Thailand arrests senior monks in temple raids to clean up Buddhism

Buddhist monks are highly respected in Thailand and taking action against them was historically considered taboo. (Reuters)
Updated 24 May 2018
0

Thailand arrests senior monks in temple raids to clean up Buddhism

BANGKOK: Thai police raided four Buddhist temples on Thursday, arresting several prominent monks and worshippers in the year’s biggest such operation amid a crackdown on illegal financial dealings by temples.
The raids are the military government’s latest bid to reform Buddhism, which is followed by more than 90 percent of Thailand’s population of 69 million, but whose image has been tarnished by money and sex scandals involving monks.
“This is the investigation stage... it will all come down to facts and evidence,” police official Thitiraj Nhongharnpitak, of the Central Investigation Bureau, which is investigating the monks, told reporters.
More than 100 police commandos raided four temples in Bangkok, the capital, and the adjacent central province of Nakhon Pathom, in the early hours of Thursday.
Among those arrested was Phra Buddha Issara, 62, an activist monk who led street protests in 2014 and launched a campaign to clean up Buddhism, but gained enemies by publicly naming other religious leaders he accused of wrongdoing.
He was held over a robbery said to have been committed during the anti-government protest in 2014, police said.
Phra Phrom Dilok, 72, a member of the Sangha Supreme Council, which governs Buddhist monks in Thailand, was arrested over alleged embezzlement of temple funds, they added.
Two other senior monks, Phra Sri Khunaporn and Phra Wichit Thammaporn, both assistant abbots of Bangkok’s Golden Mount temple, were also arrested over alleged embezzlement, police said.
A representative for Buddha Issara, who declined to be identified, expressed concern.
“We are concerned because we do not know what Phra Buddha Issara is being charged with,” he said.
Representatives of the other three monks did not immediately respond to Reuters’ telephone calls to seek comment.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the arrests were about getting to the bottom of the allegations.
“This is part of the investigation,” Prawit said.
Thailand’s temples, which earn billions of dollars every year from donations, have been embroiled in scandals ranging from murder, sex and drugs to shady financial dealings.
Under pressure from the junta, Thailand’s body of Buddhist monks has been trying to clean up its own act since last year, by enforcing tougher discipline for more than 300,000 monks.
The military took power in a 2014 coup it said was needed to restore order after months of anti-government protests, and has promised to hold elections next year, despite postponing the date several times.
Buddhist monks are highly respected in Thailand and taking action against them was historically considered taboo. But recent scandals have forced authorities to rethink how they handle allegations against Buddhist religious leaders.


Flashpoint Indian temple closes without admitting women

Updated 7 min 29 sec ago
0

Flashpoint Indian temple closes without admitting women

  • Mobs of Hindu hard-liners prevented women aged 10 to 50 from getting in to the Sabarimala temple complex when it opened last Wednesday for the first time
  • Sabarimala has become a flashpoint in a battle over gender equality, pitting religious traditionalists against progressive voices

NEW DELHI: The latest window for worship at a flashpoint Indian shrine has closed without a single female devotee of menstruating age being admitted, despite a court order overturning a ban on their presence in the temple.
Mobs of Hindu hard-liners prevented women aged 10 to 50 from getting in to the Sabarimala temple complex when it opened last Wednesday for the first time since the Supreme Court reversed a ban on women of menstruating age from worshipping at the temple.
The shrine in southern Kerala state is only open on a handful of auspicious days every year, and a number of Hindu women between these ages had flocked there in the wake of the court order.
But the ruling had enraged traditionalists, including supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Protesters, including women and children, massed at the base of the shrine when it opened last week, threatening women trying to reach it.
Some smashed car windows and clashed with police.
Armed police escorted some devotees but none managed to make it to the hilltop temple over the five-day worship period before it closed late Monday. It will not reopen until November.
Sabarimala has become a flashpoint in a battle over gender equality, pitting religious traditionalists against progressive voices pushing for a more liberal Hinduism.
Women are permitted to enter most Hindu temples but are still barred by some.
Those of menstruating age — between 10 and 50 years — were denied entry to Sabarimala for decades, reflecting an old but still prevalent view in some parts that connects periods with impurity.
But women have been intensifying campaigns in recent years to be allowed to enter temples and other religious sites.
Two years ago, activists successfully campaigned to end a ban on women entering the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra state.
Women were also allowed to enter Mumbai’s Hajji Ali Dargah mausoleum, a Muslim place of worship, after the Supreme Court scrapped a ban in 2016.