By Ashis Biswas
During the tenure of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government, India’s diplomatic influence and outreach have noticeably declined within its immediate South Asian neighbourhood. After the wake-up call on the Doklam stand-off from Bhutan, now comes news that temples and ancient cultural/traditional holy sites of Hindu-Indian origin are being systematically demolished in Sri Lanka.
Such a trend is both confusing and surprising. India has been the chief sustainer of Bhutan’s economy and overall security over the decades. Yet Bhutan currently shifted its earlier position on the disputed status of the Doklam area, favouring China.
Again, except for an ill-advised economic blockade in 2015, India has provided consistent infrastructural/technical assistance for years to Nepal. Relations between New Delhi and Kathmandu however, remain somewhat tense over the latter’s territorial claims over parts of Uttarakhand areas.
As for Sri Lanka, where recent developments are causing concern to Delhi-based policymakers, India is still Japan’s only major Asian ally in working out an emergency aid package for the near bankrupt island!
Yet, it is an indisputable fact that in Sri Lanka the armed forces have over the years pursued a conscious policy of undermining, even destroying, the remaining emotive vestiges of Hindu culture and religion in the name of carrying out new programmes. Most holy sites for Hindus are located in the Tamil-dominated areas.
It is even more disconcerting to learn that the smash-the-temples phenomenon has not begun recently — it has been reported since long, without apparently creating too many ripples in the Indian Government.!
Some Colombo-based media reports suggest that such places of worship, Shiva temples and monuments etc were mainly looked after and maintained for ages by the resident Tamil community. They were also a big draw for Hindu devotees, tourists and pilgrims from nearby South Indian states and from other parts of India as well.
In recent years, Sri Lankan authorities have in the name of carrying out widespread repairing /reconstruction programmes in the civil-war ravaged areas to the island’s Northern and nearby regions, have put up new official buildings or other similar constructions, razing the old Hindu temples — never mind the rich tapestry of legends, myths and ancient history that surrounded the earlier monuments.
In the process, the authorities did not make the slightest concession to local citizens’ requests and prayers, urging upon them not to proceed with their destruction!
In big broad terms, observers discern in this official Sri Lankan endeavour to wipe out a significant if turbulent, part of the island’s troubled history, more than an undeclared policy to teach the uppity Tamils a lesson. The demolitions are apparently part of a major official exercise to rewrite the island’s ancient history. But it is also clearly intended to send a larger, strong anti-India message to New Delhi as well.
To give only one recent example that carries a chilling anti-Indian message: monuments have been destroyed even on sites where Indian Prime Minister Mr Modi had visited and offered prayers, when he visited Sri Lanka in 2015!
To the unusually woke Tamil international diaspora, a worldwide organisation , goes the credit of bringing to international attention the ruthless demolition drive targeting ancient temples, traditional places of worship and related architecture in recent years.
Observers are surprised that to date, other Indian organisations/ethnic groups/ Ministries/diplomats do not seem to have taken note of the systematic sacking of ancient cultural/religious shrines and Shiva temples.
Normally, it has been standard practice for the Hindi-speaking North Indian diaspora in different countries to speak out against anti-Indian discrimination, hate crimes, physical assaults and other excesses against Hindus in the social media and through other channels.
Over the last decade, most overseas Indian groups/lobbies have been strongly supportive of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the pro-Hindu organisations. Many NRIs are very enthusiastic about Prime Minister Mr. Modi’s record as India’s PM.
Yet somehow, the hostile cultural war carried on by the Sri Lankan administration , occurring right next to Indian territory, has somehow escaped their notice ! Ditto, the Indian mainstream print and electronic media, which extensively cover the stellar performance of Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar at different international fora and his unabashedly assertive approach especially vis-a-vis Western diplomats/Ministers !
Perhaps India’s official silence/oversight on the Sri Lankan developments is explained by the fact that native-born Tamil speakers for the overwhelming majority among people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka — unlike Hindi speakers!
Referring to a few instances of the mayhem carried out so far in Sri Lanka may not be out of place here: Historians have recorded that since 1948, around 1800 Hindu temples have been demolished, mostly under official orders. The majority of Sri Lankan soldiers are Buddhist.
According to recent reports: The Aathi Suvan Iyanar temple at Kurunthur Malai in Mullaithivu district was destroyed some time ago. At Jaffna, Mr Modi had visited and offered puja and prayers at the famous prehistoric Naguleswar Shiva temple, during his 2015 to the island. The temple no longer exists, according to some local reports. The areas under and close to the Hindu holy site at Kinniya hot springs in East Trincomalee port city have now been linked on official orders to Anuradhapura, and put under army control. The five centuries old Aathi Sivan temple at Keerimalai holy site on North Sri Lanka coast was destroyed during army occupation of the area. All civilians were driven out and not allowed to return for years. In the place of the ancient temple, a new spanking Presidential palace has come up!
The All Ceylon Hindu Congress (ACHC) registered a strong protest against such rampant destruction of a Hindy holy site and centre of pilgrimage. ‘We would like to know who gave permission to destroy a an ancient Hindu temple , to build a presidential palace ,’ it asked, in a public statement.
The organisation is yet to receive an answer, even as it keeps receiving fresh information about yet more demolitions! As for the holy Shivalingas, expensive jewellery and images etc in the temples, most have gone missing and remain untraceable. (IPA Service)