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Monk sets himself on fire in cattle slaughter protest

Qadija Irshad / 25 May 2013

COLOMBO - A Buddhist monk set himself on fire in a protest against cattle slaughter outside the sacred Dalada Maligawa on Friday morning.

Eyewitnesses said the monk poured petrol over his body and set himself ablaze in a car park calling for an end to cattle slaughter in Kandy, the city home to one of the holiest shrines for Buddhists, the Temple of the Tooth, which contains the relic of a tooth of Buddha.

The incident took place on Wesak day, a Buddhist festival in Sri Lanka. While Wesak is a public holiday throughout the country, meat stalls and liquor shops remain closed for two days during this time.

“The monk is in very critical condition,” said police spokesperson Buddhika Siriwardane. The monk, identified as B. Indarathana Thero, was initially admitted to the Kandy General Hospital but was later transferred to the Colombo General Hospital. According to Kandy General Hospital Director Dr W.G.A. Dissanayaka, 90 per cent of monk’s body has suffered burns.

While protests against the slaughter of cattle and other animals by the Buddhist clergy has been going on sporadically in the country for years, this is the first time that a Buddhist monk has attempted self-immolation.

Suicide in any manner is not allowed in Buddhism and one of the most extreme Buddhist parties in the country, the Bodu Bala Sena, says that it is “shocked” by the incident. While self-immolation is a common form of public protest in other Asian countries, especially in neighbouring India, it is seldom heard of in Sri Lanka.

“Buddhism does not allow suicide for any cause, and we are shocked at the extreme measure this monk has taken,” said Dr Dilanthe Withanage, the coordinator and executive committee member of the Bodu Bala Sena. “We (the party) couldn’t meet officially after the incident, since it’s a Wesak holiday today, to confer on its implications, but I am concerned why a person of this nature (a Buddhist monk) is pushed to this position.

“We cannot take it as an isolated situation, and we need to look at the social dynamics working that has pushed him to this decision,” said Dr Withanage.

In May 2011, Sri Lanka’s chief Buddhist priest of North and East provinces staged a “fast unto death” protest calling for an end to cattle slaughter.

Last year, the biggest anti-slaughter march was led by hundreds of Buddhist monks agitating against the annual religious sacrifices held in the Hindu Munneswaram Sri Bhadra Kali Amman Kovil in Chilaw.

The slaughter of animals last year was stalled after a request made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the chief priest of the temple.

“Personally some of our members are against slaughtering animals — but as an organisation we haven’t had any organised campaigns against slaughtering animals. But killing animals in Buddhism is not acceptable,” said Dr Withanage.

In March this year, a group of Buddhist monks from the Bodu Bala Sena, who have also been agitating anti-Muslim sentiments across the country, stormed an abattoir in Colombo claiming that calves and water buffaloes were being slaughtered there.


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