An Echelon Media Company
Thursday September 21st, 2023

Truth, In The Face Of Cremation

BITTER MEMORIES – Workers clearing up after a Muslim shop in the Minuwangoda market was vandalized and set on fire 3 weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks/Pathum Dhananjajana – EconomyNext

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s expected fallout with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva is serious. The Government is looking for a scapegoat to blame the fallout on someone, and this year it is likely to be blamed on the Muslims because of the cremation controversy. The Government could sail through the next two years with this rhetoric, making the man on the street forget the other issues that weigh him down.

It is expected that the Organization of Islamic Countries will vote against the resolution brought in by the core group at OHCHR and will favour Sri Lanka. Many civil activists see this as a repeat of the treachery to democracy by the six MPs from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress. This infamous six who are seen as betrayers of Democracy for casting their vote for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution are today like the Areca nut, stuck between the blades of its cutter.

Ironically, geopolitics between India, Pakistan and China will be the deciding factor and not religion, which will determine burial rights for Sri Lankan citizens. Imran Khan is expected today 23rd and the Muslim community pinned on him their hopes on gaining their legitimate right to bury their Covid dead. Imran Khan’s loud rhetoric on Islamophobia by the West is being put to the test in Sri Lanka, and his stand on Muslim burial rights will expose him to the world when his Islamic stand may be compromised for geopolitical reasons. There is no doubt about his ability to garner the support of the Organization of Islamic Countries and it is believed that his visit is to discuss the strategy in Geneva this February and March 2021. Muslims and even Christians wait with bated breath to see if his visit would result in them being able to bury their loved ones, or their hope will be cremated. Will the Rajapaksa Government offer him a Muslim burial on a bouquet or a wreath. That’s a million-dollar question for Muslims in Sri Lanka.

IMPORTANT VISIT – Imran Khan Prime Minister of Pakistan champions Muslims around the world/

There is absolutely no science behind the denial of burial and even the Prime Minister had to eat humble pie after he announced in Parliament that burial rights would be granted. The Technical Committee appointed by the Ministry of Health and headed by Dr Channa Perera seems to more powerful than the Prime Minister and the Parliament. What an insult to the illustrious political career of President Mahinda Rajapaksa spanning over fifty years.

The absolute majority of the 6.9 million who voted for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) did so only because of the experienced campaigner President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The nation expected him to retire after the disastrous defeat in 2015 when he contested the presidential elections, but the admirable warrior bounced back and led his party to victory by winning the elections for his younger sibling President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution brought in by the Maithri-Ranil Government deprived him to contest the presidential election for the 3rd time. He proved his popularity and political acumen by re-entering Parliament as a Member and taking over as Prime Minister. However, one wonders if he kicked himself by introducing the 20th Amendment which stripped the power the Parliament had after the 19th Amendment.

Muslim bashing has been the modus operandi of political powers that held sway in Sri Lanka post-2009, starting from the Digana riots to the aftermath of the April 21st bombing in 2019. The last two elections saw probably the worst racist campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history. Muslims were barred from nominations except one who was close to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This strategy worked, with 6.9 million voting them to power, influenced by racist ‘save the nation’ rhetoric spewed by certain politicians, monks and media, who had their own agenda to fulfil. The terror of 21/4 was apportioned fully on the entire Muslim community with the supposed links to ISIS by the bombers who had called themselves Muslim. The Muslims have never had any conflict with the Catholics and Christians in this country, and there was absolutely no Islamic cause for any terror by Muslims. The Muslim community even refused Islamic burial rites for the terrorists as Islam totally forbids killing innocents even during a war. They were buried by the authorities with no religious rites by the Muslim Community.

St Sebestian’s Church in Katuwapitiya minutes after the blast on Easter Sunday 2019/ WhatsApp image

With the Muslim bashing that was orchestrated, they rode to a comfortable victory at the Presidential elections, cashing in on the unfounded fear the election rhetoric whipped up, that Muslims will take over Sri Lanka if a strong government does not hold the reins of power.

With an impressive victory of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the Muslim bashing continued with campaigns for one country one law, depriving not only Muslims, but also other minorities of their personal laws which affected only their personal lives, and which did not impede on the Common Law which overrides all personal laws anyway.

