Burial of Muslim victims of Covid: “PM was expressing his personal opinion” – Gammanpila

ECONOMYNEXT – The Co-Cabinet spokesman Minister Udaya Gammanpila says Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was only indicating his private opinion when he told Parliament last week burial of the remains of Covid 19 victims would be allowed.

Gammanpila, the Energy Minister, was responding to questions from reporters at today’s Cabinet press conference where he was asked how it was that a backbench Member of Parliament contradicted the PM’s statement and whether the government was split on the matter.

Gammanpila said that the Director-General of Health Services Dr Asela Gunewardana would take the final decision “based on the recommendation of the Technical Committee he has appointed.”

As we reported yesterday the expert committee headed by Senior Professor Jennifer Perera has recommended to the Health Ministry that burials can be permitted subject to certain conditions.

Prof Perera told Media on Sunday that her committee of experts appointed on December 24 had reported to the Health Department four days later that both cremation and burial could be permitted.

She said no studies had been done specifically on the Covid 19 virus whether it could be waterborne but studies carried out on the family of viruses including Sars Covid 1 as well as the Middle Eastern Virus (MERS) had shown that it could not survive for long outside of a cadaver.

Since then more than a month has passed and there has been no progress on the matter.

If the decision is to be made operational the government has to issue an amended set of regulations about the disposal of the remains of Covid 19 victims. That has not happened as yet.

The refusal by the government to allow burials has upset people of the Abrahamic faiths, Jews Christians and Muslims who abhor cremation.

Although the Roman Catholic Church has permitted cremation under some circumstances most other denominations prefer burial.

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For Muslims, it has been a traumatic experience.

Sri Lanka is one of two countries in the world disallowing burial the other being China.

Heavy lobbying by the Muslim community as well as Opposition Parties, Human Rights activists and international organisations has not made the Sri Lanka government budge on the issue.

Therefore Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s statement in Parliament that the compulsory cremation of the remains of Covid 19 deceased will be discontinued and that burials will also be allowed made world news.

Rajapaksa intervened in an exchange between Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP S M Marikkar and Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene as to whether this question over last rites was a Point of Order.

Rajapaksa could be heard saying “Marikkar, we will allow burials” on the live Parliamentary feed.

Marikkar asked a question as to whether the cremations have to continue because the day before that State Minister in charge of the Covid pandemic response, Dr Sudharshini Fernandopulle stated that that the Covid virus cannot become waterborne.

Those experts advising the government that burial of the Covid dead would post a danger to the general public have argued that the virus could be spread through the water table.

Since then more than a month has passed and there has been no progress on the matter.

Shortly after the PM made the statement and media reported it there were messages of congratulations from a number of sources including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the United States Embassy in Colombo.

Khan, a much-admired figure in the Islamic world, is due in Colombo on Feb 22 and will address Parliament.

Diplomatic sources have said that Khan has promised to lobby Muslim countries to support Sri Lanka at next week’s United Nations Human Rights Council sessions and when Rajapaksa made the statement in Parliament there was speculation it was done with an eye on the Pakistani PM’s visit. (Colombo, February 16, 2021)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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