Interview With Dilanthe Withanage

 
 

June 15, 2016

Your formal position?

I’m Chief Executive Officer of the Bodu Bala Sena and one of the founding members of Bodu Bala Sena and we have a political arm of Bodu Bala Sena, that’s called Bodu Jana Peramuna and I’m Chair President of that party.

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So that’s directly affiliated with BBS?

You can’t say directly, but unofficially it’s, uh…

Associated?

Associated. Because some BBS members are, they don’t like, us to get into politics. That’s one reason. And some of the BJP members, they are not part of Bodu Bala Sena. So, therefore, they’re independent bodies but some members are linked.

In April 2013, you told the Financial Times, and I quote, “According to our Constitution, Buddhism should be given full-most priority. But we believe that this is not practiced in Sri Lanka at present.” Is Sinhala-Buddhism under threat in Sri Lanka?

Yes, definitely. I completely agree with the statement I made in 2013. And, uh, many people, even many journalists, many academics outside Sri Lanka feel that, you know, state religion of Sri Lanka is Buddhism because of this statement. Because, uh, the ninth article of the Sri Lanka Constitution says that Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s government’s – it’s responsibility to protect and to give the foremost priority and position to Buddhism (2:00). It’s just a mere set of words. And it is, uh, basically, I think, it is to mislead people. It’s, nothing happening practically with that constitutional clause.

(2:16) If I understand what you’re saying, it is sort of a cop-out, almost?  They say it, but it’s not practiced.

[incomprehensible]

What do you believe, going along that point, what do you believe is the role of government in Sri Lanka to protect the Sinhala-Buddhists? Is that even a role of government here?

I believe that, if no. So, for example, my personal opinion is that religion should be a private matter and government should not get into religion or other matters. But, looking at the historical context, and the present condition, the government has a role to protect Buddhism and Sinhalese.

And are they failing? In that vein of thinking, is the current government failing to do so?

I couldn’t get your question.

Is the current government failing to protect Buddhism?

Definitely. All successive governments I think, purposefully, ignore the protection of Buddhism in this country and even the Sinhalese. I will explain this, I need some time to explain it. I think that Sinhalese, there’s no something called Sinhalese Buddhism. Because Buddhism means something generic and that has nothing to do with the race. It’s a philosophy and there can’t be Sinhalese-Buddhism.

Okay, so you don’t agree even with the term “Sinhalese-Buddhists”?

No, Sinhalese Buddhists is a different term. When Buddhists is a Sinhalese, so you can call Sinhalese Buddhist. But there’s no such thing as Sinhalese Buddhism. Right? But some people interpret Sinhalese Buddhism. There’s no such thing. Buddhism is something generic, something common, and it is a philosophy practiced by many. But, when it comes to Sri Lanka, we have two sides. I think it’s common for anybody. We have Sinhala-Buddhists culture. And Buddhist philosophy. They are, like, almost together. Sometimes people confuse this. Because we should understand that when it comes to, when you analyze what is happening in Sri Lanka, there are two sides to Buddhism. One is the philosophical Buddhism, the other one is a cultural Buddhism. So many understanding is Sinhala-Buddhists are a cultural group, social group, which believe in Buddhism.

To say that the government is failing to protect Sinhala-Buddhists implies that something needs to be done. What steps should be taken in your opinion?

Before that I will explain what is the threat. I was explaining that Buddhism is under threat.

Sure, sure.

Sinhala-Buddhism. And we believe that Sinhalese are the race who protected Theravada Buddhism for  over 2,000 years without any interruption. So, therefore, Singhalese has historical link to Buddhism. We don’t have the ownership to Buddhism, but we have the historical link to Buddhism. Unfortunately, if you look at the present situation there’s no foundation. There’s no background for the protection of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. And I believe that the threat, or challenge, comes from 2 sides. One, from us. From Sinhalese Buddhists. That’s internal threat, internal challenge. The second is, external forces, external challenge.

Globalization? Or something more specific?

Yes, it’s related to globalization also. And they cannot be separated, those things. Because our internal problems are also created by external forces. When it comes to external forces, I first take, as the global Catholic action.

Global Catholic action? I’m not familiar with the organization, or just the…

No, I’m not referring to any organization. I’m referring to when the Christianity, Catholicism. They have interests to promote their religion.

Evangelize?

Not only evangelize. Even prior to that. There’s nothing wrong with that. Because, as a Buddhist, I would like all other people to respect Buddhism and even if they believe in Buddhism I would like. But I do not force anybody. But, if you look at Sri Lanka’s situation, when Portuguese came to Sri Lanka, when Dutch came to Sri Lanka, when British conquered this country, they used their financial powers, their political powers, their military powers to change the Buddhist fabric here. Social fabric. They killed large number of Sinhalese Buddhists. They killed number of Buddhist monks. They destroyed many Buddhist temples. That is one side. They gave jobs, government jobs, if they converted to Christianity. They gave land and all other privileges if they’re converted. So I think that is wrong. But that is history.

And hundreds of years ago.

Yes, that is history. Now, if you look at Colombo city. There are many places, the land owned by the Catholic church. How that happens? That is from the government patronage. It can’t be in Buddhist country. We’re not against that, so let them be there.

Do they not also have a place in a free and democratic society?

No, I mean, we are not against that. But what happened in the history. So how they got it.

How they got the land in the first place? I see.

Yes, how they got it. Because of the government influence. So many Christians got jobs, many Christians got government jobs. They got opportunities to go abroad and educate. So, that means, the British used their political power, their financial powers, their military powers for conversions. So that is called, I believe, that’s global Catholic action. And now it is happening in a different format.

How so?

It is happening with international funding, evangelical groups. Tthey come, they preach, they tarnish the image of Buddhism here. And they offer jobs, they offer positions, if they convert to Christianity. And jobs are offered, houses are offered. Now, for example they go to…

Do you have evidence of this?

Definitely.

Can you point to a specific example?

Commission. Appointed by [incomprehensible] in 2000. And that report was published by [incomprehensible] government in 2002 when he was Prime Minister.

[phone call interrupted]

So, what I’m trying to explain to you, I don’t have to give my personal evidence. There is a government report which I can share with you.

If you can share that that would be great.

Definitely. I don’t know if it’s in English, but definitely there is a Sinhala version. And that report specifically says what are those actions. And, now for example, poverty, or vulnerability of society, is everywhere. But they use the poverty for conversion.

“They” is the…

The Christian evangelical groups. And even I think the conventional Catholics also get upset about it. The Cardinal of Sri Lanka, also [spell?] about this. Because that’s a threat for them also. Now, if you are ill, if you have some sickness. They come and say, you know, ‘Believe in Jesus and every problem will be solved’. And they say you get good houses, you get everything if you believe in Jesus. I think that is not correct. You can promote religion and it should be not based on material benefits. You should not use that. That should not… when you are weak, when you are in poverty, when you are in illness, right? Use that situation to promote your religion. I don’t think that is ethical. You  [incomprehensible]. And that is the global Catholic action.

