POVERTY AMONG SINHALA BUDDHISTS - බෞද්ධයා ගේ උරුමයක් බවට පත්වෙමින් යන දුප්පත් කම


Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

Sri Lanka is the only legitimate motherland of the Sinhala people. They form the mainstream of society of this island nation for over 2500 years. The overwhelming majority of them are Buddhists.

For over six decades or since political independence in 1948, all elected governments of this country were led by Sinhala Buddhists and the large majority of public officials or responsible government bureaucrats belonged to the Sinhala community. In spite of this seemingly privileged position of the Sinhala people, it is of paramount importance to note that poverty continues to be most rampant among the Sinhala people, especially among the Sinhala Buddhists.

The numbers living under poverty conditions are far greater within the Sinhala community as compared to any other community in Sri Lanka. The proportion of socio-economically impoverished people of Sri Lanka are far greater within the Sinhala community, especially among Sinhala Buddhists as compared to  other communities. The preponderance of them are severely impoverished, living below the poverty-line with its concomitant malnutrition, disease, ignorance, unemployment, economic uncertainty, cultural disintegration, crime, violence, political conflicts and  exploitation including proneness to unethical conversion to  Christianity and Islam.

Households below poverty line are highest in the Badulla, Moneragala, Ratnapura, Kegalle and Hambantota districts where the Sinhala Buddhist community predominates. In these districts about 1/3 (one-third) of all households are poverty ridden with Badulla (37%), Moneragala (37%), Ratnapura (34%), Kegalle (32%), Hambantota (32%). Puttalama (31%), Matale (30%). On the basis of Divisional Secretary Divisions (former AGA Divisions), 10 DS Divisions are at the lowest end with Moneragala and Badulla heading the list.  Highest percentage of 51.8% is reported from the Siyambalanduwa DS Division of the Monaragala district, and 51.2 from the Rideemaliyadda of Badulla district where Sinhala Buddhist people predominate.

To make matters worse, the basis of survival of this largely rural farming community which is their natural environment or the natural resources base is being steadily depleted and subject to extreme forms of abuse,  exploitation and degradation. The implications of this overall deterioration of conditions of large numbers of rural Sinhala Buddhist families, are serious and most disturbing.

In addition to these adverse trends, the cultural integrity of these rural poverty-prone Sinhala Buddhist people, especially of the younger generation is being eroded rapidly owing to undesirable impacts of globalization,   evangelization, foreign employment, migration to urban areas, proneness to corruption and crime. Cultural traditions in our country are being destroyed on an unprecedented scale under the impact of globalizing market forces and other unethical activities funded by foreign establishments.   

How could ethnic and religious harmony be developed among the different communities in our country, when a large segment of the indigenous Sinhala Buddhist population are being deprived of their essential requirements, besides being subject to cultural pollution and undermining by foreign elements operating to emasculate the culture, heritage and  values of the indigenous people.

The rights and privileges of the Sinhala majority have to be restored and protected as a priority in the development process of Sri Lanka which is the only country that they have. The overall conditions of the large majority of people of minority communities or the non-indigenous settler communities in this country or the Tamils and Muslims are far better off as compared to the Sinhala community, with large and increasing numbers of deprived and problem-stricken people.   

The highly divisive and exploitative attitudes and actions of most Sri Lankan Muslim and Tamil people, living within and outside Sri Lanka have been well exposed in recent years.    It is by strengthening our own indigenous people that we can expect to protect and promote our nation and all that is worthwhile in it. Let us hope that the well-conceived “Divi Neguma” programme which focuses on poverty alleviation will help in ameliorating conditions of the impoverished Sinhala Buddhists. Its success would depend much on the dedication of those responsible, especially at the grassroots level, for the proper implementation of this worthwhile programme. We are hopeful that Basil Rajapaksa will adopt a forthright approach, one similar to that of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his UDA initiatives, in implementing this highly important  development venture, with far reaching positive implications, particularly for the Sinhala Buddhists and generally for the nation as a whole.     

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

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