With the COVID pandemic bringing the whole world to its knees, the racists found a new issue to attack the Muslims and Christians by denying the burial of Covid dead or suspected deaths due to Covid. Islam forbids cremation and insists that a body should be handled very gently and buried. With the forced cremation policy, nearly 300 Muslims have been denied their religious right of burial. All engagement with Government authorities by Muslim civil, religious and business groups have totally failed.

The first Muslim COVID death occurred on the 30th March 2020, and the Quarantine Act in force allowed burial or cremation. Some racist elements denied burial claiming that the Coronavirus can contaminate groundwater sources. In spite of the lack of scientific evidence for this unfounded belief and thousands dying of contagious diseases being buried throughout history, forced cremation still continues. Almost 300 Muslims have died of Covid so far, of over 350 plus Covid deaths in the country. The disproportionate numbers in relation to the demographics in the country indicate the need for research on another social issue that may be looming to haunt Sri Lanka.

A Muslim boy holds up a placard protesting the compulsory cremation of Covid dead/Journalists for Democracy

The COVID 19 virus was first identified in December 2019 and all the countries of the world allowed the burial of those who died of COVID-19 infection. The Ministry of Health Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID-19 Suspected and Confirmed Patients dated 27th March 2020 allowed for the burial of dead bodies under certain conditions.

Four days later, on 31st March this was changed, disallowing burial and requiring that all COVID-19 victims be cremated. (The Extraordinary Gazette notification no. 2170/8 of 11th April 2020.)

This denied the right for Muslims and Christians (and some from the Buddhist/Tamil communities) to bury their dead according to their religious teachings, cultural practices or personal wishes. This position of the Government is unscientific and absolutely wrong due to the following reasons.

The WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION in its guidelines dated 24th March 2020 regarding the disposal of COVID-19 infected bodies have clearly stated burial as one of the safe methods of disposal. The document states the claims that the virus spread directly through groundwater have not been scientifically substantiated and there is no indication that the virus could be transmitted through drinking water.

The World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control and Prevention of United States (CDC) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) have issued clear and extensive guidelines on handling dead bodies for cremation or burial.

On 24th December 2020, the Secretary to the Ministry of Health of the Sri Lanka Government appointed an EXPERTS TEAM of the country’s lead Immunologists, Virologists and Microbiologists to provide their recommendations on whether burial can be allowed.

The Experts Team in their report clearly stated that the virus cannot replicate in a dead body and the remaining virus would die over a period of time. It stated that the virus infection is not a water-borne disease, and therefore contamination of water is very remote. The Experts Team recommended cremation or burial with guidelines. They also emphasized that the dignity of the dead and their families should be respected and protected.

The COLLEGE OF COMMUNITY PHYSICIANS OF SRI LANKA (CCPSL), one of the leading medical institutions in their positional paper, voiced their specialist opinion. It stated that with more than 80 million global infection cases and 1.7 million deaths, there is no evidence in the nearly 85,000 published scientific literature on COVID-19 that the virus was transmitted through a dead body. Further, the spread of the virus directly through groundwater has not been scientifically substantiated. They concluded that cremation or burial should be allowed within the strict guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health. Each citizen of Sri Lanka should be allowed to be cremated or buried as per their wish and the family’s desire within the strict guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health.

The virus may spread first, if at all, through hospital sewage, waste from isolation and quarantine centres, and faecal-oral transmission, if it was to spread from dead bodies.

The SRI LANKA MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (SLMA) another leading medical institution in their response to the issue of COVID 19 death management in Sri Lanka had expressed their views in favour of burial.

There are no reports of the virus being infective via groundwater. Even in the case of severe waterborne diseases like Cholera, the burial of infected dead bodies was allowed. It is unlikely that the virus could remain infectious within a dead body for any significant period of time. The Council of the Sri Lanka Medical Association is of the view that the burial of COVID-19 dead bodies could be permitted in Sri Lanka.

