Genesis of Bodu Bala Sena
According to Mr. Dilantha Withanage – the lay Execurive Committee member and the Coordinator of Bodu Bala Sena, the Buddhist outfit was launched on 07 May 2012. We have still one more month left for the first anniversary of the organization. Within less than a period of one year, Bodu Bala Sena is today on the top of the world and everything is happening in Sri Lanka because of this Buddhist outfit.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage and a handful of Buddhist monks are behind this organization. How did they manage to organize it?
The Executive Committee of the Bodu Bala Sena consists of - Chief of Bhodu Bala Sena is Ven. Kirana Vimalajothi Thera. Secretary of Bodhu Bala Seana is Ven. Galagadatthea Gnanasara Thera. Other executive committee members are Ven. Haputhalea Paghgasara Thera, Ven. Vitharandheniyea Nandha Thera and Dilantha Vithanage (Lay Member). These are the key players of the Buddhist outfit, about whom Government leaders shudder to talk about.
Before organizing Bodu Bala Sena, majority of the Buddhist monks in the outfit and Mr. Dilantha Withanage were in Norway.
The trip to Norway was arranged by Mr. Dilantha Withanage and by Mr. Arne Fjortoft of the Worldview International Foundation.
According to Norwegian Ambassador for Sri Lanka Ms. Grete Løchen, “Ven. Galegodatte Gnanasera Thero contacted the Sri Lanka based organization Worldview International Foundation in April 2011 to explore the possibility to meet with representatives of the Tamil Disapora in Norway to look for ways and means to create a common policy to solve political problems regarding the ethnic challenges in Sri Lanka. As a result of extensive planning, it was agreed to arrange a Reconciliation Conference in Norway from 20-26 October, in partnership with NOREF.”
She also added, “The Norwegian support to this project was a one-off payment.”
Therefore, according to Ambassador’s statement the visit to Norway was funded by Norway and the Buddhist monks were in Norway from 20 to 26 October 2011.
Subsequently, the rebel Buddhist outfit was launched on 07 May 2012. That means those Buddhist monks – majority of them including Mr. Dilantha Withanage arranged and launched the Buddhist outfit within a period of six months or little more, after their arrival from their sojourn to Norway.
In fact, what happened in Norway was anybody’s guess, but in the end after their visit the outfit Bodu Bala Sena was launched.
But I don’t understand why those whom opposed the peace process undertaken by Norway and Norway’s partiality towards the LTTE have now changed their attitude towards Bodu Bala Sena – strongly suspected as another Norwegian proxy involved in winning Sri Lankan leaders towards Norway?
Given below the text of the interview Asian Tribune had with Mr. Dilantha Withanage, Executive Committee Membe and coordinator of the Bodu Bala Sena:
Asian Tribune: I have some urgent issues to be clarified.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Though I am busy, yes, you may speak to me.
Asian Tribune: I need to get some clarification. One is about the Press release I received from your organization on 2nd midnight, Swedish time.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: But I have already sent you clarifying our position by SMS just now, a couple of minutes ago.
Asian Tribune: I received that e-mail on Bodu Bala Sena stationary (letter head) with its logo on it.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Actually we have not sent any press releases to anyone. I learnt that the purported press release also mentioned about the Purdah worn by Muslim women. We never have any issue with the dress code of Muslim women. The other thing was that we never had a meeting on that day (01 April). I have clarified this to local media as well as I have sent you an SMS.
Asian Tribune: Sorry I didn't receive your SMS. Therefore you may resend it clarifying your position.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: There are lot of things happening around us and you may be aware of it.
Even last week there was a message sent to one mosque demanding them to vacate from that mosque premises. A friend of mine in a TV channel called and asked me about this. We clarified our position and informed the police also about that incident. I have already informed the police about the press release in question and requested them to investigate who are behind these mischievous activities.
Asian Tribune : I also have sent an e-mail to the Inspector General of Police about the statement I received purported to be from Bodu Bala Sena. I sent him an e-mail asking him to go into it.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: That’s good. We should identify these culprits and bring them to books.
