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Buddhist Authorities Ban Myanmar’s Ultranationalist Monk Organization Ma Ba Tha Group

Ma Ba Tha monks last week denied allegations that they had provoked the violence

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Supporters and monks belonging to the hardline Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha rally outside the US embassy in Yangon, April 28, 2016. RFA
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US, May 26, 2017: A government-appointed body that regulates Myanmar’s Buddhist clergy has banned an ultranationalist monk organization known for its anti-Islamic rhetoric, according to media reports, ordering the group to disband or face punishment under both Buddhist and secular law.

The Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Ma Ha Na), a group of high-ranking monks that serves as Myanmar’s Buddhist authority, informed government ministries Tuesday that it had ordered the hardline group Ma Ba Tha to end its activities, according to a document obtained by Agence France-Presse.

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“People, either as individuals or as a group, cannot take any actions under the name of Ma Ba Tha,” the Sangha said in its statement, which also directed Ma Ba Tha to take down its posters and signboards around the country by July 15.

According to a report by Frontier Myanmar, the Sangha’s statement also warned that any breach of its edict would lead to punishment under Buddhist law and be referred to the Ministry of Home Affairs for “immediate” prosecution.

Ma Ba Tha representatives agreed to “obey [those decisions] exactly and inform other monks” in the group, Frontier said, citing the statement.

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Thawparka, a leading member of the Ma Ba Tha Steering Committee, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his organization is still determining how to respond to the order.

“We have to review the Ma Ha Na decision and discuss our future plans,” he said.

“We will let the country know what we decide.”

Thawparka added that the Ma Ba Tha’s fourth anniversary conference scheduled for May 27-28 had been canceled.

AFP cited a statement from the group which said that a meeting to discuss the Sangha’s decision would be held in its stead.

Myanmar has seen frequent outbreaks of religious violence in recent years amid tensions stoked by hardline groups such as Ma Ba Tha.

In one of the latest incidents, a violent confrontation between Buddhists and Muslims broke out on May 9 in a Yangon neighborhood where Ma Ba Tha monks had claimed that ethnic Rohingya Muslims were hiding illegally.

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After police determined that no one in the apartments was there illegally, a scuffle between the monks and Muslim residents broke out as the monks left the building. Two people were injured, and police fired warning shots to break up the crowd.

Ma Ba Tha monks last week denied allegations that they had provoked the violence.

The Sangha’s decision to shut down Ma Ba Tha came several weeks after it banned Wirathu—a prominent monk in the ultranationalist organization—from delivering sermons for one year because his use of hate speech against religions other than Buddhism was seen as causing communal strife and hindering efforts to uphold the rule of law.

The firebrand monk has since made several appearances in front of crowds with his mouth taped shut to protest his silencing by authorities, and recently made a controversial visit to Rakhine state in western Myanmar, which is home to the Muslim Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority views the Rohingya, a stateless group of 1.1 million, as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and government policy has denied them citizenship and access to other basic rights for decades.

Army refutes report

Reports of the Sangha’s ban came as Myanmar’s army on Tuesday cleared itself of allegations that soldiers may have carried out ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine, despite a damning report released by United Nations investigators in February.

The army, or Tatmadaw, dismissed claims by the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) that troops “very likely” committed mass killings and widespread rapes during a crackdown in Rakhine late last year based on its own investigation, the official Global New Light of Myanmar reported, citing the Tatmadaw’s “True News information team.”

The Tatmadaw said it carried out an investigation from Feb. 10 to March 4, interviewing 2,875 villagers from 29 villages in Rakhine regarding the accusations that “security forces performing area clearance operations committed terrorist attacks.”

“Out of 18 accusations included in OHCHR’s report, 12 were found to be incorrect, with remaining six accusations found to be false and fabricated accusations based on lies and invented statements,” the report said.

The investigation determined that one motor bike was “driven without the knowledge of its owner” by a soldier who was later found guilty, sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay the owner 530,000 kyats (U.S. $387) in compensation.

A village chief and village residents who failed to extinguish a fire at a hostel for school teachers “were whipped several times,” while two others were sent to jail, the report added.

The Tatmadaw’s findings differ significantly from those of the OHCHR, which said security forces may have committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing amid the crackdown in north Rakhine aimed at capturing or killing insurgents who had attacked police border posts.

The OHCHR had based its information on interviews with hundreds of the more than 70,000 Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh during the operation.