It’s interesting that you bring up, specifically, Christian denominations as an external threat. It seems like a lot of the rhetoric, if you will, from the BBS is …

No, you should understand. You’re misinterpreting. I’m not referring to ordinary Christian people who live in this country.

Institutions specifically?

Not all institutions are also doing that. There are certain organizations do that.

Specific organizations. Okay.

We should not have any wrong understanding against Christian people.

Understood. 

Then the second Is, because of this we lost thousands of Buddhists. They lost their lives, that is one side. The other one is, because they converted. Then the second problem we face is global communist action.  You might think that communism is no more there. But their remnants is  still there. In ’71 we lost over 60,000 youth due to JVP troubles. They’re mostly Sinhalese Buddhist youth.

When you say we “lost” them, can you describe that?

Yes, because government killed many of the…

So, physically they were murdered?

When they had confrontation between the Sri Lankan army and the Sinhalese youth. Like what happened with the LTTE. Similarly the JVP took arms against the government.

Okay.

So they, the have confrontation, and – I don’t want to blame anybody – but because of that we lost over 60,000 youth due to this.

Killed?

Killed. This is in ’71. Then, universities got closed. Buildings, businesses got disturbed. So that, we lost the opportunity for development.

Sri Lanka as a country?

Yes, ’89 the same people again took arms against the government and also around,  I think almost around 100,000 people were killed. So, this is disturbance to Sinhalese Buddhists.  We are losing their lives, one side. Then they have destroyed many governments institutes, they burned government buses, destruction. So then, lost lives and lost opportunities for development. And a lot of youth decided to leave this country during ’89. Migrated to other countries. That is the talent of Sri Lanka.

Also, due in part to the civil war.

No, I mean, I’m referring to this first, I’m taking this as because of  communist action. Because what happened in the Soviet Union, they wanted to have the same revolution. They wanted to have a communist society built here. So that, I want to take that as a separate action. So, two actions already. It’s a global problem. Not created by us. Not created by Sinhalese. The communist interest, also not created by us. It’s global action. The third is the global Tamil action. Because, I completely understand Tamils need a homeland. Any nation when they don’t have a mother country, they have problems. They have issues. So, fighting for Tamil homeland is a reasonable fight.

Okay.

But, why Sri Lanka? That is our concern.

Okay, what do you say to that?

In Sri Lanka, we are only 4 million Tamils. But outside Sri Lanka, we have 80+ million Tamils. So it’s obvious that Sri Lanka is not the best place to have the Tamil homeland.

So, I guess it gets to the “majority with a minority” complex of the Sinhala-Buddhists.

No, no, not really.

I mean, I guess, you’re a majority, but you see yourself as a minority given the giant to the north.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So what I’m trying to say actually, that Sinhalese Buddhists are a minority in global sense. Global minority. Now think about it. When you look at the Catholic action, global Catholic action. Sinhalese only 14 million. Right? And Sinhala Buddhist 12 million, maybe 13 million. Right? So, support for Catholic Christian group, it is in terms of 2,000 million. I mean, I meant…

So, I get the impression that you see yourself and the culture attacked from all sides.

Yes, yes, yes

and it’s up to the BBS to…

Yes, yes, definitely. No, no, definitely. Because, when somebody, a Catholic person feel that you know, that a catholic person is attacked. So they feel. But, for us, [incomprehensible], we don’t have anybody outside this country. And when you look at communism, global communist action, so support come from Russia, support come from China, support comes from, all, you know millions, Tamil. 60-80 million Tamils for Tamil struggle. So their media, their, you know, political affiliations, their links are more powerful than Sinhalese problem.

So, going along with that, to just…

Now, allow me.

Sure.

We lost 100,000 youth. Not only Sinhalese. Tamil and all. Because of this Tamil global action. And that global need for a Tamil homeland is, uh, global requirement.

Is this an orchestrated movement? Or many groups, one group?

Yes, definitely. Many, many. Because they felt that.

Describe “they” – when you say “they”…

The global agenda. So, they all felt.

The Tamil diaspora?

The diaspora, not only Tamil diaspora. There can be many. India’s also concerned about it. Because for India, a problem for Tamil Nadu is a huge problem for the center. They use this situation also.

India does?

Definitely. Indira Gandhi and their leaders promoted LTTE. Definitely. [incomprehensible]. Now, we lost 30 years. We lost the opportunity for development. Many of the Sinhalese Buddhists left this country because of this situation. Then what happened? We lost lives. We lost material. We lost development opportunities. The third, the third is this. The fourth is, with all this, very secretly, very silently, the global Islamics is also working here.

I was waiting for you to bring that in, because it seems like a lot of rhetoric is toward Muslims in particular.

Yes, so. That is also not created by us. So, what happening in Iraq, what’s happening in other European countries, same thing is happening in Sri Lanka in a very secret, very, what do you call, silent manner. And that is the next danger we are facing. So therefore we believe that these four global actions which are not something created by us, but something created by global forums, disturbed and destroyed and, uh, taken away from us the opportunity for development. And in many  Sri Lankan youth today think Sri Lanka is not a place for them to live. They all have dream to leave this country whenever possible. Wherever possible. And that is all external forces. But, at the same time, we have internal problems. Within Buddhism. One thing, Buddhism is decaying and real Buddhism is not here.

Is your Buddhism different than others’ Buddhism?

No, what is happening is…

Is there one Buddhism?

No, what I’m trying, we, we just forget about the philosophical side of Buddhism and the cultural side of Buddhism get more prominence here. If you look at government also, supporting the Vesak. You know Vesak?

Yes.

Adding this, uh, [incomprehensible] Vesak lanterns. That is not Buddhism. And we need to have..

So you disagree with the celebratory aspect of…

No, we need to do that but, the scale, right? The philosophical side is at this level, maybe something like 10%, whereas the. You have the cake and icing. You know? We have more icing.

Right, okay. So, what you’re saying is there is a lot of pomp and parade, but a lot of people day-to-day don’t practice?

Yes, yes.

So, just moving along. So, there was a recent poll in November 2014 that found a significant majority or the minority population, that is Tamils, Muslims, feel that Buddhism has too great of a role in Sri Lanka. Tamil was 79.3% and Muslims were 83.4%. Are their views unfounded?

I couldn’t get your question very clearly.

The minorities in this country, and the majority of them, find that Buddhism plays too much of a role in government. What would you say to them? Do they have an opinion on the matter, in a democratic society?

Uhh, I don’t think, because, now, I would suggest you to look at present cabinet. And I would request you, I mean not you, but anybody to do the research, in the parliament. How many members spoke about protection of Buddhism and need for protection of Sinhalese in parliament. And analyze the number of members in parliament, number of members in cabinet, the powerful positions who fund them. Run by Buddhists.

