| by Camelia Nathaniel
Courtesy: The Sunday Leader, Colombo
( April 20, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) has come under the limelight regarding the events that transpired in Wilpattu. Many believe that the BBS is acting in this manner due to the backing of a powerful politician. There are others who believe that there is a certain service that is being done by this group of monks and others raising these issues. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, the Executive Committee member of the BBS Dilantha Withanage said that, even if they were killed or criticised by anyone, there will be a day when the people of this country will realise that what they do is for a good cause. He said the BBS had fought for the prohibition of cattle slaughter as, according to Buddhism, it is considered a sin.
Following are excerpts:
Q. How would you respond to allegations that your organisation is an extremist organisation?
A. If we are to be branded as an extremist organisation, then one must cite reasons for doing so. We are not an extremist group but we are causalistic, believing in the laws of cause and effect. Everything we have said has been based on proper reason and evidence. For instance, when we raised the issues in Wilpattu and the Halal issue, these were all based on facts. We tried talking to the respective parties on the issue, but, when there was no response, we told the media. When that course of action failed, we took to the streets. We have never obstructed public life or inconvenienced the ordinary people in our actions against injustice. We have been very transparent in our actions.
Q. It is also said that you are acting so boldly due to the backing of powerful politicians. Is this true?
A. No, certainly not. I personally live in constant fear for my life and have been threatened. It is a blatant lie that we have political protection as there is no one to protect us. The only faith and strength we have is that truth is on our side and we believe in social justice. We are blessed with social capital where people believe in us. We have never robbed anyone or raped or killed. We are not afraid to die, and we have that strength. The reason people think we have political backing is because we had invited a certain powerful figure to open one of our centres, but, in fact, the BBS was not even directly involved. Our main monk Rev Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero is now 34. At the age of 27, he went alone to the midst of a rally held by prominent politicians and told them to go and ask Prabhakaran to stop the war and not the government, without any fear. Even at that time it was the social clout that he had and nothing else.
Q. Where does your organization get its funding?
A. Some say we are getting our funds from Israel but all these are lies. Anyone who has a problem or question regarding our funding can come and see for themselves as we are very open with our actions. We have no hidden accounts and no one helps us in any monetary form. We are blessed with the backing of the people and the temples as even the vehicles and food is all provided to us by them. We have no overheads and extra expenses. If anyone was to organise a protest or gather thousands of monks or people they would certainly have to spend, but we are lucky, in that sense. We can do that with the minimum expenses. Our organisation has no capital in the form of cash but we have a social capital.
Q. You have recently criticised a prominent minister. Is that an accusation against a particular minister or the government as a whole?
A. What Rev Gnanasara meant was that this particular Muslim politician was acting in this way taking the might of a prominent politician. I personally do not like to attack or target any politician in person. I had to resign from my job due to threats. I can clearly state that what the reverend monk meant was that this particular Muslim politician had taken the might of the government and is acting this way.
Q. The BBS is now being seen by some organisations, such as the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC) based in Washington, as a Religious and Cult Terrorist Group. They claim that the BBS is organising various campaigns against the country’s minority Muslim and Christian communities. What is your response?
A. The information on the web site of the TRAC is all false and cannot be taken seriously. If one was to go through the TRAC web site, according to them, 70% of Sri Lankans are terrorists. I would not even call them a research and analysis consortium as they have not done any research before they have come to these conclusions. Most of the vehicles that we use in our work are provided to us by a Catholic person and the logistic work done in our office is done by a Sindhi person. We have certainly not terrorised any minority group in this country as they allege on their website. We only stand up against injustice in this country.
Q. It is stated that Lord Buddha got on with all other religions and that the BBS is acting contrary to his teachings. What is your response?
A. We could be categorised as an organisation that is acting contrary to Buddhist teachings if we had gone and harassed the Muslims or the Catholics in this country for no rhyme or reason. There is no restriction for any religion or person to follow any religion in this country. We even told the police to arrest us if we were breaking the law or acting in a destructive manner. One must research as to why our organisation raises these issues in society when no one else has the courage to do so. If we have been wrong in any instance we have never hesitated to apologise.