Particularist Goals through Universalist Means: The Political Paradoxes of Buddhist Revivalism in Sri Lanka
The year 2004 represents a watershed in Buddhist history as for the first time Buddhist monks formed their own political party. This party, named the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), or the National Heritage Party, contested in the Sri Lankan parliamentary elections only three months after its foundation. Carried by a wave of Sinhala nationalism and Buddhist concerns over Christian proselytism, the JHU did remarkably well, winning nine out of 225 parliamentary seats in the elections. Later that year, I interviewed monks in the war-torn areas of Eastern Sri Lanka concerning their relations to the ongoing peace process between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). ‘I have never used this!’ one of the younger monks enthusiastically announced, showing me his voting registration card. ‘And, you know,’ he added, ‘what the JHU is doing wrong.’ He would by all standards be regarded as a ‘modern’ monk: he was born in Colombo, resided in an urban temple, and most importantly he was a social science graduate from the University of Colombo. He was concerned with women rights and was deeply committed to social work in his community. One would expect that he, as a social activist concerned with human rights, would make use of one of the basic rights he is entitled to as a citizen of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, namely to cast his vote. Why did he not want to make use of this right?
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