivalent and are liberating forces that contribute to emancipating people from a variety of sources of alienation. Nationalism also generally unites peoples of various
cultures, languages, and dialects into unified and independent political entities. At the same time, religion was frequently used to inject anti-colonial nationalism and as a major facet of national identity. For instance, Islamic consciousness was the main ideology of the nationalist movements in Algeria, Egypt, and Indonesia. Similarly,
political Buddhism continues to be predominant in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. But in an ethnically divided society, religion can become a closed ideology and a means of collective mobilisation of the majority ethnic group against other communities [minorities].
At the same time, political leaders make use of religious leaders and manipulate religious symbols for their own political advancement. In this process, they integrate religion with the party by way of, for instance, giving supremacy to the majoritarian religion in the
constitutional structure. Consequently, religious organisations seek to control the entire political system and processes. The politicisation of religion and “religionisation” of politics has become a common feature in most of the Southeast Asian and South Asian nations. Religious organisations like the Buddhist Sangha, for example, have expanded
their role in a number of countries such as China (Tibet), Japan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. In this regard, Sri Lanka forms a suitable case study to understand the Sangha’s role in politics, ethnic conflict and the peace process and its implications for the deeply divided society.
Read full Introduction here
Read a chapter from the book here
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Author Dr. S. Y. Surendra Kumar is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Bangalore University, Bengaluru. He holds M. Phil. and Ph.D. degrees in South Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. He is a recipient of The Mahbub ul Haq Research Award and has published widely both nationally and internationally on issues related to Sri Lankan politics, ethnic conflict and foreign policy.
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