Colombo, January 5: The Sri Lankan government’s ominous silence on the demand that the bodies of Muslims who die of COVID-19 should be allowed to be buried and not cremated, has demoralized the Muslims.
Muslims leaders, especially those who have been working hard to impress upon the government with the scientific argument that burial will not pollute groundwater and endanger public health, now feel helpless and resigned to cremation.
What Muslims might do, as some have already done, is not to accept the bodies of the COVID-dead and allow the government to cremate the body. Muslims consider cremation of a Muslim’s body as “haram” or sinful. Hence the refusal to accept a body for cremation.
Government has signaled its unwillingness to accede to the Muslims’ demand. On Monday, the State Ministry of Primary Healthcare, Epidemics, and Primary Disease Control headed by Dr.Sudarshani Fernandopulle refuted Sunday’s media reports which claimed that a committee had been appointed to make recommendations on the issues surrounding the cremation of the remains of COVID dead.
A press release from the Ministry said that there was no truth in media reports that Minister Dr. Sudharshini Fernandopulle had appointed a committee to deliberate if the remains of COVID victims should be cremated or buried.
A section of the Sri Lankan media had reported that a high level committee comprising virologists and microbiologists headed by Prof.Jennifer Perera, had recommended burial as well as cremation because the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 disease, does not survive in corpses and that the burial of COVID victims as per special instructions, will not contaminate ground water.
Dr. Fernandopulle is quoted as saying that because COVID-19 is a new disease, initial recommendations made by the World Health Organization are subject to change with the appearance of new evidence. She said that COVID-19 and disease control should be based only on science and not on religion, race, politics, social and mythical beliefs.
The State Minister further said that eminent virologists and other medical and scientific experts had been asked to make periodic recommendations on the disease, but no request had been made to them to deliberate on the issue of cremating or burying the remains of COVID-19 victims.
However, it is learnt that under pressure from Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and supported by ruling party organizer, Basil Rajapaksa, the government appointed a Second Committee of virologists and microbiologists to go into the question burial. The 11-member committee was headed by Prof. Jennifer Perera.
Basil Rajapaksa (supported by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa) wanted to meet the Muslims’ demand because they had promised the six Muslim MPs from the opposition who had voted with the government to pass the 20 th., Constitutional Amendment , that they would get burial officially cleared.
But the nationalist lobby headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was opposed to a revision of the government’s stand and insisted that government should stick to cremation as recommended by an earlier committee headed by Dr.Channa Perera.
It is learnt that following the second committee’s recommendations suggesting burial in addition to creation, an effort was made to get the two panels to meet and iron out differences. But no meeting point was found. It was clear that the issue was being looked after from a political standpoint and not from a scientific standpoint.
It was suggested by Mahinda and Basil Rajapaksa that some places in Manna district in the Northern Province be used for burial of the COVID dead. Some Muslims supported it while others felt that it was impractical. Some felt that the Tamils in Mannar might object citing pollution. As on January 5, this proposal too looked liked a non-starter.
Observers said that the government’s stand is based on political considerations. A Muslim Council office bearer said that the government wants to punish Muslims for not voting for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the November 2019 Presidential and August 2020 parliamentary elections.
It is also pointed out that Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority is averse to giving special concessions to Muslims, who they feel, constantly keep demanding special privileges and are reluctant to follow commonly accepted practices and norms.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power almost exclusively on the basis of their support among the Sinhalese Buddhists who are more than 70% of Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million.
“The leaders of the SLPP are careful not to alienate their core constituency. The government’s stand is based on political calculations and electoral considerations and not on science,” an observer said.
(The picture above shows a COVID victim being buried in Iran)