– by Shenali D Waduge –
The National Pride of the Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus which comprise more than 85% of Sri Lanka’s population has been badly hurt by the decision of the Parliament to blatantly ignore the Buddhist-Hindu sensitivities to the serving of Beef but re-introduce the ban on Pork in its canteen, at the request of the minority Muslim members of Parliament representing 9% of the country’s population. Why has Parliament ignored the sensitivities of over 85% of the country’s populace?
This is the type of humiliation of the country’s vast majority and its dietary habits rooted in Buddhist – Hindu civilizational history of the Indian sub – continent that has sparked a grass roots movement in Sri Lanka and spreading fast calling for a total ban on cattle slaughter and closure of Beef stalls in public markets.
On Monday July 29, 2013 there is scheduled to take place a Protest Walk commencing at 9.30 a.m. led by Buddhist monks and some members of the Municipal Council of Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte demanding a halt to cattle slaughter and closure of all Beef stalls in Kotte.
In a Parliament of 225 members, the will of close to 20 Muslim members has been allowed to prevail. Their religious dietary requirements demand the exclusion of Pork – well first it was prohibited, then it was lifted and now again it is prohibited. We say kudos to these Muslim MPs who stuck firm to their religious beliefs. Their commitment to their religion is lauded in comparison to the bogus cosmetic show of others. What we would like to know is what is stopping the rest of the MPs most of whom come from the village vote i.e. Buddhist vote, where voters find it unthinkable to kill cattle and consume its flesh from similarly demanding that no Beef should be served in Parliament or State functions?
MPs are welcome to partake of their dietary preferences in their personal lives but when they sit in Parliament or attend State affairs they are representing the People and the majority of the People of Sri Lanka do not slaughter cattle or eat beef. What is the image we are projecting by serving beef?
Both these practices are roundly condemned in Sri Lanka since time immemorial, and those who took the risk and got caught with Beef found their social rank and status removed by the fiat of the King, and the offender made an outcaste. Eating Beef brought shame and resulted in social ostracism of both the individual and his family.
If Parliamentarians know their history they would be well aware that animal slaughter was generally forbidden and a punishable offence during the times of the Buddhist Kings in Sri Lanka. It was only upon the arrival of the Portuguese that meat eating and liquor was introduced and legal slaughter of cattle took place in Kandy only after 1815 when the British lifted the age old ban on cattle slaughter. Thus, before the colonials arrived no citizen or even traders/travellers to the country could slaughter animals even on their festival days – the local society was basically a non – killing and non-meat eating one. Visitors had to respect the ethos of the Buddhist civilization.
Yet, with time people who arrived later to Sri Lanka and those who converted have transferred allegiance to foreign religions and the dietary preferences of these foreign sovereigns. In so doing applying habits like slaughtering animals and unmercifully and brutally killing animals through animal sacrifice has directly confronted with the culture that prevailed becoming an impediment to peaceful co-existence. More importantly, the message behind the calls against slaughter and sacrifice is the element of treating an animal as a co-partner of nature. Treating animals humanely is what the fundamental appeal is all about.
No one has a constitutional right to destroy the life of another sentient being. The Buddhist first precept while encouraging Buddhists not to kill also at the same time protects others from being killed. The law of the land under Buddhist Kings enshrined this moral and ethical principle. It only deferred in the instance of self-defense.
As a free and independent country we have every right to return to our sacred traditions and roots that prevailed in the pre-colonial era and revive everything that was good and morally defensible. We must never ever become a pale imitation of other countries or cultures when we have one to be proud of. In respect to production of meat, we must never become a meat exporting country. It was unthinkable then and it should not be entertained now. The Buddhist image and identity of this country is more important to us i.e. the country’s majority, than a fistful of foreign exchange earned from the export of meat.
Therefore as a first step in the long march towards establishing a Buddhist Social Order and compassionate society in Sri Lanka, the least that the Parliamentarians can do not to humiliate and demean their voters is to stop serving Beef in the Parliament canteen and ban serving of Beef at all state functions.
For Sri Lanka to be considered unique and treated as a wonder in the community of nations it must unequivocally uphold its cultural heritage and not unreservedly copy what all and sundry do.