ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Muslims are not abandoning the remains of their relatives who died of Covid 19 but are not cooperating with the authorities who want to cremate the bodies against their wishes, a prominent Human Rights activist says.
Human Rights activist Shreen Saroor told EconomyNext today December 10, that this is a form of protest “as the community does not want to sign notes of consent to cremation as it goes against their beliefs.”
Her comments come as the authorities begin the process of cremating an estimated 25 bodies of people who died of Covid 19 which are lying unclaimed by relatives in hospital morgues around the country.
The process began after the Attorney-General Dappula de Livera gave the Health Department clearance to dispose of the remains “according to the Quarantine ordinance.”
The AG’s spokesperson Nishara Jayaratne said yesterday that “bodies of COVID-19 victims not claimed by families can be cremated in terms of quarantine regulations.”
This gives the police the authority to cremate the bodies.
In the Colombo mortuary, there are 42 unclaimed bodies in the freezers and of them, 19 are of those who died of Covid 19.
One body is that of an elderly Christian woman and the rest are Muslims, multiple sources told EconomyNext.
The remains of Muslims who have died of the pandemic are reported from the Peradeniya Hospital, the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital and the National Hospital for Infectious Diseases (IDH) in Mulleriyawa among others.
Last week 24 human rights organisations, civil society collectives, women’s rights groups and other bodies said in a joint statement that the victims of forced cremation of COVID-19 or COVID-19 suspected dead had in the highest court in Sri Lanka are deeply disappointed.
“Victims and communities are now left without a recourse in Sri Lanka for the continued injustice they suffer,” the statement said.
The statement said the country’s Supreme Court by a majority decision refused to grant leave to proceed to the 11 applications filed by petitioners belonging to Muslim, Christian and Catholic communities challenging the Sri Lankan government’s forcible cremation policy on the grounds that it violates the right to freedom of religion and belief of some faiths and that the said regulation, in fact, violates the law under which the regulation has been made as the law itself permits either burial or cremation.
A number of international organisations including the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have appealed to the government to allow burials of those who do not want to cremate the remains of their loved ones.
The government of Sri Lanka has been staying the course of cremating the remains based on claims by lobby groups supporting it that Muslims could “weaponise” the bodies for terrorism.
In recent months the authorities, including leading figures in the Health Department have said that WHO guidelines which allow burial cannot be implemented on the island because of a high water table.
However efforts by the Muslims to make available land in arid parts of the country for a special Muslim burial ground for Covid 19 victims where the water table is low has not received approval, Saroor said.
(Colombo, December 10, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana