Society

Living in Harmony The United State of Ashokapura

UPUL THAMMITA

Ethnicity is not a phenomenon that should manipulate to create division. Instead, it must be a tool for strengthening reconciliation. Sinhala and Tamil people who live in Ashokapura are a good example because they live together as one community here.


“People must live in a mixed society if they want to build ethnic reconciliation. We have lived in Ashokapura for 40 years without any conflict among us. The reason is blending,” says I.A. Ajith Nishantha, a villager in his forties. He is a small businessman in Ashokapura village in Mihinthale.


He had to migrate out of Trincomalee in the 1980s with his entire family due to ethnic tensions. Since then, they were temporarily sheltered in a forest reservation in Ashokapura, Mihintale where the government maintained a teak timber plantation previously. Later, they were offered housing under Gam Udava programme.

“During my youth, like my family, several families from North and East migrated here. The majority were Sinhala Buddhists. There were also Tamil Catholics who spoke Sinhala. Today, most villagers are fluent in both Sinhala and Tamil. About 400 families live here now and about 100 families are Catholic. We all live in peace and harmony,” says Ajith Nishantha.


“We are not divided by religion. By the time we arrived here, we saw a sacred Bo sapling in the vicinity and constructed a temporary building with tin sheets for a makeshift Buddhist shrine. Since the Catholics had no shrine, we started a church about 50 meters away from the temple on the same land. Both shrines are well developed now. Alms are offered to the Buddhist monks in the temple even by Catholic people,” said Ajith, outlining the reconciliation in the village.


“There is a big feast in the cathedral every year. It’s a massive event and the Buddhists handle all logistics. In fact, the entire village unites on the festival day. We are all saddened by the Easter Sunday attacks. The Catholics who live here have relations in Negombo and some of them were affected. We hoisted white flags across the village and conducted Bodhi Puja rituals in the Buddhist temple. We did so to help the Christians to cope with the tragedy. The monk in the temple and the father in the church delivered sermons to us with messages of peace,” said Ajith describing how the villagers overcame the challenges created by the recent tragic circumstances against reconciliation.

Ven. Kanthale Ananda Thero, chief incumbent of Ashokaramaya temple is gratified about the reconciliation in the village. He pointed out that the exemplary ethnic and religious reconciliation in the village is a turning point.


“The Sinhala and Tamil people who live in this village are pious, helpful men and women. Catholic children attend Buddhist Dhamma School on Sundays. Likewise Buddhists also know about Christianity. The temple and church unite for public good and nothing is forced on the people. People coexist here by understanding one another. Fr. Eric and Fr. Sarath rendered yeoman service to build reconciliation and co-existence in this village. Our people have planted a seed here. Peace has developed the village. People are economically empowered to a certain extent. Today, we provide the best masons and carpenters to the area. Above all, the people are humble and humane. When the Christians were in distress after the Easter Sunday terror attacks, the followers of the other religions looked into the needs of the Catholics. Despite ethnic and religious differences, Buddhists held offerings to invoke blessing on the aggrieved. On that day, I understood the real spirit of reconciliation,” Ananda Thero stated.

This article was originally published on the catamaran.com

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The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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