Asian Tribune: There are some other things I have to ask you. It is about Mr. Arne Fjortoft. Also about the TV debate you had some time ago with Mr. Azath Salley in the Max TV. I think if I remember correctly, he asked you at the course of the discussion, whether Bodu Bala Sena is receiving funding from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Colombo and also about the visit of the Norwegian Ambassador Ms. Grete Løchen along with Mr. Arne Fjortoft to the office of the Bodu Bala Sena, at Sri Sambuddathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya, located at Thunmulla Junction, Colombo and about five of your Buddhist monks visiting Norway.
I was told that during that debate you haven’t responded to those questions.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: No I have replied to those issues he raised.
Asian Tribune: What did you say? Who are those five Buddhist Monks who visited Norway?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: I can tell you. I think that was in 2010 … I think.
Asian Tribune: No, I think that was in October 2011.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: I must check my passport, I can’t remember. May be on October 2011, but not happened in 2012. I know for sure, because after we visited Norway only we launched our Bodu Bala Sena on 07 May 2012.
Asian Tribune : You also went in that delegation to Norway.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Yes. I can give the names of those who were in our delegation that visited Norway. They are-
1. Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thero (Presently General Secretary of Bodu Bala Sena)
2. Ven. Witharandeniye Nanda Thero (He is now the national organizer of Bodu Bala Sena)
3. Ven. Aluthwewa Ananda Thero
4. 3. Ven. Dapane Sumanawansa Thero
5. 4. Ven. Welimada Shantha Thero
6. Mr. Pujitha Wijesinghe and
7. Mr. Mark Antony Perera
If you say that Bodu Bala Sena members went in a delegation to visit Norway, then it will be wrong. At that time there was no organization as such. They represented different organizations.
Asian Tribune : So these were the eight people including you who visited Norway in 2011. What were you doing in Norway?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: In fact we were invited by one of the organization in Norway. In fact I have forgotten the name of the organization. Actually we visited Norway and had discussion with some of the Tamil friends there. I don’t know whether friends we met in Norway represented actually the section of the vociferous Tamil diaspora? Some of them we met, I learnt were supporters of the LTTE. You can say they are just a very small section of the Tamil diaspora. Then we visited some social organizations including a couple of Elders Home and we visited the Norwegian Parliament. We had meeting also with former Minister Erick Solheim. We also had meetings with some Norwegian Parliamentarians. Also we visited houses of some of the Tamil friends.
Asian Tribune: Did Mr. Arne Fjortoft was accompanied you in your visit to Norway?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: He did not accompany us, but we met him in Norway.
Asian Tribune What was the reason behind your invitation to Norway?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: To have dialogue between two extreme groups.
Asian Tribune: What do you mean by ‘ two extreme groups’?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: To have an understanding between us and the Tamil diaspora organizations. For example Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thero represented a very strong Sinhala organization.
Earlier we never had any dialogue to understand each other’s problems. They claimed that Government was involved in anti-Tamil program. We had a very critical and fruitful discussion with them. We talked about land issues, high security zones and about various other things.
Asian Tribune: Were you an organization representing the Government? Tell us whether the monks were representing individually and collectively for the organizations they belonged?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Actually I was there as a translator. Also Mr. Pujitha Wijesinghe was also with us as a translator. But monks in our delegation did belong to one or the other organizations, and we selected those Buddhist monks from different organizations.
Asian Tribune: Who arranged the visit to Norway?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: I arranged the visit to Norway. I arranged it with Mr. Arne Fjortoft.
Asian Tribune: This was funded by the Embassy of Norway?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: No I don’t think whether it was solely funded alone by the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo.
Asian Tribune: But I remember Mr. Arne Fjortoft saying that it was funded by the Embassy of Norway and also by the Norwegian Ambassador. Also I was told that you got the approval from Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Nothing to do with Doctor. I have not met him. I don’t know anything about it.
