Saturday, October 6, 2012

Protect the Buddhist Heritage! It is the law - Part I

By Hasaka Ratnamalala
Preserving heritage is preserving the legacy of a country and its people. Not only countries with long histories but also countries with not so long histories preserve their heritage for the future generations to see. The responsibility of preserving the heritage of a country is mainly in the hands of the government running the country. But due to lack of resources, and political will, governments failed to preserve or conserve their own heritage. In such event, organizations such as UNESCO jump in; and help the countries to protect their heritage by providing resources and naming the particular locations as world heritage sites.
Sri Lanka has several such heritage sites identified by UNESCO; but there are thousands of unidentified locations throughout the country, needed to be preserved. Today, not only these un-identified sites, but also these identified sites are facing the threat of losing its heritage identity.
Dambulla in Sri Lanka is one such UNESCO identified heritage site, facing the threat of disappearance of its identity. Unfortunately due to ignorance of politicians and lack of academic attention on the matter, these sites are wide open into the hands of those who wanted to destroy country’s cultural identity. Among all, the most dangerous thing is the behavior of so called intellectuals and irresponsible media of the country, which are trying to portray the fight for protecting cultural heritage of the country as implementation Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism.
My intention of writing this article is to disprove this chauvinism theory, and to emphasize that it is a legal obligation of the government, to protect the Buddhist heritage of the country. I also like to discuss how other countries, protect their heritage and why we should understand the legal importance of it. In doing so, I would like to take two countries, which are considered as ideal democracies; by those who support chauvinism theory. The two countries I take are Australia and Canada. Both are former British colonies with modern, multicultural societies and have English common law background.
In Australia, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act are some of federal level steps to protect their “Native” (aboriginal) heritage, while all the other states and territories have legislations that provides blanket protection to Indigenous archaeological sites.
There is not much difference in Canada, as every level of governments has their own legislation to protect the “Native” heritage within its territory; while the federal government has the upper hand through the constitution.
In Section 91(24) of the Canadian Constitution Act of 1867, the federal parliament has given exclusive power to parliament to legislate matters related to "Indians and Lands reserved for the Indians (Aboriginals). Also part II of the Constitution Act of 1982 (also known as Charter Rights and freedoms), recognizes Aboriginal treaty and land rights through its section 35; also in here the Aboriginal rights are referred to as ancient source of Aboriginal rights and customs.
These multinational, multi ethnic, multi religious, modern, democratic countries believe that they should protect their “Native” heritage and enforce that duty in every level of the government.
Sri Lanka is not much different, but the problem is in the practical part of the action, which has bogged down due to political interference and misinterpretation of facts. Therefore in Sri Lanka the best way to counter this political interference and misinterpretation of facts is to remind all, the legal obligation of protecting the heritage.
The modern legal foundation of protecting Sri Lanka’s heritage starts with 1815 Kandyan Convention. The Section 5 of the convention states that “the religion of Buddha is declared inviolable, and its rites, ministers (monks) and places of worship are to be maintained and protected”.This is a clear indication of what had been the way of the country before 1815; and what was expected to be in the future.
This could be further explained in legal terms as, the “Sinhale” leaders who sign the agreement expected a fiduciary (trustee) duty, from the British crown; to protect Buddhist heritage in Sri Lanka. Further in to the matter, in 1818, by revolting against British rulers, same “Sinhale” leaders demand the British crown, to follow the conditions at the 1815 agreement; and that they were not tolerating any breach of its conditions. This could collaborate through the documentation found at British museums related to 1818 rebellion.
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  1. The problem with 'Buddhism' in Sri Lanka is that it is not clear whether the guiding principles are based on the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path (surely the crux of the Buddha's philosophy?) or on the meaningless practices carried out today in the name of 'Buddhism' without consideration of those guiding principles.
    Also when 'shrines' suddenly appear on junctions of main roads, are these to be considered 'places of worship'?

    1. I think the pratice of building statues comming from catholism as we see when we are travelling through
      Ja-ela to Chillaw. Before that Sri Lankans were used to hang a branch of leaves in a tree when they are leaving for any important journey. My intention here is not to criticize worshiping pratice of any religion but to remind and secure the legal right of Buddhists in Sri Lanka which was secured by common law and the constitution to pratice their religion without any hindrens from anyone. If we want to discuss whether the Buddhists in Sri Lanka praticing their religion according to the Buddhist principles that could be in a different article, which I rather do with fellow Buddhists but not with someone from another religion.I leave it to the Buddhist institutions to take care of that business.

  2. Protecting the Heritage of any entity of people is a must as it is inviolable and inalienable. When it comes to Sri Lanka, the reason for bias reporting, and the cause for all continuing ills of the Island Country, is the result of ignoring one fundamental fact on the part of the citizens, expatriates and the leaders. This fact is, and the fact as it is, that this Island country known by the pseudonym SL, is the inalienable HERITAGE OF THE HELA/SINHELA NATION OF PEOPLE OF HELADIVA (whole island)and all its settler ethnic communities too are INCLUSIVE HELA/SINHELA NATIONAL CITIZENS. Hence, only by upholding the NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY OF THE HELA/SINHELA NATION AND AS OUR ONLY HELA/SINHELA COUNTRY that we can protect and defend our heritage, including the Buddhist heritage.


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