Sri Lanka’s External Ministry backs off on taking up issue of dropping of Pali for IAS exams with Government of India

Ministry of External Affairs Sri Lanka

– by Shenali D. Waduge –

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country whatever schemes are being attempted to overtly and covertly dilute and change this fact. We are well aware of these agendas. Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees foremost place to Buddhism and imposes a mandatory duty on the State not only to protect but also ‘foster’ Buddhism, an obligation confined exclusively only to Buddhism vis a vis all other religions prevalent in Sri Lanka.

Pali (also i) is the language of many of the earliest extant Buddhist scriptures as collected in the Pāi Canon, or Tipitaka, and it is the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism.

Pali is the language that has to a great extent encapsulated the Buddha’s teachings as contained in the Tipitaka, which is considered a treasure trove of Buddhist knowledge and an important carrier of the Buddhist doctrine throughout the world.

More importantly Theravada Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and communities practising Theravada Buddhism in various other countries both in Asia (Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, and Bangladesh) and the West, are bonded by the common thread of Pali, an important component in Buddhist studies.

Bhikkhu Bodhi, in a seminal article states that the Pali language is “closely related to the language that the Buddha himself spoke”. He goes on to write:

“This (Pali) language …. reflects the thought-world that the Buddha inherited from the wider Indian culture into which he was born, so that its words capture the subtle nuances of that thought-world”.

The work of Buddhaghosa (5th Century) was largely responsible for Pali becoming an important scholarly language in Buddhist thought. The Visuddhimagga and the other commentaries that Buddhaghosa compiled codified and condensed the Sinhalese commentarial tradition that had been preserved and expanded in Sri Lanka since the 3rd century BCE.

Pali under threat of extinction in India

Several articles have appeared in both the Sri Lankan and international mass media informing the public of the news that the Indian Government has removed Pali language from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) examination.

The inclusion of Pali in this competitive examination was one of the major reasons that attracted many young prospective candidates for the Indian Administrative Service to opt to engage in Pali and Buddhist Studies. The examination was treated as a major lifeline in the preservation of the Pali language, and it was credited to have played an important role in stemming the decline of the study of Buddhism in its Indian homeland.

The news of Pali being removed from the IAS examination has disheartened millions of Buddhists in India. 20million Ambedkar Buddhists in Maharastra alone have made public their discontent. 20million Ambedkar Buddhists is equal to the entire population of Sri Lanka and Maharastra is just one Indian State. There are 70million Buddhists in India and over 300 million Dalits (Ambedkarites) in India. 127 Members of Parliament of India are Ambedkarites. These numbers are important for Sri Lanka’s strategists who are ever ready to meekly succumb to less than 65million threats from Tamil Nadu.

India which has shown a great interest in recent years in holding various workshops and seminars in Buddhist Asian countries refocusing attention to India’s strong historical links to Buddhism, including funding the establishment of an International Buddhist Confederation in New Delhi last month, would suffer an irreversible set back in its current efforts to win over Buddhist countries in Asia by this unpardonable and short sighted policy decision to drop Pali Language from its IAS examination.

The Pali language should not be allowed to become a victim of Indian bureaucracy and other hostile groups funded mostly from outside India with Abrahamic colouring who have a hidden agenda to weaken the status and influence of India’s indigenous religions i.e. Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.  

The Head of the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies at Banares Hindu University – Prof. Siddharth Singh on a recent visit to Sri Lanka even appealed to the Sri Lankan Government to take up the issue at the highest levels of Indian Government to help restore Pali as a subject for the IAS Exam.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry’s response

The question is what is the response of the Sri Lankan Government in particular the Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry? Their stock lame excuse concerning any issue with Buddhists has been they do not have comprehensive information on this matter (see article ‘Pali shown the door in Buddha’s land’ ‘Daily Mirror’ – October 2, 2013).

What attempt was made to seek such information from people and institutions that matter? Is ‘lack of comprehensive information’ a satisfactory excuse for an important Ministry? Do they expect people to provide information on a platter? Is it not the duty of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be pro – active on matters of concern to the Buddhist public of Sri Lanka? Where is the leadership and interest on matters affecting Buddhists and Buddhism?