Further, it stated that the disposal of COVID-19 dead bodies has affected ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka. In view of the cultural diversity of Sri Lanka, it is essential to have a proper policy for the disposal of the dead which is acceptable to all. Almost 200 countries in the world have buried the COVID-19 infected dead bodies and are continuing to do so. There is not a single evidence that groundwater has been contaminated so far due to burying Covid dead.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in its latest report dated 27 January 2021, titled ‘Sri Lanka on the alarming path towards a recurrence of grave human rights violations, reports as follows:

“The UN High Commissioner is deeply concerned by the trends emerging over the past year, which may represent early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation. With regard to burial, the High Commissioner notes that WHO guidance stresses that “cremation is a cultural choice.”

As stated above, the World Health Organization in its guidelines dated 24 March 2020 regarding the disposal of COVID-19 infected bodies have clearly laid down that burial as one of the safe methods of disposal.

UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS – The following four UN Special Rapporteurs:

(i) Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief;
(ii) the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
(iii) the Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and,
(iv) the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Their communication to the President of Sri Lanka stated as follows:

“We are concerned that the amendment is inconsistent with the Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 guideline provided by the World Health Organization (WHO Guideline). Furthermore, we are concerned about the lack of consideration provided and the lack of sensitivity in the MoH Guideline to different communities and their religious and cultural practices.” The Special Rapporteurs reiterated the point that WHO Guideline provides that people who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated. (Annexure 9).


The Commission on 20 November 2020, highlighted that any restriction on a fundamental right, even at a time of crisis, must be imposed under strict justifications. It recommended permitting the burial of bodies of persons who succumb to the Covid-19 virus while adhering to required health guidelines. It also urged the Government to ensure compliance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. (Annexure 10).


Recognized individuals consisting of professionals, academics, lawyers, specialists, intellects, reverend priests and 29 civil society organizations issued a statement urging the Government to permit the burial of the COVID-19 dead bodies.

They said that the Government’s ongoing forcible cremation policy without proper scientific evidence has caused much suffering and grievance to certain religious groups. The statement called upon the Government to enable those from religious minorities to bury their dead.

The above provides a synopsis of the ongoing human rights violation by the forced cremation policy of the Sri Lanka Government which is not based on science, hurting the sentiments of Muslims, Christians and other citizens who choose to bury their loved ones, and dangerously hindering peaceful coexistence in Sri Lanka. (Colombo, February 23, 2021)

By Hilmy Ahamed

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  1. Mubarak Mohammed says:

    Thank you Mr. Hilmy, for your valuable information based on real facts. I have just finished commenting in another article as below: FYI which you too has confirmed, simple short, should make sense to the health authorities of Sri Lanka. “Cholera is a water-borne disease whereas Covid-19 is Air-borne.”
    I feel the Sri Lanka authorities are now a bit concerned once the burial of Covid-19 victims started it will be proved beyond doubt that all previously forced cremation is a blatant error.

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  1. Mubarak Mohammed says:

    Thank you Mr. Hilmy, for your valuable information based on real facts. I have just finished commenting in another article as below: FYI which you too has confirmed, simple short, should make sense to the health authorities of Sri Lanka. “Cholera is a water-borne disease whereas Covid-19 is Air-borne.”
    I feel the Sri Lanka authorities are now a bit concerned once the burial of Covid-19 victims started it will be proved beyond doubt that all previously forced cremation is a blatant error.

Sri Lanka’s 2022 EPF returns falls to lowest, single digit in near two decades – CB data

ECONOMYNEXT – The 2022 annual average return on Sri Lanka’s largest contributory pension scheme, the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), has fallen to its lowest in nearly two decades, Central Bank data showed.

The annual average return in the last year fell to 9.52 percent from the previous year’s 11.40 percent, a central bank response to a Right to Information (RTI) request showed.

Returns on EPF has raised concerns among contributors after the government decided to include EPF investments in the government treasury bonds under the domestic debt optimization (DDO) process.

Last year’s lower return has been recorded despite market interest rates being more than 30 percent towards the end of the year. In contrast, the fund has given a double digit return in 2020 when the market interest rates hovered in single digits.

Analysts have predicted the returns to be further low with the central bank opting for the government’s DDO option.

A central bank analysis on DDO showed the return on EPF could fall to as low as 6.79 percent if the DDO option was not chosen within the next 12 years as against 8.02 percent if opted for DDO.

