Cremation of Muslim victims of Covid 19, community leaders hope Govt. will allow burials
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority is still hopeful that the government will lift the order for the mandatory cremation of the remains of all those who die of Covid 19, community leaders say.
N M Ameen, President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka told EconomyNext that community leaders have renewed their appeal to the government to revisit the decision which goes against the dictates of their faith.
Muslims, Jews and many Christian sects abhor cremation as their faith expressly prohibits the practice.
The Cabinet Spokesman Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters yesterday that the Ministers at their meeting on Monday had “discussed the issue.”
In a statement issued to Media Rambukwella said that “various ideas had been expressed at the meeting.”
Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Sabry had “brought the issue up once again for discussion,” Rambukwella said. “We did not make a decision to allow the burial of the bodies of Muslim victims, but decided to refer the issue to the experts to take a decision.”
Shortly after the Cabinet meeting, a Muslim Group called Ceylon Thowheed Jamaat (CTJ) issued a media release thanking President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for reversing the policy and allowing burials.
This was met with a strong statement from the Sinhala Supremacist Bodu Bala Sena organisation which objected to the government’s change of stance.
It’s General Secretary Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero called the CTJ an “extremist Wahabist organisation,” and accused the government of “pandering to the extremists.”
According to the World Health Organisation, the cremation and burial of Covid victims are permitted and 182 countries around the world allow burials.
This comes after the government Gazetted regulations making it compulsory to cremate the remains of people who die from being infected with COVID 19 in April.
In the Gazette, issued under the provisions of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance state that “Notwithstanding the provisions of regulations 61 and 62 the corpse of a person who is suspected to have died of Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID 19) shall be cremated.”
It also says the cremation should be done at temperatures between 800 to 1,200 degrees Celsius at a government-authorised crematorium.
Lawyer Farman Cassim PC is asking why Sri Lanka is still insisting on not allowing burials when most countries around the world are burying the remains of COVID 19 victims.
“Is there something that health experts in Sri Lanka have discovered that no-one else has so that only cremation is permitted?” he asked.
Cassim told EconomyNext that the initial guidelines issued to Judicial Medical Officers at the outbreak of the disease did not mention burial. However subsequently these Standard Operating Procedures were changed and burial included in accordance with international standards.
This permitted both cremation and “deep burial” of COVID 19 victims’ remains in accordance with the recommendations of various bodies including that of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Sri Lankan Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA).
Last week when the Covid situation was debated in Parliament the Opposition brought up the issue of Muslim burial and Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi promised to revisit the issue.
The main reason given by the opponents to burial is that the water table in most parts of the island is high as a result there is the possibility that the ground-water can become contaminated if bodies are buried.
Muslim leaders have proposed that land in an arid area be demarcated by the government to be used as a burial area for Muslim victims of Covid. (Colombo, November 11, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana