Dehiwala’s “Pay-Prison” and the Mahanayakas

Dehiwala Prison nocturnal visits

Island Editorial

Is there a prison at Dehiwala? This is the question one may ask oneself. The answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’. It is no ordinary prison; those behind bars there are all innocents and people have to pay to see them unlike the lawbreakers in other state pens.

The government has drawn heavy flak from some concerned citizens—and rightly so—for its decision to keep the animal prison aka the Dehiwala zoo open till 10.00 pm for the public. But, cash-starved, the yahapalana regime is likely to go ahead with its project to raise some funds at the expense of the poor animals in captivity.

Keeping animals in cages as a form of public entertainment is bad enough. The government’s harebrained Dehiwala night safari project will make the situation far worse for the hapless creatures which deserve a good night’s sleep like humans. Wildlife enthusiasts who write to this newspaper have pointed out, with photographic evidence, that the Yala National Park during daytime experiences tailbacks just like Colombo due to the bad management of the ‘sanctuary’. Now, the government is planning to torture captive animals at night!

Some yahapalana pundits have argued that the animals in the Dehiwala zoo won’t be disturbed because the nocturnal visitors will be taken in vehicles which emit no noise at all and there won’t be any special lighting. But, what do they propose to do with the scent of humans which disturbs animals immensely. Most creatures also have night vision; they will see the troublesome bipeds near their cages.

Meanwhile, the Mahanayake Theras of three Nikayas have got together to crank up pressure on the government to retain, inter alia, the foremost place given to Buddhism in the Constitution. Even those who agree with the prelates on this score may wonder whether such constitutional provisions are of any use because the state has no respect for the tenets of Buddhism. As we have argued in previous comments some of the methods the state adopts to generate income are against the Dhamma. Governments have no qualms about raking in revenue from taxes on alcohol and tobacco while pretending to discourage the public from consuming those products injurious to their health. The state also promotes fishing and mass killing of animals; it has created ministries for fisheries and animal husbandry. Gambling also generates a great deal of revenue for the state by way of taxes thereon. Now, the incumbent government, while promising to ensure that Buddhism will continue to be given the foremost place, is planning to subject animals to further suffering through night safaris.

This newspaper, several years ago, joined a group of animal rights activists in a bid to prevent the Rajapaksa regime from removing two little elephant calves from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage as gifts to temples. But, our efforts came a cropper as that administration, intoxicated with power, true to form, bulldozed its way through; the baby jumbos were savagely separated from their mothers. Had such an incident happened during the Buddha’s time, the Compassionate One would have intervened to ensure that the jumbo babies remained with their caring mothers.

The government tells us the night safaris will help people study the nocturnal behaviour of animals in the zoo. If that is the real objective of the yahapalana leaders, let some night vision cameras be mounted in different sections of the zoo so that anyone desirous of viewing animals at night could do so from a distance without disturbing the poor creatures.

Will religious dignitaries and animal rights activists join forces to knock some sense into the politicians and bureaucrats responsible for the Dehiwala night safari project?