A Sri Lankan monk set himself on fire on Friday to protest the slaughter of cattle, in the country’s first attempt at self-immolation by a monk, police said.
The monk doused himself with a flammable liquid and set himself ablaze near a temple in the central town of Kandy during an important Buddhist festival, police said.
“Policemen near the temple doused the flames and rushed the monk to hospital,” police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said.
“Just before setting himself alight, he shouted that his action was to protest the slaughter of cattle.”
The monk was in a critical condition in a Colombo hospital, police said.
The protest came as the country celebrated Wesak, the commemoration of the birth, enlightenment and the death of the Buddha, in the Buddhist-majority country which marks the occasion with two days of holidays.
Eating meat is common in Buddhist Sri Lanka, although according to the religion killing animals is a sin.
Animal rights groups have tried unsuccessfully to secure a ban on meat eating in Sri Lanka.
An animal rights activist said she did not condone the monk’s action, but she added that the unprecedented move demonstrated the anger towards the inhuman treatment of animals.
“Taking one’s life (for this cause) is also wrong,” said Sagarika Rajakarunanayake of Sathva Mithra, or friends of animals, movement. “But this also shows that many people are frustrated over the cruelty to animals.”
The protest came after thousands of Buddhists and their supporters earlier this year staged rallies and campaigned to boycott halal-slaughtered meat as well as other products that carry a halal certificate.
The monks argue that Buddhists should not be forced to consume food that is prepared according to Islamic rites, saying it demonstrates the undue influence of Muslims in Sri Lanka.
More than 110 Tibetans have set themselves alight since 2009, with most dying of their injuries, in demonstrations against what they view as Chinese oppression in their homeland.