Asian Tribune: But Mr. Arne Fjortoft said that he got the approval from the Sri Lankan Government authorities? Also Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne when talking to me told that it was Mr. Arne Fjortoft who told him about this visit to Norway.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Why should I need to get the approval from anybody? I am a Sri Lankan and we are free to travel anywhere we wanted. I know that we went there, we had discussions, and we went to Sweden, then to Paris and then came back to Colombo.
Asian Tribune: How many days were you in Norway.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: I can’t remember correctly. I think we were in Norway for seven days. In Sweden just for one day
Asian Tribune: Tell us whom all you met in Sweden?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: In Sweden we met Tamil diaspora, members of the civil society, and also participated in some cultural events.
Asian Tribune: Where?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: I can’t exactly remember where it was, but I think it was in a city near the border of Norway. There was a musical function. Then we had a ‘bana’ chanting religious event too.
Asian Tribune: Did you all go to the Buddhist Temple in Sweden?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: We had no time for such visit because it was in Stockholm.
Asian Tribune: Did you go to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Sweden?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: No, we couldn’t go there?
Asian Tribune: At least to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Norway?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: No .. no. Once we arrived in Oslo, immediately we were taken to places outside Oslo. Then we came to Oslo on the last day of our visit and immediately we had to rush to the airport to leave for Paris.
Asian Tribune: On the last day only you met with former Minister Erik Solheim?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Yes, that meeting was on the last day of our trip.
Asian Tribune: In Paris, what were you doing?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: In Paris we went to one temple and we also had some meetings there.
Asian Tribune: About your meeting with Norwegian Ambassador Ms. Grete Løchen for Sri Lanka?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Actually what happened was Mr. Arne Fjortoft spoke to me that there was an article in Gulf News, as well as in the Asian Tribune about Bodu Bala Sena as a terror organization. In fact we also received two telephone calls – one from the Norwegian Embassy and another from the US Embassy.
Mr. Arne Fjortoft told that Norwegian Ambassador wanted to ask what Bodu Bala Sena was up to. Then we told that if you need clarification about Bodu Bala Sena, then you can come over to our office. We told the same also to the American Embassy. We told Mr. Arne Fjortoft that we are a very small organization and we were involved in promoting Buddhism and Buddhist concepts in the country and invited Norwegian Ambassador to visit our office, so that we can explain about us and of our aims and concepts.
Norwegian Ambassador Ms. Grete Løchen with one of her junior diplomatic colleague visited our office. We found she had some interest in Buddhism. In our meeting she asked, “Why are you taking up to violence?”
We clearly told her that we are not involved in any violent activities.
She told that she has received calls from some Muslim leaders and from Muslim organizations and letters saying that Bodu Bala Sena was involved in doing lots of harm to Muslims. She asked why you are engaged in violence acts.
We explained to her that we don’t do anything of that sort. She was telling to us that you have to be very careful because you all went through a huge problem for the last thirty years and you have to be very careful about doing provocative things. These violent acts might affect the ethnic relationship in the country, she cautioned. She advised us not to get involved in any anti-Muslim campaigns.
Then we explained to her that, she has received wrong information from the Muslim leaders and told her very clearly that we don’t have any anti-Muslim campaigns. We were only boycotting halal foods and promoting those halal foods should not be consumed by Buddhist in this country, because it was anti-Buddhist religious concept.
In the course of the conversation we noticed that she was little unhappy and remained unconvinced. We also raised some questions. We observed that she was not very happy in the way we explained our position.
As she was about to leave our office, representatives of Jamiathul Ulema arrived, as we have already arranged a meeting with them immediately after the meeting with Norwegian Ambassador. As representatives of Jamiathul Ulema arrived for the meeting, they also had the opportunity to meet the Norwegian Ambassador at our office and they also said ‘Hi’ to her as she was leaving our office.
Please understand that our meeting with the Norwegian Ambassador was not a secret meeting. Bodu Bala Sena office is an open office and people keep on coming and going and our activities are very open.