Trade unions and some politically motivated fractions opposed the government move to include the EPF investments under the DDO. However, parliament approved the move early this month.

According to the data made available from 2005, the central bank, which is the custodian of the EPF, has given the highest return of 16.03 percent in 2009.

The island nation’s largest pension fund has almost 21-million member accounts including 18.3 million non-contributing accounts due to some members having multiple number of accounts.

The 3.38 trillion-rupee ($10.6 billion) worth fund as of end 2022 is managed by the central bank, including its investment decisions.

As of end 2022, the central bank has invested 3.23 trillion rupees or 95.7 percent of the total EPF in government securities, while 84.1 billion rupees has been invested in listed companies in the Colombo Stock Exchange, the central bank said quoting the EPF audited financial statement. (Colombo/September 21/2023)

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Malaysia to support Sri Lanka’s bid to join RCEP

ECONOMYNEXT – Malaysia has agreed to support Sri Lanka’s application to become a member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a major regional trade agreement.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement among the Asia-Pacific nations of Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe met the Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim during bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday (20).

During the meeting, the Malaysian Prime Minister expressed a strong desire to bolster economic ties between the two nations, according to a president’s media division statement.

He emphasized Malaysia’s eagerness to facilitate increased investments from Malaysian companies in Sri Lanka.

Ibrahim also expressed positivity towards Sri Lanka’s request to commence negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries, which could potentially open up new avenues for trade and economic cooperation.

Wickremesinghe is in a drive to bolster international ties and integrate the country with the global economy.

So far this week he met with the leaders of Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaysia, Iran, South Korea, as well as representatives from global bodies such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, USAID, Meta, the Commonwealth, and attended other forums.

Sri Lanka aims to expand its economic reach first within South Asia and then extend further.
Data shows that Sri Lanka has been able to boost exports with FTAs.

Over the past two decades Sri Lanka’s exports have not grown as much as competitors.

Economists involved in trade have pointed out that Sri Lanka should make joining the RCEP a priority instead of trying to negotiate multiple smaller deals for which it does not have the bandwidth in government, or the technical resources to do multiple trade agreements. (Colombo/Sep21/2023)

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Is Tibet Prepared for a Post-Dalai Lama Era?

ECONOMYNEXT – Tibetans have shaped and sustained their lives for more than 60 years under the leadership of the 14th Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader turned 88 in July, and as his longevity is discussed amongst his followers, there is also concern about Tibet’s future without his physical presence.

In 2011, the Dalai Lama divested himself of all political authority, yet, as the architect of democratic governance, he continues to remain a larger-than-life figure for Tibetans.

Along with that come other challenges; safeguarding the democratic system he initiated, engaging younger generations in the cause for Tibet’s freedom, protecting the country’s environment, the influence of external forces and the possible geopolitical fallout of India’s continued support of the Tibetan cause.
Ever since the Lhasa uprising of 1959, and the setting up of a government in exile in Dharamsala, India, the first Tibetan Constitution introduced by the Dalai Lama in 1963 has undergone many changes.

In 1991 the Supreme Justice Commission was added to the other two pillars of democracy, the Legislature and the Executive. Along with that, an Independent Audit Commission, an Independent Public Service Commission and an Independent Election Commission were set up, and women were assigned two seats in the Legislature. The current operational body of the Tibetan government in exile is known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

The debate on Tibet’s sovereignty, which fell under the control of the Chinese in 1951, is ongoing, with the Chinese government terming it the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’ and the CTA and Tibetan diaspora referring to it as the “Chinese invasion of Tibet.”

Despite the reforms and the Dalai Lama divesting himself of all political power the spiritual leader exerts considerable influence and therefore there is still, a heavy dependence on him, notes MP Youdon Aukatsang. Speaking at a webinar titled “Tibetan Democracy in Exile’ organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, South Asia, on September 15, Ms Aukatsang pointed to a recent constitutional crisis which was finally resolved following the Dalai Lama’s intervention. “Tibetans must take full responsibility for political matters as envisaged by His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” she said.

There is also the challenge of dealing with the internal dissent amongst Tibetans, which she claimed is spearheaded by China.