Is the External Ministry not violating its obligation to Sri Lanka’s Constitution by adopting a very lack lustre approach to Buddhist issues? The Sri Lankan Government and in particular the Sri Lankan President needs to realize that the External Affairs Ministry may well be purposely side-lining Buddhist concerns and we would like to know on whose authority this is being done. Surely the President and his coterie of advisors must inform him that side lining of Buddhists will have repercussions as his popularity rests with the solid backing he gets from his Southern vote block and it is this vote block that will be tested at the 2014 Presidential election for which opponents are already planting the venom unbeknown to the President or his team. Only time will tell just how ‘friends’ would have betrayed and deserted camp and it would be too late. Leaders must always be on the right side of history.

Despite having 3 missions in India, the South Asian or SAARC Division of the External Affairs Ministry is conspicuously silent on all matters concerning Buddhists. It has chosen not to even include the omission of Pali at any of the bilateral discussions being held with India given that the Indian External Affairs Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid is at present in Sri Lanka coaxing Sri Lanka to sign the Sampoor Agreement for India to announce the presence of Manmohan Singh at the CHOGM to be held in November. We are likely to place our entire country at risk and pledge future generations for electricity manipulation by India just to get an Indian Prime Minister to attend CHOGM in November!

It is obvious that India is today the victim of crass multiculturalism and India’s Buddhist – Hindu heritage is gaining step motherly treatment in India no different to the manner Sri Lanka’s Buddhists are feeling marginalized. We believe Hindu India now needs a Modi to bring India’s Hindu heritage back where it belongs.

What is important with the issue of the removal of Pali is that the Indian Government has yet to provide an acceptable reason for its removal which has made the Ambedkar Buddhists wonder whether the plot is something far bigger. This itself should have made the External Ministry of Sri Lanka keep tab on the developments. With a dedicated desk for the entire South Asia what is the Ministry doing if it does not know what goes on in just 8 of the SAARC countries?

If India is standing to lose its respect among Buddhist countries of the world, would Sri Lanka’s silence on the matter tantamount to the same?

What is the problem for Sri Lankan officials not to take up the issue of Pali with the Indian Government? Sri Lanka is a country built up substantially by Sinhala Buddhists, its Kings and rulers were Buddhist and continue to remain so. Just because some foreign invaders ruled for over 400 years does it mean the country has to copy ONLY what the West forcibly shoved down our throats? Pali is the language of the Buddha, it is the foundation of Buddha’s teachings. However, India though attempting to use Buddhism as a soft power diplomatic tool is now backtracking from recognising Pali as a classical language in India.

Urdu not given step motherly treatment like Pali

Dr. Singh has articulated what Sri Lanka’s leaders are afraid to do “why not the Indian government can show the courage to touch Urdu language…. they cannot dare to touch Urdu because Urdu belongs to the Islam religion, because of the numbers.”’ (number of Urdu participants are lesser than Pali)…..”Just because the Buddhist population cannot have that much of an effect in the political scene in India, Buddhist are being made to suffer due to less population and Pali was removed without giving it due consideration. Pali is important to Buddhists as Urdu for Muslims,” he pointed out.

Is Sri Lanka going to silently accept the exclusion of Pali just as it showed a very tame approach to the Buddha Gaya bombings or the loud speakers at a recently established Muslim mosque in Buddha Gaya constantly disturbing through its shrieking call to prayer the solemn peaceful environment of the Maha Bodhi Temple at Buddha Gaya?

If India can make umpteen demands and our representative meekly accepts and gives in without placing a single demand from India in return what is the use of such a Ministry?

The External Affairs Ministry was quick to convene recently a meeting of 15 Muslim Ambassadors with the President of Sri Lanka to assure Sri Lanka’s wholehearted support to the Islamic world. The Minister took no such initiative on Bangladesh or Myanmar in calling the Ambassadors of Buddhist countries to develop a strategy for common action despite the Islamic incursions and his singular ‘stand offish’ approach towards Buddhism and global Buddhist issues is causing the entire nation and its President embarrassment amongst the Buddhist public and the Buddhist world. Leadership is lacking where it is most wanted. Someone must be held accountable for these inexcusable lapses.

The silence of the Parliamentary opposition on matters of grave concern to the Buddhists on a continuing basis and the resulting outcome of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP being kept in the political Opposition by the clout of the Buddhist voters says it all.

As a leading Buddhist nation, Sri Lanka’s President on behalf of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and the world over must appeal to India and convey to the Indian leaders not to turn its back on its Buddhist heritage and abandon in particular the Pali – the language that Buddhism was spread globally.

In view of Pali being an ecclesiastical language of Buddhism and very close to Magadhi (language of the Buddha) the Buddhists of Sri Lanka will give their whole hearted backing to the President and the Government of Sri Lanka in any such endeavour.