What would they see? What do you see there then in its place?

I believe that more power is with the Christian groups and the minority groups. More power. Now, for example, the opposition leader is Tamil. I don’t have any problem even with a Tamil being president of this country. There is no issue. But, as opposition leader, because of the [incoherent] problems of the Constitution, it doesn’t provide true democracy. And if you look at what debates in the parliament, what actually passed in the parliament. All in favor of minority groups, not in favor of Sinhalese Buddhists.

Would it be fair to suggest then that, even during the previous administration, it was the same? Under Rajapaska?

Same, same, same.

He didn’t…

He used Sinhalese Buddhism just as a show piece to keep Sinhala Buddhists silent on their demands.

To appease them? To please them?

Just to please them, yeah. Just to show, just having Sinhala national costume, by the leader, doesn’t mean he’s a Sinhala Buddhist leader. Going to temple, you know, for flowers, every day, doesn’t mean that he’s a Sinhala Buddhist leader.

So you would have liked to have seen even more pro-Sinhala Buddhist policies?

No, not Sinhala Buddhist policies. We don’t want, for example, don’t misunderstand me.

Right, describe that.

For example, our values are not represented by Buddhism. Our society is not mainstream with Sinhala Buddhist.  It is, like, for example. Sinhala Buddhist, Sinhalese Buddhist, majority, they are all words. Now, just go to schools. And check textbooks. Ask any children from society. What are the vegetables? List some vegetables. What do they say? Carrot. Beat. Cabbage.

Where’s the Sinhala? You’re asking where’s the Sinhala language?

No, no, no no, just ask, just name some of the vegetables.

And what would I find if I asked that?

They say carrot. Beat. Beans.

What’s wrong with that?

But are they our vegetables? Now, for example, what I’m trying to say. We read for example, what are the food? Bread. Butter. Cheese. They promote all this in these books.

So it’s almost a Westernization of the education system?

Yes. Now, maybe, when you are leaving. Most of the research done – health research – done in U.S. and U.K. for you, when you have [incomprehensible]. You need butter. Do we need the same portion of butter in this country? So that is my question. We had our own food culture. That’s nothing to do with Sinhalese Buddhism.

You see it disappearing.

Right. We had our own agriculture. Now, in your country, because of your climate situation. You need fertilizer. More than what we need. Do we need fertilizer in this country? You can just see, we just put some seeds, that grows. But we were forced to buy more fertilizer percentage than US.

In that was forced upon the government? Or was that a decision made by…

That is globalization, that is ignorance of our leaders. I told you that our problem is, I don’t have, when you have, what do you call? I don’t have this proper English word to use. But, there’s this syndrome of, how do you call, no leadership in this country. No leaders in this country. So, because of that we just blindly take all what we were forced to do that. Our agriculture system is completely destroyed. Our education system is completely destroyed. Right? I’m not against Western. Because I trained in western world, right? I lived in Western part of the society. I’m 100% supportive of modernization. But modernization should be based on our culture. Now, for example..

When you say “our culture” describe that?

Our culture.

The education system should be specific to Sinhala-Buddhists?

No, it should be… we have our roots. So, destroying roots and establishing something will definitely  not allow us to flourish. Now, what I’m trying to say now in England there is no difference between indigenous medicine and western medicine. Why? Because they had their indigenous medicine, then after the industrial revolution the modernization came. They modernized that indigenous medicine,  and that is the present medical system there. So people aren’t confused. But here, we had our traditional medical system. Then the British came and planted Western medicine. Nothing wrong with that. I take western medicine, no problem with that. But then, we are confused. Traditional medicine, western medicine. Now for example we have traditional medicine, now when we are having flu. You know coriander leaves? Coriander seeds? So, they make, when we are not well, like a cough or something like that, parents make coriander seeds, like a tea, with some ginger and some other things. We drink.

Sounds goods. I would drink it too.

It is very good. That is a practice we have. Now, a child cured by those medicine, get admission to a medical college – a Sri Lankan medical college – and goes to the medical faculty. From the very first day, he is created to hate that.

Sot they’re taught to…

They say that this is wrong, this isn’t scientific. All, whatever traditional, not modern, not scientific. And they were against that. This is nothing o do with — now, you should understand this struggle has nothing to do with racist Sinhala-Buddhist version. That is how it is interpreted by people. What we focus is why we Sinhalese should hate Sinhala culture? At medical college, we were trained to refuse, to reject our roots. At our school, we reject our agriculture. At our school, we reject our food culture. So that is what we are thinking.

Protecting a culture.

Yes, but fortunately or unfortunately our culture, primarily based on Sinhalese-Buddhism. And Sinhala.

And I think that really is the crux, the main issue…

But that doesn’t mean…

Who owns the culture? In your…

No, no, for example. Now, now, people live in this country. Tamil, Muslims, they all part of this culture. For example, now just imagine, Muslim women. I have a lot of Muslim friends and my best friend in school was a Muslim guy. I used to go to his house and eat.

Do you still keep in touch?

Yes.

You’re still friends?

Yes. Lots of Muslim friends come and stay even last week, some Muslims came and stayed in my house. Slept in my house. This is all how it’s interpreted by the media, and the political leaders.

Well, to be fair, BBS has been pretty outspoken on many, particularly Muslim, issues. So I don’t know if it’s fair to say that it’s necessarily the media’s interpretation.

Mostly media interpretation.

You would agree that BBS has taken pretty strong positions on Muslims and Muslims culture?

No, not Muslim culture. That’s completely wrong.

Describe that.

It’s about extremism of Muslim side. Because I have evidence that when Muslims come to BBS office, they pray at our office. Can you believe it? They want to pray because they don’t have a mosque close by.

Sure.

So I allowed them to, so I just left the room and I allowed them to do their praying. But I don’t want them to claim that because they prayed in this space it should be converted into a Muslim mosque.

Do you think that’s a legitimate fear though?

Huh?

Do you think that is something even they’d agree they would want to do?

That is what is happening. That is the issue.

Okay. So this is going…

Now, now let me explain this.

Sure. But I do need to get to, I want to get through these questions.

Sure, now the problem is that, we don’t want unnecessary, you know, privileges to anybody in this country. As a Buddhist I don’t need a separate, for example, when it comes to jobs, when it comes to education, when it comes to employment. Health. We’re all people. We all have same rights. There’s no issue about this. But, because you are Muslim you have a different marriage law. Because you have different schools. So that is social division. We are against that. That is promoting extremism.

Separate laws for different cultures? Or…

Yes. We don’t need. Let all have equal rights.  Now, for example, why we were against certain things? Because we understood – funding coming from Saudi Arabia, and other countries — to promote Wahhabism here. So, criticizing Wahhabism doesn’t mean we are against Islamic religion. Now, we never opposed Halal.

