A prominent Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka discouraged Buddhists from frequenting Muslims shops and agreed with alleged “female devotees” who called for the stoning of Muslim doctors accused of sterilizing Buddhists, local media reported Tuesday.
The sterilization accusation surfaced in a newspaper in early June but the government has not corroborated it. Reuters noted that they, too, could not independently confirm that the government had indeed arrested, or even investigated, any Muslims doctors for secretly sterilizing Buddhist women, but Buddhist political figures have compounded these accusations with mounting rejection of Islam in the country following the jihadist massacre of over 250 people on Easter Sunday.
Following the attacks in April, which the Islamic State claimed and targeted three churches and three hotels catering to Christians, Buddhists began engaging in mob attacks on Muslims businesses and homes believed to belong to Muslims. A prominent monk, with support from the Christian community, went on a hunger strike this month demanding the removal of Muslim politicians he said had ties to the jihadists responsible for the Easter bombings. In response, every Muslim member of Sri Lanka’s federal cabinet, along with the two governors the monk originally targeted, resigned.
Sri Lanka’s population is overwhelmingly Buddhist, with Hindu, Muslim, and Christian minorities. The Christian population is slightly smaller than the Muslim population and has very limited political power.
The Colombo Telegraph, which often publishes pieces critical of the government, highlighted remarks by Asigiri Chapter Prelate Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana in an article on Tuesday. Gnanarathana, which the newspaper describes as “one of Sri Lanka’s highest Buddhist authority figures,” rejected the idea that “Muslims shouldn’t be sidelined.”
“The Muslims don’t love us. … That this is a community who poisoned our people and tried to destroy our people is very clear. It is very clear,” Gnanarathana said, according to a translation of his remarks by Sri Lanka Brief. “Because of this, Buddhists must protect themselves. Don’t go to those [Muslim] shops. Don’t buy from those shops. The young people who ate from those shops, I think, will not be able to have/lose their children. You should know this.”
He did not provide any evidence for his claim that eating food prepared by Muslims would make Buddhists “lose their children.”
The monk then addressed “that doctor and his heroics,” referring to the rumors of a Muslims doctor secretly sterilizing Buddhist women. “He has destroyed thousands of our children. These traitors must not be allowed to live in freedom.”
“Some female devotees said that they should be stoned to death. I don’t say this, but what should be done is this,” he added. “If this sort of violence had been done by one of our kind to their kind, he would have been quartered and killed.”
He concluded by asking Sinhalese Buddhists to elect politicians who “love our race.”
The sterilization case appears to have changed Gnanarathana’s view on coexisting with Muslims. A week before his latest remarks, the monk had called on Sri Lankans to live in peace together and attended an event with Muslim leaders.
“We are all Sri Lankans born in this country and we have lived together for several centuries without any issues,” Sri Lanka’s Mirror quotes him as saying.
The Telegraph accuses Gnanarathana of “spewing words that completely violate the very non-violent principles Buddhism stands for” and identifies a potential identity for the rogue sterilization doctor: Segu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi. The Telegraph says that Shafi has been “falsely accused” of sterilizing women. Reuters reported, following the May publication of the original newspaper article on the alleged sterilizations, that Shafi was arrested on charges of financial improprieties, but the timing of his arrest made many suspect that he was the sterilization culprit, though police never accused him of such an act.
The original report, according to Reuters, appeared in May in Divaina, a Sri Lankan newspaper. It accused an unnamed Muslim doctor of having “secretly sterilized 4,000 Sinhala Buddhist women after caesarean deliveries.” It went on to claim that the doctor was a member of National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), the local Muslims group that claimed responsibility for the Easter bombings in the name of the Islamic State (ISIS). Divaina never named Shafi or anyone else, nor did it produce hard evidence, like a police report, on the accusation.
Now, over 1,000 women who were treated by Dr. Shafi have surfaced stating that they were infertile and accusing him of deliberately harming their fertility. Police have not yet indicted him on crimes relating to those accusations.
Gynecology experts in Sri Lanka have called the claims “highly unlikely” due to the nature of caesarian sections and the crowded operating room – at least one health worker is likely to notice a major operation like a tubal ligation occurring when a caesarian should be, especially if it happened 4,000 times. Many of the patients who claimed Shafi sterilized them also suffered from health complications that could affect fertility and doctors have not found any evidence in them of artificial, surgical alternation of their reproductive systems at press time.
Sri Lanka has experienced a growing public backlash against Islam in the aftermath of the Easter attacks, largely fueled by Buddhist animosity towards Muslims despite the fact that ISIS targeted Christians on their holiest holiday. Shortly after the attack, surveillance camera videos began to surface of mob attacks against Muslims, and police standing idly by while they occurred. Sri Lanka expelled 200 Islamic clerics from the country at the time and banned the burqa, a largely Arabic Islamic garment.
Nine of the nation’s Muslim ministers resigned en masse in early June following a call by Athuraliye Rathana Thero for the removal of two governors he claimed had ties to jihadist groups. Thero, a Buddhist monk, launched a hunger strike to get the governors removed. The hunger strike paralyzed the central city of Kandy, where supporters rallied to give Thero support, blocking major roads and shutting down traffic across the city. The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, thanked Thero for his support for the Christian community.
“Rathana Thero is appearing for the rights of the deceased and the injured from the Easter Day attacks and that the Thero is engaged in a protest fast after figuring out the real facts behind the attacks,” Ranjith reportedly said. “We support the monk’s campaign because so far justice has not been served.”
Outrage against the government is largely a response to evidence that President Maithripala Sirisena had reason to know the Islamic State or another jihadist group was plotting an attack on Easter. At least 11 mosques near the NTJ mosque in the greater Colombo area were identified as preaching fundamentalist Islam in the aftermath of the attack. Cabinet officials loyal to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe revealed documents in the days after the attack that indicate the Indian government had told Sirisena’s intelligence officials that they had reason to believe jihadists were planning an attack. Sirisena claimed to have never seen the documents and fired his police and defense chiefs.