By Hilmy Ahamed –
“My heartfelt appreciation to everyone in Healthcare, Tri-forces, Police and essential services for risking their lives to save lives”.
My heart aches to realize that history will record racism in Sri Lanka as the first (and hopefully the last) for failing to treat even the dead with dignity due to a pandemic because of absolute racism of a few. The three Muslims cremated in Sri Lanka up to date have been denied their right to their religious last rite as prescribed by their religion.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and 182 countries around the world have accepted and approved burial or cremation as the means to dispose of the dead due to COVID-19. The specialists in Sri Lanka seem to have invented unique justifications to deny Muslims their burial rights. One of the main arguments against burial is the possible contamination of the water table.
Dr. Paba Palihawadana, Deputy Director General of Public Health Services, Ministry of Health, overseeing all communicable disease control programmes in Sri Lanka, has gone on record confirming that the NOVEL CORONA Virus (COVID 19) cannot be transmitted through the contamination of water. Burial of the dead of more infectious diseases have taken place in the country for centuries in Muslim burial grounds all over the country.
The first Muslim to die of COVID 19 was on the 30th of March 2020. The circular or Standard Operational Procedure in force at the time of the death allowed burial or cremation of the deceased suspected or infected with Covid 19. The medical team in Negombo decided that no burial should be allowed, as the water table in Negombo was too high for burial. The Muslim community offered to dig 8ft graves in Maligawatte, which had already been prepared, or any other Muslim burial grounds as an alternate option, but it was disregarded. The excuse that they couldn’t transport the sealed coffin for 45 minutes on the Katunayake expressway is superfluous. The authorities cremated the body against protests and wishes of the family. The family will probably seek legal redress.
Italian tourists and those Sri Lankans returning from Italy, Iran and Korea were identified as those who brought COVID 19 into the country. A Chinese lady underwent successful treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) and was sent home after discharge with a hug from the Non. Minister of Health.
The Government issued a circular through the Ministry of Health stating that passengers arriving in Sri Lanka from Iran, Italy and South Korea must undergo a 14-day period of isolation to prevent the spread of the disease in the country.
By the 11th of March, Shehan Sumanasekara, Director, Airport and Aviation Services Limited, confirmed that 622 Sri Lankan passengers who arrived from Iran, Italy and South Korea have been sent to quarantine centers at Kandakadu, Polonnaruwa and the Batticaloa Private University for a period of 14 days. Most Sri Lankans are aware of the protests and drama at the airport and the numbers assumed to have escaped without following Government instructions to go to specified Quarantine Centres.
Subsequently, quarantine procedures were introduced to all those arriving in the country. While the Government mechanism at ports of arrival and thereafter has been commendable, racist elements in different locations across the country have taken advantage and are spewing unprecedented racism targeting the Muslims. As an example the Indian racism against the Tableeq group in India by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) extremists has been extended to include the Tableeq movement in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lanka Thableeq Jamath instructed all those who were abroad to immediately return to the country and follow quarantine procedures as instructed by the airport authorities. All those traveling within the country were asked to return to their homes and report to the area PHIs. A complete list of Muslims who were on tour both in Sri Lanka and abroad were handed to the authorities by the headquarters of the Thableeq movement – The Markaz. Despite all this, some in mainstream and social media are repeating the absolute racist rhetoric of India against Sri Lankan Muslims. Of course, there may have been a few individuals who may not have complied with the orders, but those numbers will have to be seen in comparison with all who returned to Sri Lanka from pilgrimages and other travel.
Some media houses have been spewing hate against the Muslim community as if COVID-19 is a biological weapon used by Muslims against the majority. They fail to count the non-Muslim numbers of COVID 19 infected who have had parties and who have been roaming around the country enjoying their return from Italy and South Korea. There were no arrests of these merry making men or full shutdown or quarantining of their villages.
Respected Government officials and media men have made racist comments that violate several of the country’s laws including section 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No 56 of 2007, Section 2(h) of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No 48 of 1979, Section 120 of the Penal Code and other provisions. Legal action should be undertaken against them irrespective of their position, caste creed, religion, race or social status. (Video attached)
There is also the unique case of Muslims quarantined on false charges by a Buddhist monk in the MEE ELLA village in the Hakmana Police division in the Matara district. Two Muslims who arrived from Delhi on the 2nd of March 2020 were suddenly rounded up 37 days after their arrival and sent to the quarantine center in Polonnaruwa. The PHI, Police and other officials had charged that they had come from Indonesia and were absconding. They were shown the passports that had stamps of exit from Delhi (1/3/2020) and arrival in Sri Lanka on the 2nd of March 2020. The response officials had given was that they had orders from the top??? Who are these top people giving orders? How can they take someone who had returned to the country 37 days before? There was neither quarantine requirement at the time of their arrival in Sri Lanka nor the requirement to report to any authority? This is absolute racism at the behest of a particular Buddhist priest!. (Video attached) A clear case under ICCRP Act No 56 of 2007.
Amidst all this, the Medical, Tri forces, Police, and Essential services staff have performed remarkably well in ensuring that the best possible services were offered to all those who were sent to hospitals and the quarantine centers.
The following is by a Muslim who is in a quarantine center as posted in social media by the Royal College Senior Games Master Mr Riyaz Aluher.
“Last night I had a conversation with one of my students mother who herself is a teacher in another school. Now their families are undergoing quarantine in POONANI Quarantine Centre, Batticaloa although they are from Colombo.
I inquired about how they are coping. With a heavy heart and very shaky voice she related the following and almost cried.
We thought of fasting Last Thursday although its not compulsory but to pray and get the blessings of the Almighty to get rid of the calamity which has struck the world and our mother land. She said that they had requested the Army officer in charge there to give them the dinner of Wednesday a bit late so that they can have it at dawn to fast.
The officer after inquiring about fasting and how it is performed , from what time to what time and left the place . As usual the officer and staff brought the dinner around 8.30 pm. and said you all need not to worry we will cook and provide you food at 3 am.
It was a big surprise for them and as promised the food was delivered at 3 am by the army officers. The story does not end there. Knowing that these people have to break fast at 6.30pm the officers have made all the arrangements for them to break fast the following evening .
Dear all, there is lot to ponder. A big Salute to the real heroes of our mother land.”
The Corona virus has no race, religion, caste or social status. It does not discriminate. Let us come together as a nation to fight this pandemic and rise stronger and as one people of our beloved Sri Lanka.