Certification?

But certification yes. Because.

Is it not that same thing? Because to be…

No, no. Definitely not.

To be against halal certification would…

Now, why should you pay, when I drink this. Why I should pay halal certification fee? Because I don’t need halal certification. If you are interested you can pay, no problem. I don’t want. Because then, that money goes for the promotion of religion. Halal funds goes for that. And there are so many other hidden agendas with halal certification. Halal certification is one of the steps they take at the initial stages when they come, 10% of the Islam population this country.

So, they get their foot in the door, is what you’re saying? So, you’re making a slippery slope argument essentially. With halal certification, then what’s next? What else is the fear?

Not really. Not, not. Because–

So what’s next? What is the fear?

You have to read, I think, there is a video produced by some catholic organization in Europe. About Islamisation of Europe. If you read that, you will realize. This is correct or not.

Was BBS successful in that campaign? On halal certification.

Not really.

And why do you think that was? Why was it not successful?

Because our leaders are not concerned about it. I told you, no?

Do you think it has to do with the population?

No no, for example in Canada there is research report. Halal certification funds, in Canada, used by Hamas, and given to Al-Qaeda. So, if that happened in Canada why not in Sri Lanka? So we have a reasonable, you know, suspicion. And we raise those things because no one regulate this, no one audit these funds. And only we, for example, I know one organization, one lady, she’s doing whole industry making, what do you call, pudding. Biscuit pudding. She wanted to sell that to, say, McDonald’s, for example, just to say. McDonald says you have to get halal certification. Why McDonald’s, because these halal certification people, they purposeful send people to these shops and say that they need to have halal certification otherwise they refuse it. So then, now, for example, some people come and say that, is it halal? They have specifically trained people. They go to shops. If they say “no halal,” we can’t come. So they influence them to ask halal. So then this lady…

Is that not their right, though? Is that not their right to have that decision?

No, they can have it. No problem. But the problem. Then, what happens, this lady has to get the halal certification. Then she was asked to get all her ingredients from halal certified body.

So it’s a self-serving, is what you’re saying—it’s a self-serving…

It will happen so that, virtually, 10% Muslim population can demand, virtually, all our economic activities to be halal.

Do you see that happening? Is that an ongoing concern for you?

It’s happening. It’s happening. It’s happening. The problem is, I know, one Christian guy, a friend of mine, he runs a broiler chicken farm. He pays, that time, 36,000 [incomprehensible] and he has to pay salary of one guy, Muslim guy, Muslim should definitely be employed there, to check the halal process. And they can come at any given time to factory and inspect it. So there are many things. I think it is unnecessary taxing for us. We don’t need that.

You could just not buy it.

Then I have to die without food here.

Is it fair to lump…

The problem is, the BBC came to interview me on this, from London. On halal certification. Then they ask…

This is a few years ago, like, 2013.

Yes, 2013. Then, they were asking me “why are you against halal certification?” And I ask, “what do you mean by halal in your country?” Halal meat. Do you know that in this country, wall paint also halal. Tooth brush also halal, toothpaste also halal, uh, brushes – paint brushes also halal, water  also halal. So they got confused about this halal.

They misinterpreted? Was it a misinterpretation from the BBC? They didn’t really understand?

No, no, they didn’t really understand. In Europe, when you say halal it is confined to meat. Basic food only.  But, in this place, they use halal certification for almost all products. So I ask, why you want to have halal water? Then they say that, humans bones can be used to boil water. Can you imagine that?

I don’t understand. Human bones, uh…

When they make, purify the water, they have to boil the water no?

Right.

What they say is that, somebody can use human bones as, as like wood, to boil water.

I haven’t heard that. As in, the Muslims would use human bones to…

No, no. Not Muslims. The people who make bottle water can use bones of pigs or bones of humans to boil water.

Ah, I see. And they don’t want that.

So therefore they have this bottle water, halal, to avoid that situation.

Yeah, okay.

So, can you imagine? To go up to this level is unnecessary. In Quran, halal is a right of the Muslim. So, they offer their food to the God, almighty god. It’s a business. We don’t want that business to disturb us. Let them have halal corners — in Europe, you know, shops, they have corners. All products are halal. But in this country, we have identified in 2013 almost 4,000 important, basic products with halal certification.  It’s unnecessary scale of certification.

Got it. Okay. So moving along to Sinha Le specifically. Is it fair to lump together the advent of the Sinha Le movement with, and their agenda, with that of BBS? Is it different sides of the same coin essentially?

Actually, I was behind promoting Sinhale. In 2014, I made a speech in huge sanga conference we had in Sri Lanka. Where the Beratu Thera came. It was a huge, almost 6,000 Buddhist monks came to Colombo. And we had the national convention.

But we didn’t really see Sinha Le until late 2015.

No, no, no, I’ll tell you right? Now this Sinhale – it’s a sticker campaign.

It seems to be more than a sticker campaign.

No, no, no. [laughs]

They, just last week, had a rally in Kandy to protest a mosque. They have a website, Facebook groups…

No, no, I’ll tell you. I know, I know. It’s basically a small movement. Actually, what we did, in that convention in 2014, you have the evidence, we had our manifesto, right? Our plan declared.

This is, “we”?

BBS

BBS specifically.

In that we have specified that the name of the country should be Sinhale. That is initial step we have taken. Then, during the Parliament election, we made very clear that [incomprehensible] was the protector of Sinhale. So then, Sinhale became a very popular word among certain groups. Then, somebody started, some people started, stickers and promoted. Then, one or two Buddhist monks who got away from some other organizations,  they claimed that they’re behind Sinha Le.

Do you know their names?

Yes. I think one is, Medille. A monk called Medille [incomprehensible].

And his name is on that website.

Yeah, yeah.

As a founding member.

I know them, but I can’t remember their names. I’ve never much associated with them. I know them. Medille.

So the co-opted this organization? Did they take it as their own?

No, no. Basically, it’s for the popularity. They claim, suddenly, that they are behind Sinha Le.

And that’s not true?

There are many groups related to this. But, it’s, uh, I think manipulated by some groups.

Describe that more.

I believe that these groups are manipulated by some political groups here. I don’t want to claim.

Do you have evidence? Is this a feeling you have?

Not feeling, not feeling. It’s a known fact.

What part of the government, and what would be their incentive?

They are from, I think, some Rajapaksa groups are behind them.

The Joint Opposition?

Some Joint Opposition people are behind promoting the Sinha Le. Because what they want to do is they want to get certain groups away from BBS.

But isn’t BBS – I thought they were supporting BBS?

No, no. Rajapaksa? [laughs]

I mean, educate me. Educate me. Because my understanding was that BBS was supported by…

I was, when BBS started I was advisor one of the senior ministers in Rajapaksa government.

Technology consultant?

No, actually I was preparing the national policy for consumer welfare. I’m a multidisciplinary man.

It sounds like it.

I prepared national policy for school education, IT. Then I was behind preparing  social integration policy also in 2009. and I promoted a social integration program called Sitamu. Sitamu in Sinhala means Sinhala Tamil Muslim working together. Right? But, some of  very senior officials in  Rajapaksa regime didn’t want me to lead some of these things. They destroyed. Then,  I was appointed as – the same government actually – Mahinda Rajapaksa signed the cabinet paper, but he was not behind appointing me. Because the minister wanted me there. Now he’s in the present government. [incomprehensible] So when I was, actually, BBS actually established by myself and [incomprehensible] as the key two members. So when I came in public, so Basil Rajapaksa was against it. And we had a couple of debates, you know, misunderstanding, dialogue. And I was forced to leave the government.

Because of your association with the BBS?

Yes.

But my impression was the former regime, the former government, worked closely with the BBS.

No.

They never pursued concerns related to BBS actions. They kind of had a hands-off approach to…

No, the thing is, maybe people got that understanding. Right? Because the defense secretary, former Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, participated in one of our events. In Galle. But that is how it is promoted. Now, for example, the mayor of Colombo is a Muslim. You know Muzammil? He also participated in our New Year celebration.

BBS?

BBS. Can you say that he’s behind BBS? The problem is that media take—they want to attack Gotabhaya– they use that. Why not Muzammil? BBS invited – actually BBS never invited Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Actually, one of our leaders invited him, Gotabhaya, without knowing anything about BBS, he participated in that event. But, we wanted to use that place as a BBS training center. Actually, Gotabhaya was not aware that it was a BBS event. It was a cultural– a Buddhist cultural event.

I see.

He came.

So he didn’t even know what he was coming to?

No. He knew that establishing a Buddhist cultural center in Galle. But after he came, he came to know that this cultural center can be used by BBS for their training.

So you would say there was not much coordination between the former regime and BBS?

No. Now, then, what I’m trying to say, but, Muzammil, the mayor of Colombo 100% knew that we had a New Year fair – you know, sale of goods, like a big fair – he knew, completely, that it is BBS event. He participated.

What does that tell you? What does that tell us?

Why do not people say . The media is not saying that Muzammil is connected to BBS, but Gotabhaya is connected. That is maybe, you know, that’s how media agenda works.

So, I read a recent report by the Center for Policy Alternatives on the ethno-nationalist Sinhala-Buddhist wave. You may have seen it as well on CPA. You were actually quoted in that publication.

I’ve not seen it.

I can send it to you. So, the CPA released a report, and in it the author states, and I quote “BBS activities have not helped the Sinhala Buddhist community in any way. The BBS only heightened ethnic consciousness and further polarized the communities.” The report even went so far as to say that BBS’ actions were, quote “extensive grounds for criminal prosecution”, that the previous government chose to ignore for political reasons. How do you respond to this?

So now, I think this is, uh, CPA’s also funded by various organizations. They write not the truth.

So you don’t agree with any of this…

I’ll, I’ll justify that. They write to please certain agendas. Now, Rajapaksa is gone. New government in power for last 18 months. If there were criminal activities by BBS, what happened last 18 months?

They’re going after, CID’s going after specific...

They could have taken actions against BBS.

Would there be political repercussions for doing so?

No.

You don’t think so?

Gnanasara Thero was in prison and nothing happened. Now, what I’m saying is we never attacked Muslim shops, we never attacked, for example, there are cases, shops attacked by Muslims. So even we’re not behind the  Aluthgama incident also. We demanded the Rajapaksa regime to have impartial inquiry into Aluthgama. He didn’t do that. That is his fault. And we demanded Maithripala Sirisena also to do the same.

Do you have evidence of that?

I have written letters to them.

Could you provide the letter?

Sure, definitely. I, I personally met him.

To inquire about the riots?

No no, we met him. We met him. We discussed with him also, so please take action because we want to clear our image. Personally, when Aluthgama incident took place, I was at one Muslim’s house.

During that rally?

During that time, during rally period, I was in [incomprehensible] and he was– what do you call– one of the Muslim leaders. And he’s one of the advisors of the [incomprehensible] organization. I can give you his number.

Just because you weren’t there doesn’t mean it wasn’t initiated…

No, no, no, for example, you can check with him, because I cannot be in that [incomprehensible] to organize something like that. Riots or anything like that. I was just, I never wanted, I never advised Gnanasara Thero not to go there also. Because I know that it’s a hot spot.

He fired up the crowd. He got people angry.

No, no, that is not the case.

But I saw the speech.

No, no, no.

He may as well of handed out pitch forks.

No, no. No.

How can you say that that’s not the case?

No no, you only get part of the speech. You have to go through the speech completely.

So what am I missing?

You’re missing the last part.

What did he say in the last part?

By attacking Muslim shops. By, what do you call, set fire to Muslim shops, you will not get anything. There’s no need to have any riots here. Because they were, you know, [incomprehensible] asked people to meditate. And there was a plan to have a rally there, so he stopped that also. And asked people to leave to their homes. Then, on way back to homes, they were attacked by the people in the mosque.

So the Muslims attacked?

Yes, that triggered it. Have you seen that film?

I haven’t. I’ve seen pictures of the aftermath.

No. One month, before this event, the same group attacked army there.

The same group?

Muslim group. I have, if you have time in Sri Lanka I can come and show you all the evidence.

[call interrupted]

So, another survey done in…

No, what I’m trying to say, now for example, I challenge CPA. If they were reported that we were involved in criminal activity.

They didn’t say…

Good enough, good enough. Rajapkasa didn’t take any actions on criminal offenses made by BBS.

They said there were “extensive grounds for criminal prosecution.”

Yes, right, now, they have government appointed by their supporters, no?

By CPA’s supporters?

Yes.

Okay.

They were behind change, definitely.

Okay.

Now, Rajapaksa is no more there, no? Even Rajapaksa could be put into jail no? Now, CPA has – I challenge  – CPA has all possibilities to get into that. So let them do it. They can’t. Because our hands are very clean.

Cleaned your hands of that. Okay. So, in October…

We have, we have used all our democratic rights to criticize. For example, in US, your presidential candidate.

Which one?

He couldn’t make it, but, this, Donald Trump.

No, he’s still running. He’s in the race.

He’s in the race, but I thought that…

He’s the Republican nominee for President. He’s going to be up against Hillary Clinton.

It’s not decided yet, right?

No. No they’re…

I got some message that Hillary got the [incomprehensible], no?

She got the – she’s the nominee, the nominee for the Democratic — so this is the Primary.

Yeah, still going on. Right?

More or less, but it’s pretty much solidified that it will be Trump versus Hillary in the presidential race in the general election.

Right, he, he, he used the democratic rights to criticize about migrant workers.

True. Muslims as well. Banning Muslims.

Nothing wrong with that.

