The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sri Lankan Buddhists Refuse Aid After Christian Conversion Attempt

January 23, 2005, 9:11 pm

Galle, Jan. 21 2005
The Telegraph, Calcutta, India

Usawathun Hasana Maha Vidyalaya was supposed to start classes on Wednesday. But for now, all the activity is focused on cleaning up the school. Principal Hussain runs around trying to coordinate the work and counsel students.

“We lost 28 students and one teacher. Many students are still shocked. It will take a long time,” he mumbles, before rushing away.

Lending helping hands are university students, scrubbing windows, doors, tables and chairs and taking soaked books out to dry in the sun.

Behind the school is the devastated village of Siyabalagahawatta, Dewata. One Muslim family of 14 lost 12 members. The survivors have left, probably never to return. The village has lost many and the survivors are still having to remove the bodies. A few are still missing.

At the relief camp here in the local Buddhist temple, R. Sunil stands gazing into the distance.

The blank stare tells his story of loss. His wife and three daughters were washed away by the waves; he has no home and belongings any longer. His son survived by clinging to a tree.

Sporting a uniform donated by a trading company, Sunil, a daily labourer at a nearby factory, sometimes plays with young girls at the makeshift day-care centre, which was set up so that parents can go back to cleaning their homes. Clothes are the only things most could salvage and they are still being hung out to dry.

Wellabada, Megalle, is like a ghost town. There is hardly a soul among the rubble. A water bottle hangs on a tree, a toy car sits on the road, stray dogs make their home in piles of debris that were once homes. Outside one house, a few soaked photographs have been laid out to dry. In another, a couple washes the floor, surrounded by two-and-a-half walls.

The harbour town, behind a Sri Lankan navy base, was ravaged by the killer waves. Beutin was cooking at home when she heard the sound of the waves. She thought it was a bomb targeting the navy and ran out. As the waves roared in, she clung to a tree and suffered only a head injury — and stomach problems from the water she swallowed.

Paraliya Jinarathana School has been reduced to a heavily damaged structure with no classrooms. A group of volunteers from across the world has set up base here, with medical, clean-up and counselling assistance. A group of children is kept busy painting chairs and tables or drawing.

Behind the school, a train stands forlorn, empty and bent out of shape in places.

The train was thrown off the tracks resulting in hundreds of deaths. It has been put back on the rails, but there are no passengers.

At another Buddhist temple-turned-relief camp near Hikkaduwa, 12-year-old Chandan approaches most visitors with a hello and a curious smile. Asked if he’s okay, the reply is a reluctant, confused shake of the head.

In IDH Place, Mahamodara, survivors huddle together in tents, looking at strangers with suspicion.

A few days ago, a Christian relief organisation came to them, offering aid. But the Buddhist Sri Lankans were asked to convert to Christianity. They refused the aid and are wary of accepting any more.


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