Myanmar’s civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has also denied allegations of rights abuses against the Rohingya and refused to allow a U.N. fact-finding mission into Rakhine to investigate. (RFA)

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Spiritual Ideas Sore At The World Hindu Congress

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new -- when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

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At its best, speeches at the recently concluded World Hindu Congress echoed the soaring spiritual ideals evoked by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago 125 years ago.

Even Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsangchanalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), focused essentially on the need for unity and patience among Hindus while fighting obstacles, of which, he said, there would be many. The burden of excavating implied accusations in Bhagwat’s speech fell to his critics.

At the plenary session, the moderator requested speakers to address issues of conflict without naming the speakers or their organisations in the interest of harmony. Other speakers sought to unite the followers of all the great religions that took birth in India — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Some of the speakers from Bhagwat to Swami Swaroopananda of the Chinmaya Mission, framed the issues before Hinduism in a moral paradigm. Ashwin Adhin, the Vice President of the Republic of Suriname, began his speech in chaste Hindi, later quoting cognitive scientist George Lakoff: “Facts matter immensely. But to be meaningful they have to be framed in terms of their moral importance.”

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Buddhism relates sins to the characteristics one adopts. Pixabay

The dissonances, between the spiritual and the mundane, were to emerge later on the fringes of the seminars which were part of the Congress. Many of the delegates appropriated to themselves the mantle of a culture besieged by proselytising faiths. There were speakers who urged Hindus to have more children to combat their ‘dwindling population’. Posters warned Hindus of the dangers from ‘love jihad’ (Muslim men ‘enticing’ Hindu women).

In one of the sessions on the media, filmmaker Amit Khanna noted that religion had always played a prominent part in Indian cinema, starting with the earliest mythologicals. “Raja Harishchandra”, the first silent film, he said, was made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. He sought to reassure the audience on the future of Hinduism. “Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindus,” he said adding: “Hinduism has survived many upheavals for thousands of years. Hinduism has never been endangered.”

Other speakers, lacking spiritual and academic pedigrees, drew on an arsenal of simulated anguish and simmering indignation.

The nuances of history pass lightly over the ferociously devout and it took little effort to pander to an aggravated sense of historical aggrievement.

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Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. Wikimedia Commons

At one of the debates, the mere mention of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, elicited sniggers and boos. The speaker hinted at ‘Nehruvian socialism’ which had made the Indian economy a non-starter. He concluded with a coup de grace, to a standing ovation: “Nehru did not like anything Indian.”

The poet Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the Indian national anthem, had spoken of his vision of a country where the “clear stream of reason had not lost its way”. At some of the discussions, even the most indulgent observer would have been hard put to discern the stream of reason.

The image of a once great civilisation suppressed by a century of British rule and repeated plunder by invaders captured the imagination of many in the audience. Hanging above it all, like a disembodied spirit, was the so-called malfeasance of Nehru, the leader who had won the trust of Hindus only to betray them in the vilest manner.

These tortured souls would have been well advised to adopt a more holistic approach to Hinduism, and history, looking no further than Swami Vivekananda, who once said: “The singleness of attachment (Nishtha) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of denunciation of everything else.”

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The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Historians have informed us that Nehru preferred his father’s intellect over his mother’s tradition but he was never contemptuous of religion. While he undoubtedly felt that organised religion had its flaws, he opined that it supplied a deeply felt inner need of human nature while also giving a set of values to human life.

In private conversations some delegates spoke of how their America-born children had helped persuade them to drop their pathological aversion to gays and lesbians. Despite their acute wariness of perceived cultural subjugation, the irony was obviously lost on them that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code,(which criminalises gay sex) recently overturned by the Indian Supreme Court, is a hangover from the Victorian British era-embodied in the Buggery Act of 1533.

In the face of the upcoming elections in the US, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s decision to speak at the conference was a political risk. With a newly energised political Left, even the perception of being linked with “fascist” or sectarian forces could be political suicide in the critical November elections. Despite vociferous appeals to disassociate himself from the Congress, Krishnamoorthi chose to attend.

“I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I have ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teaching of Swami Vivekananda,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Given the almost pervasive abhorrence of anything remotely Nehruvian among a section of the delegates, it was a revelation to hear the opinion of Dattatrey Hosable, the joint general secretary and second-in-command in the RSS hierarchy. Speaking on the promise of a newly-resurgent India, Hosable said in an interview to Mayank Chhaya, a local journalist-author-filmmaker: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

Also Read: Triple Talaq Now Banned in India

The quote is from Nehru’s famous Tryst with Destiny speech delivered to the Indian Constituent Assembly on the midnight of August 14, 1947 — proof, if any is needed, that the force of Nehru’s ideas can transcend one’s disdain of him. (IANS)