I wouldn’t – you could argue that something is wrong with that. If you ban…

For example, what I’m trying to say is, we use our democratic rights to expose certain things…

Freedom of speech.

But we never use violence to attack anybody. We never use weapons, we never use, uh, you know, any hidden forces, to, you know do anything.

Would you argue against someone saying BBS, or even Sinha Le, has tapped into animosity, anger, so as to lead to incidents of violence? They use anger to appeal to…

No, what I’m trying to say, for example, we had 40 odd mass rallies around the country. We had made hard speeches. In all the hard speeches we made very clearly this is not against traditional, peaceful Muslims who used to leave with us for ages. This is about extremism. And people realize it. And after any of these meetings even not a stone thrown. Because when you have 40,000 people leaving the meeting anything is possible, no?

It’s true.

Nothing happened. Only Aluthgama. why?

I don’t know, I was not there.

I know. I mean, for example, same meetings happened in 40 different places. Similar meetings. Similar speeches. Nothing happened. Why only in this place? There should be a reason. We should investigate that. We want the government to investigate it [laughs].

Okay, so you’re calling formally for an investigation.

We have, we have. I can – unfortunately those letters in Sinhala – I can send you.

That’d be great. Just moving on because I know you have to go.

No, no, it’s okay.

An October 2015 survey found that 48% of Sinhalese– that’s almost half of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese population– believe that the country’s constitution should be changed to produce a political solution to the ethnic issue. So to change the constitution to help with the political solution. Do you agree with them, and, how do you envision such a political solution?

I don’t know who did this survey. Whether this survey with some integrity.

So you question the results of the survey.

The results. Because in this country data is manipulated even at central banking right? [laughs]. So, this survey are biased are believe. That’s one thing, definitely.

But to the point of a political solution. To ethnic relations.

I think we should not have any power devolution based on religion, based on language. [call interrupted]

I think that what we need, I believe that the ethnic problem, what we have in this country was somewhat manipulated.

How so?

I don’t see big ethnic issue in this country.

You don’t?

I don’t see, because these are politically motivated.

But there’s a whole commission just for reconciliation. Are you saying that it’s unfounded? Is it a waste of time?

Yes, definitely, because we have to understand what are the problems.

You just got out of a 30 year civil war.

Yeah, why? Why 30 years of war? Unnecessary, no?

But, is it not fair to assume there are some differences…

Now, in reality it’s geopolitics. I told you, there’s a Tamil agenda, global agenda. They have used Sri Lanka as the best place, that is the weakest place to have a country. Right? If they start here, then they can easily divide India.

The slippery slope again.

That’s my opinion.

But is there not a place for reconciliation?

Now, now, for example, in Sri Lanka, what we need to do is, I believe — it’s very simple– that we, Tamils in this country, they have a problem. Why? Because the don’t understand Sinhala language. And Sinhalese have a problem because they don’t understand Tamil. Right?

There are two sides to that.

Right. I think the easiest thing, right? The quickest thing, right? – now we have a limited number of Tamils, no? Government can spend huge, any amount of money and let them learn Sinhala. That is the first thing.

But you understand how untenable that is. To force an entire population to…

Huh? No, not force. Forcing is wrong.

But that’s what it would be essentially.

For example, I do not have any problem with learning Tamil.

Demala puluwanhda?

I can. [responds in Tamil]

I love to learn. I tried a number of times, but unfortunately the time factor.

Sure sure. But you’re proposing a whole, sweeping policy that would…

No, no, that is wrong.

Okay, correct me.

I am trying to say is that we want to solve this problem. What is the problem? People, Tamil people, think they’re not treated well.

Think? So it’s a “they think”?

Sinhalese aren’t treated well. Why Sinhalese take arms against the government? Why 60,000 youth lost? Because there was a global agenda. They promoted injustice and no jobs given to people – you know– Sinhalese. They got arms against them. Similarly, the global Tamil agenda came and there were injustices in the society. And that injustice was used, and it was given a big picture, right? And, now for example when I promoted Sitama program, I invited some  Tamil young people to come to Colombo. And they stayed with me for 50 days in 2009.

Okay, but that doesn’t tell me that you’re… [laughs]

But, when they came here, they thought they were given impression “don’t trust Sinhalese”, “don’t talk Sinhalese”, “don’t listen Sinhala”. That was promoted by. Now can you imagine [incomprehensible] what is his statement? “I hate Sinhala act, therefore I don’t want to learn Sinhala”. Can you imagine? That is hate.

Yeah, I mean, Tamil is a national language. Right, just as Sinhalese is.

Yes, we made in some year. Tamil is a national language, there is no issue about that.

But you’re proposing, just a minute ago, you said they should do away with that.

No, no, I think you missed. I told, I think the easiest way to solve this problem is give any amount of money and let reconciliation start. They understand each other.

So you agree reconciliation is necessary?

Reconciliation is necessary. Because the Tamils have a national problem– it’s a language problem. Because when they come to Colombo, they don’t understand Sinhala.

But it’s going back to your same point.

Right, the don’t understand Sinhala. So, what is the first job we have to do? It’s to let them learn Sinhala.

Could you not say the same thing about Sinhalese learning Tamil?

Let them. If they want to work with Tamils, they should definitely learn Tamil. So, you should not force it.

Okay, just so we’re clear on that. It wouldn’t be a government policy.

But the problem is, the leader saying “I don’t want to learn Sinhala”. He is a leader who studied in Sinhala schools.

I don’t know if that was his full quote. I think there was more to it.

Huh?

This was recently, like a week ago. I don’t know if that’s exactly what he said.

I don’t know, I have seen these, I don’t know.

Yeah, I think you’re misconstruing the quote.

But he doesn’t learn Sinhala, so if you think about that. But definitely LTTE wanted Tamil people away from Sinhalaese. That’s definitely. That’s 100% I know. Because those children telling us. Right, but, for me, I love to learn Tamil. I love to eat in [incomprehensible] with Tamil people.

I think we’re getting away from the point, which is is there a political solution to reconciliation and should that be encased in the constitution?

I am, we are, completely against the power devolution package introduced by, who, this Indian government. Introducing provincial councils. It’s completely wrong approach. It will not solve problems. We want to have more power devolution.

You want to have power devolution?

We want to have more power devolution. That should go…

To the States?

Not state level, to the local government authority level. We don’t need provincial governments. It’s an unnecessary burden. Now, we don’t need Colombo provincial council. We don’t need [incomprehensible] provincial council. That’s not required. Now, my particular question, we had 225 members of the parliament before provincial council introduced. If provincial council introduced genuinely, what they should do– they should reduce the number of members in the parliament, no? Did they do that? I’m asking this particular question. If power is devolved, so then there should be MPs required no? Now India, power’s devolved, so this is cheating people.

Which people? Who’s being cheated?

By this so called leader in this country.