The webinar moderated by Ms Tenzin Peldon, the Director and Editor-in-Chief of Voice of Tibet, included Ven Geshe Lhakdor, Director, Tibetan Library and Archives and honorary Professor, University of British Columbia, Gondo Dhondup, President of the Tibetan Youth Congress and Sujeet Kumar, an Indian parliamentarian and the Convenor of the All Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet.

The current Sikyong, Tibet’s political leader Penpa Tsering and Dr Jurgen Murtens, a member of the German Bundestag also addressed the webinar.

The democratic model, Aukatsang states is successful, yet it is a work in progress. The current make up of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) has 45 members representing the three provinces of U-Tsang, Do-med and Do-tod, the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the traditional Bon faith, Europe, North America and Australasia. It is headed by the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aukatsang would like to see a modification in the composition with more representation from the diaspora, and less from the provinces to better reflect the changing demography. She also proposes an increase in the number of members of the Standing Committee from 11 to 15 and calls for the establishment of a dispute resolution mechanism rather than the direct impeachment process, which is the current practice.

Though the 1991 reforms made way for women’s representation in the TPiE, (currently 10 ministers and the Deputy Speaker are women), Aukatsang is hopeful there would be “more meaningful engagement of women in leadership roles,” for, as she points out, they are the custodians of Tibetan culture and language. Women have also distinguished themselves as founders of several non-governmental organisations and in the field of education.

Her sentiments were reflected by the Sikyong, Penpa Tsering when he said that unless the administration is ready to adapt to demographic and social realities, its relevancy will be challenged.

When the Buddha was on his deathbed, and his followers were fearful of being on their own, the Buddha had advised that the focus should be on his teachings and not his physical presence. Likewise, says Ven Geshe Lhakdor, Tibetans must continue to abide by the teachings of the Dalai Lama, and not worry about his absence. When Tibetans were prohibited from displaying photos of the Dalai Lama, they hung up empty picture frames, he said, aware that the Dalai Lama remains within them.

Ven Geshe Lhakdor also advocates a separation of Church and State, pointing out that clergy must involve themselves in the spiritual upliftment of society, rather than in politics. The idea of the religious ruling a country is outdated, he points out, adding that once clergy get into a “political mindset” they are unable to send out good signals to the people. He adds that their responsibility is to safeguard culture and harmony and be role models.

The principles of democracy are a reflection of Buddhist teaching the Venerable noted, pointing out its time to extricate oneself from a tribal mentality. The focus must be on a long-term, robust vision, rather than quick fixes. He also believes that Tibetans must safeguard themselves from internal fragmentation, even more than external threats.

One unique feature of the administration is that it is free of corruption, the Venerable notes, despite being surrounded by corrupt systems.

Even though Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, sought and had the cooperation of all Chief Ministers to offer refuge to Tibetans in 1959, MP Sujeet Kumar is of the opinion that the current Indian Parliament is rather diffident in openly rooting for Tibet against China.

While acknowledging that Indian parliamentarians have huge constituencies and are busy, he is hopeful his colleagues would take more interest in Tibet and her issues.

Tibetans alone have the right to decide on the Dalai Lama’s successor, says Kumar, and India must back that. India should also rally the support of other nations to help Tibet charter her own course in a post-Dalai Lama scenario.

Kumar would like to see more Tibetan youth become part of India’s trillion-dollar digital industry.
He is concerned, however, at the lack of enthusiasm amongst the youth to use social media to fight disinformation being circulated about Tibet.

Acknowledging that youth could be more engaged in social media to fight disinformation, Gondo Dhondup says all Tibetans are “born to be activists” and to the cause, even though it is difficult to envisage a freedom movement without the Dalai Lama.

Youth are the agents of change, and Tibet’s future citizens, therefore they must stay informed. The TYC organises leadership training, and Tibetans, even those scattered around the globe must take advantage of the programmes, Dhondup says.

While calling on India to introduce a national policy on Tibet, Dhondup cautions that India’s waterways that originate in Tibet are under threat. The rivers are either “diverted or polluted” affecting downstream villagers, and India must ensure her water security, Dhondup explains.

The recently concluded G20 summit was themed “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, and that gives India an opportunity to be more vocal about the environment, he says.

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