Asian Tribune : The issue is that, an Ambassador visiting an office of a religious organization make people raise their eyebrows.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage : No.. no, then even on behalf of American Ambassador, Political Officer of the American Embassy came to our office on the very next day.
Asian Tribune: What is the name of the US Embassy’s Political Officer?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: I can’t remember his name, but he is US Embassy political officer. He also received lots of information about Bodu Bala Sena from us when he met us in our office.
The Norwegian Ambassador came with another lady diplomat from her Embassy and Mr. Arne Fjortoft came separately and joined with her in the discussion with us.
Asian Tribune: Who were on your side in the discussion?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: We had along with me, Chief of Bodu Bala Sena Ven. Kirana Vimalajothi Thera, and the Secretary General Ven. Galagadatthea Gnanasara Thera.
Also the American Embassy Political Officer came as I said earlier on the following day and he also raised almost the same set of questions. We pointed out to US Political Officer that in their last years ‘Religious Freedom Report’, it was almost an anti-Buddhist one and told that there are lot of things happening against Buddhists, as a practice Buddhists will not make any complaints for two reasons, may be they don’t practice such culture of making complaints , and we are the majority community in the country and we will not complain and English language also may be a problem for not making complains and we requested them when preparing the next US Religious Freedom Report to contact us and share our inputs, before preparing such a report.
Asian Tribune: How can you say that, when Buddhists and Buddhism are given constitutionally the foremost place in the country?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: We don’t believe in that.
Asian Tribune: Whether you believe it or not, that is your own individual position, but internationally, according to the law of the land, Buddhism is given the foremost place.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: No if you go to Bangladesh the state religion is Islam.
Asian Tribune: I understand that a state does not need any religion at all. And a country does not need a language. But country has to be only worried about the welfare of the people of that country and the way to communicate with them and religion is a private belief of an individual.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: That is your opinion.
Asian Tribune: Please understand that I am a person who is 50 years in Journalism and you can’t simply dismiss my views like that. I don’t think you are even 50 years old. How old are you?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: I am just 49 years old.
Asian Tribune: You know that there are a few Buddhist countries in the world - China did not have the vote in the last UN Human Rights Council, but South Korea and Japan who were eligible to vote did not vote in favor of Sri Lanka. Thailand was the only Buddhist country which voted in favor of Sri Lanka. But out of the 13 votes Sri Lanka received 7 Muslim countries voted in favor of Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately you are now targeting Muslim women about their purdah - dress code.
Mr. Dilantha Withanage : No we are not doing that. It is completely wrong; we have no such campaign against the Muslim women. We had meetings with lots of Muslim people and we have told our position that we are not targeting Muslim women for their dress code and they believe us. Some political groups are creating problems for the Government. They are simply playing a political game by making such frivolous allegations against us.
Asian Tribune: We will definitely carry your denials. One more thing I like to ask – We receive information to say that Bodu Bala Sena is receiving funding from Norway. Is it correct?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Definitely not. We deny it.
Asian Tribune: Then how are you getting your funds?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: Ours is an organization of mainly Buddhist monks. We get funds from our own people. It is the people who spent their own money and organize our meetings in the cities, towns and villages. Furthermore, we are running our organization from the contributions we receive from the common man in the country. They contribute, ranging from a few hundred rupees to a few thousands and more. Out of the poor people’s contribution we are running our organizations.
We don’t receive any funding from any other sources. Mr. Mangla Samatrawera was alleging that Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is funding us. No we don’t get any fund from the Government or from anywhere except from the people of this country.
Asian Tribune: One more question. We were told that Buddhist monks who went along with you to Norway agreed to organize the Buddhist outfit - Bodu Bala Sena and you all were encouraged by some vested interest groups in Norway to organize this outfit?
Mr. Dilantha Withanage: No. It is completely wrong. Norway has nothing to do with the organization of the Bodu Bala Sena. I firmly deny it.
Asian Tribune: OK we will conclude this interview and I will contact you again if there any further developments.
Editor: The three parts news report of Bodu Bala Sena is temporarily concluded. We will file more very soon.
- Asian Tribune -