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Muslim burials issue: Iranativu islanders don’t want Covid 19 dead buried in their backyards

ECONOMYNEXT – Residents of the island of Iranativu off the Gulf of Mannar are protesting against the decision announced yesterday by the government to bury the remains of those who die of Covid 19 on the tiny island.

Yesterday EconomyNext reported that the decision would worsen the current tensions on the island which has been held by the Sri Lanka Navy for many years.

Its traditional occupants had been moved to the mainland in 1997 and were allowed to return only in 2018.

The residents who are currently rebuilding their homes and digging wells have said that Iranativu has rich soil which makes it suitable for cattle and agriculture.

“Making it a burial site will destroy the island,” they said.

The sea around the island is rich in marine life and an abundance of Sea Cucumbers attracts many fishers who use the island for victuals and as a place to repair boats and nets.

The Navy occupies 9 acres of land for a base that it says is needed to monitor illegal boat traffic to and from the nearby Indian coast.

The Cabinet Spokesman, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters yesterday that the government has designated the small island which measures 1km by 1.5 km as a burial site.

Irantivu has some 400 families claiming ownership and many of them are Roman Catholics.

The Navy recently rebuilt the churches on the island, a new jetty was installed and solar power introduced to the inhabitants.





However, the school and other installations are still not built and although many residents have returned the children continue to live in a settlement called Iranamata Nagar on the mainland.

Muslim leaders told EconomyNext that “several sites have been offered for burials.” Among them according to officials is one in Sainthamaruthu near Kattankudy in the Eastern Province.

Hilmy Ahamed a Vice-President of the Muslim Council told EconomyNext that according to the expert committee headed by Prof Jennifer Perera burials need not have a certain designated site but could take place at any cemetery.

Rambukwella said that the “decision was taken yesterday and most of the initial processes has been completed to a level where bodies can be taken to the place to bury.”

Minister Rambukwella said details regarding the process will be informed to the relevant authorities and general public by the health officials today.

“The burying will be done according to the health authorities guidelines,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Taskforce for the prevention of Covid 19 (NOCPOC) said two places have been chosen to bury Covid 19 bodies however, no final decision has been taken so far.

“One is in Kattankudi, and the other is the Iranativu Island in Mannar,” a spokesman for the NOCPOC said.

NOCPOC said health guidelines should be published before burials can take place. (Colombo, March 3, 2021)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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