But who is being cheat, when you say “people”?  Who is being cheated in a devolution of power?

Sinhalese, Tamils were cheated by leaders of Sinhalese as well as Tamils. This will, now for example, from British power devolved to– we got the freedom– there’s power devolution no? From the British, power given to us. We never got the power. Political leadership got the power. Similarly.

It was too central, is that what you’re saying? The power was too centralized?

Yes, now what happened? The same thing happened to Tamils. Tamils will not get the power. Tamil leaders get the power.

So you have an issue with the leadership structure? The leaders aren’t representing the constituents?

If they are genuine. My particular question. When power devolution happen, in parliament we had 200 members. Power devolved, do we need to have the same number of MPs? They increased number of MPs also. And they increased that power. Now, for me, whether this provincial council, western provincial government is there or not, I don’t have any difference. So it’s a burden to this country, it’s, I think India should pay the cost of this to us by introducing this unnecessary structure. It’s made this country weak, it’s made us economically weak, because we don’t need this type of structure. Actually, what they should do is they should use IT to devolve power. Information technology. I was fighting for this, I know. I was telling in 2003, right? If they want to have security, they should use the IT. National security. Now for example, now I have an ID, that ID’s not connected to the passport, and passport is not connected to, what do you call, birth certificate. Electronically not connected. So those are the things government should do, so then Tamil people will not  – now I was telling, in 2000, the first priority of  government to have Sinhala-Tamil automatic translator. So, put millions of money, so then the entire language problem is solved. So why are they not working on that? So then, as a Tamil I don’t have any problem. Japanese coming here, they don’t have a big problem, why? Because they use this –tap– and translate. So, they’re not doing the right thing, they’re not interested about those real things to solve the problem.

Would you be willing to see greater power sharing among Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim groups? Is there a role for power sharing?

No, I don’t think. If you try power devolution based on ethnicity, religious groups, that would be the destruction of the country. Power should be given to people. Whether they are Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim.

But is it that easy though, to say give them to “people” when you have such a diverse democracy and society?

That means you have to have a strong civil society, that you have to use IT, so most of the problems can be solved. Now, if you can have highway from Colombo to Jaffna so you can travel within 2 hours to Colombo, this — most of the problems are solved.

I don’t know, seems a little oversimplified to say that a road…

Not oversimplified. When you say…

Land reclamation is still an ongoing issue in the north – high security zones – you know, these are ongoing issues that are faced by…

High security zones are faced by Sinhala also. You realize…

But to be fair, it’s disproportionately affecting Tamils.

But the problem is, now they think that there was a war. Now, any country after a war, they need to maintain forces.

For how long?

US, UK, they also maintain their forces in Asia and other places, still US is maintaining their faces in Korea. Why they only preach us?

So you think it’s a little two-faced?

No, I think there should be gradual.

Could you tell me a little bit about where the Sinha Le movement is going? Is it rising? Is it falling? Is it a movement even?

No, actually. We know there are some Buddhist groups, for their survival, they use these platforms, some of these monks use this for this purpose?

Venerable Medille?

Yes. That’s my understanding

What’s the agenda? Is it similar to BBS?

Not really.

Then what is it? Because obviously they’re tapping into something, they’ve hit a nerve.

Not really, actually. I don’t think they have any philosophical  plan to change society.

They have a whole mission statement on line. A whole website that says their goals, membership sign ups. You can give money.

That maybe one of the goals.

What’s that?

Funding. [laughs]

Would BBS ever cooperate with the Sinha Le movement? Could you ever see a joining of forces between the two?

Actually, I don’t see big movement. It’s like an artificially created feeling about the Sinha Le movement. Because actually, no one should own this movement. That’s how it happened initially. You understand?

But hasn’t BBS essentially done the same thing?

No. No, actually. What happened, What I’m trying to say is…

It seems like you might have competition.

No, there’s no competition to us. We don’t have competition. Actually, what I see, actually, 2 or 3 guys they used this tattoo Sinha Le and they created a sticker, a poster, and it became very popular. Then a number of people tapped into this and tried to say ownership of Sinha Le.

But even if that’s true and someone has co-opted that movement, it is now a movement. It is now an organization. Is it not?

Then, it became diluted actually.

Describe that.

Actually, when Sinha Le movement started, everyone wanted to have their stickers in their vehicles and everything. But after this particular monks claim it’s their group, then most of people got away from that.

Why is that? They didn’t agree with the sentiment?

Not sentiment. Because they don’t want to get into that. Because they had a genuine interest in Sinhale movement.

What is the Sinha-Le movement? Can you describe it?

We wanted to have a couple things. Because according to Kandy convention 1815, the name of this country was Sinhale. And that’s why British called Ceylon, right? And we want the name of this country to be called Sinhale. And then we want to have people in this country called Sinhale people. That is not Sinhala language. We want to have people, Muslims living here called Sinhale Muslims. Not Arabic Muslims. We don’t want to have Indian Tamils here. Sinhale Tamils. Sinhale Buddhists. Now I can show you, you can see this is from one Muslim leader…

I don’t want to sound extreme, but it almost seems like what you just described is almost similar to ethnic cleansing in some ways. Because you’re saying…

You say American Jewish, American Chinese, American… same thing. So, the problem is perception. If you think about Sinhale is racism, then that’s the problem. Now this Muslim guy, in this website said “our  religion is Islam, our nationality is Sinhale”. He is fro Saudi Arabia.

And it has the Sinhale logo there.

Yes.

And what does that tell us?

He says that my religion is Islam. My nationality is Sinhale.

So he’s essentially agreeing with your position?

Yes.

And we would be removing then those two colors [from the flag, which represent minorities]?

No, actually, we want to have our – ’48 – 1948 we had a flag.

Just the lion?

Just the lion.  Yes.

And that’s what I often see in the pictures. But is that not sort of a slap in the face to your minorities?

No, there should not be minorities. They all belongs to Sinhale.

But, you see the issue. To say that, is to wipe away a whole minority, a whole population of Sri Lankans. Muslims, Tamils.

When somebody comes to America, Chinese. You call American Chinese. So if this country’s name is Sinhale.

I don’t know if it’s the same. I don’t know if it’s the same.

The thing is, there should be democratic means. Democratic structures.

But is that democracy, what you propose?

Yes.

Is that democracy?

Yes.

You have a monopoly on culture almost.

No.

How is that not a monopoly?

So, what do you call. For example, if you say, American. That’s, you are as a great nation, you say American. So, similarly, as a great nation, Sinhale. So people in this country called Sinhale people. There should be democratic structures to

To protect…

To protect the rights of everybody. We should not use the word minority. They are brothers and sisters of this country.  So whether they are Muslim, or whether they are Sinhalese, or whether they are Tamil, [incomprehensible] when you walk you don’t feel that you are Muslim or Sinhalese, but I’ll tell you, this is the problem, when, I told you about my friend, we were studied together,

Yeah.

When I go to his house, his mother used to wear a sari. And hijjab, face is open, but head closed. That is Sinhale Muslim. Sinhale culture, Sinhala sari. There is nothing wrong with that. Now, importing Arabic costume and putting it here.

Okay. Is there something wrong with that?

What do you think about that?

For a multicultural society, I don’t know.

That is importing a culture.

Is that wrong?

That means they’re rejecting the Sinhala culture.

Is it so easy to say they are rejecting, or just identifying to their own culture? Is it so easy to say…

They had they culture, living in Quran there’s no saying that…

Would you say that monks are rejecting other cultures because they wear the robe?

No, it was part of this society. The Muslim—Muslim ladies in this country wearing a sari and that was our culture. And Buddhist monk wearing, that is there culture. And Muslim preach, they had their Arabic culture. No issue.

But you say it’s rejecting other…

No, now, now for example, they’re removing sari and forcing them to have this one.

Burka?

Burka means they want to get away from this reconciliation. They want to have separation. They were integrated into this society very nicely, but because of this Wahhabist element, they don’t do that. They want them to have separate identity. That is not Sinha– you can’t call it Sinhala culture or Sinhalese culture– why we need to have Arabic thing?

My last question for you, in light of the recent shooting in Orlando. The worst mass shooting sense 9/11 in the United States. 49 people were killed. Specific to LGBT, gay, lesbian, transexual persons were killed at a night club. The Sinha Le movement in particular has targeted LGBT activities in this country. Specifically the Equal Ground events, Butter Boutique, other organizations that have helped the LGBT movement with their voice and activity. Is it appropriate in your opinion for the Sinha Le to target LGBT in particular? To the point of violence?

I think any form of violence is wrong. We don’t have right to use violence or force in any means. That’s why we’re saying the use , what do you call, American dollar money, American – don’t misunderstand me – Western money, because your income is completely different from us. Therefore, whatever penny you get is huge money here. So that, it’s a force. Understand that, it’s a force. Similarly, we also should not force anybody so they’re, personal rights, therefore any form of violence– media violence, political violence, all violence is completely against.

So you would disagree with their [Sinha Le] position online that seems to incite violence?

You mean, criticizing is possible?

Not criticizing, they would put up a picture of an event and they would almost seem to call people to the event to incite violence.

No, violence. I disagree. We have not discussed that at BBS, but as a person I’m against violence.

Do you agree that, within the LGBT community, that they deserve greater protection from the government?

At the same time, we don’t want American funds—or Western funds—for them also to promote their activities.

What if they weren’t supported by American funds—what if this was run by…

I don’t– that creates a problem. For example, I mean, the word “American” means Western. Right? So we don’t want, because sometimes that can be used to force some youth also. Into that.

Into what? Into being gay?

Maybe, yes. So therefore, for example, using Christian groups, evangelical groups funds, because of funds they change their religion. Right? Similarly, because of this funds, poor people attracted, they might be gay.

It’s illegal in Sri Lanka.

Illegal, illegal. yes.

Should it be illegal?

That should be discussed. I don’t know.

Do you have a thought about it?

Uh, no the problem…

Because that was an imported law, you know England, that was a law brought here to Sri Lanka.

You know actually we have problems with the legal system also. Now, my concern is that– I know many American organizations – western organizations – fund these groups. That creates, now for example, youth – they don’t know anything about it – they can be attracted. Now there are, different companies. They give cars, they give various facilities for sports people – they go and smoke. That can influence non-smoker youth – small kids – to smoke.

I don’t know if second-hand smoke is the same as becoming gay.

It’s also possible. It can influence. Because, you know, they are attracted– they get money, they get foreign trips and everything. So you can gradually transform that. That is wrong. So, because if, we had the same income level as America, then this money coming to Sri Lanka is okay. Otherwise, this is a powerful force there.

Do you think there is a place for Sri Lanka to become a more inclusive and accepting society to minorities? For example, if someone self identifies as being gay or transgender – should they not have a space to be accepted as such?

I think, you know, unofficially it is accepted in this country. [call interrupted]

You said they were accepted. At the moment it would be hard to argue they are.

Everybody knows. Right?

What?

Such people are in power.

I don’t understand.

You know, in this society. The whole society knows there are gay people. There are, you know, lesbian in this country. And they…

In power, or…

They are in big positions in this country. So they’re accepted.

Not openly apparently, because I don’t know of anyone that’s openly gay.

There are some, I don’t know names, there are some ministers– he’s gay– it’s known by everybody, unofficially.

But it’s illegal.

It’s illegal. But everybody knows that this particular minister is a gay. And people vote. That means they’re inclusive [laughs].

You understand – you’re being facetious I understand — but…

I don’t name – but there are some ministers, some big people in this country- whole society knows they are.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re accepted.

They’re accepted, no?

Did they come out publicly?

I think its, uh, everyone in society knows it. So if society is so against it, they should be rejected. Politically.

I mean, I don’t know anyone in power that’s openly gay.

There are, everybody knows.

Who? I should just ask you.

It’s not correct for me, but I mean there are a couple of cabinet ministers. Are well known. As well as gay ministers.

Should they not be protected? Should they not be able to come out?

They are being protected.

But it’s illegal. They would be thrown in prison for acts of homosexuality.

That’s their private matter, no?

It’s not private if they can be thrown in prison for it. If you walk down the street and you kiss a man, say, you could be thrown in prison for that. Is that acceptable or is that not acceptable?

I don’t think– in Sri Lanka, usually there’s no practice of kissing girl or boy, no? Therefore…

That’s not my question.

Therefore, therefore compare to America, having free sex outside your house is acceptable.

It’s not. Most people don’t do that.

I mean in Western society, right? But here, it’s not accepted.

But we don’t put people in prison for it.

But we do that here.

I know, and do you agree with that?

You know, for example, if 16 year girl having sex with boy, also put into jail.

Who? The girl or the boy? Or both?

Boy.

Is that true? I don’t know if that’s the case.

Yes, if girl 16 years it’s taken as adultery taken to prison. Now, there are things, no? I don’t want to comment on this much because I don’t have studied or no about these things…

I only ask because it seems to be a focal point of Sinha Le– they have specifically targeted LGBT activities. That’s why I’m bringing it up.

I think our Sinhale movement, because we had that Sinhale movement from the beginning, during the election campaign, and our Sinhale movement is not focusing on these minor issues. We should, the Sinhale movement should focus on really building, what do you call, creating a strong society.

Could you argue that a strong society is an inclusive society?

It should be inclusive.

Which would entail LGBT.

I think for ages, this is practicing unofficially in this country. Don’t disturb it. You don’t need protection for everything.

Okay, let’s leave it at that. Thank you very much for your time.

I can’t tell many things or I will be in trouble. [laughs]

I understand.

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