By Mass L. Usuf –
In the sub chapter titled, “The Law Defends Plunder” the French Writer and Liberalist Frederic Bastiat wrote, “Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons, and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim—when he defends himself—as a criminal.”. From his famous book ‘The Law’.
Just like the others, the Muslims too were exercising the fundamental rights granted to all citizens. Recently, a part of one such right had been denied namely the right to religious practice, more specifically, the right to bury their dead according to their religious teachings. When they are discussing with the authorities to reinstate this constitutional right various meaningless allegations are being made against the Muslims. Even to the extent of calling them as ‘extremists’.
The truth of what Fredrick Bastiat said in 1850 is very clear today.
The constitution is the covenant between the government and the citizens. According to Article 28 (a) and (e) of the Constitution:
“ … it is the duty of every person in Sri Lanka –
(a) to uphold and defend the Constitution and the law;
(e) to respect the rights and freedoms of others.
‘Heta Nama Lakshaya’
The purpose of government is to ensure that all the citizens are secured their rights to life, liberty, and property. Fundamental rights are an important enshrinement therein. Thus, every person has a duty to uphold and defend against, even the slightest interference with these sanctimonious rights enshrined under Chapter 3. To allow the ‘heta nama lakshaya’ (sixty-nine lakhs) to monopolise government and governance is absolutely contrary to democracy and democratic principles.
Is it not laughable that the Muslims are being called extremists for ‘upholding and defending the Constitution and the law’ that belongs to everyone? It is difficult to understand why the duty ‘to respect the rights and freedoms of others’ obligated by the constitution is violated by a section of the people. Why the wrong and misguided campaign against Muslims on the basis that they want a separate law, when they are in fact, protecting the law that belongs to all? Should not the ‘heta nama lakshaya’ think that they also should support this cause to uphold and defend the Constitution? Many people who are not Muslims and who prefer a burial for their dead are happy that the Muslims are discussing this matter with the Government. Unfortunately, it seems that our greater society is in a state of confusion not knowing what to do or what not to do. The silence of the intellectuals, academicians, civil society organizations is increasingly becoming questionable.
The proposition that the law was amended due to a public health reason is a valid and reasonable argument. There is no doubt that for the common good of everyone certain compromises are ineluctable. The Muslims would wholeheartedly and unequivocally endorse anything that is of benefit to the country and its citizens. They would never agitate but would willingly co-operate and support.
Scientific And Empirical Evidence
This column deliberately is leaving out debating on the intricate subjects of epidemiology, virology, molecular genetics, ground water hydrology, pedology (soil science) and the potency and propensities of one or more of these disciplines in the replication and proliferation of the virus. Reason for this is because there is sufficient scientific evidence in fact, proving beyond reasonable doubt that burial is a safe mode of disposal of covid-19 cadavers. The hundreds of thousands of burials all over the world by itself stands as undeniably clear evidence, even by empirical standards.
From a physical geography perspective burial of Covid-19 corpses take place, even today, in varying climatic conditions and in different geographies (soil, water tables, population density, etc.) and whatever else that can be factored in to the equation. From a medical science angle data driven scientific evidence on frequency, patterns and determinants of the virus has been immaculately scrutinized by medical scientists of the world. The structure, classification and evolution of Covid-19 and the ways it infects, exploits host cells for reproduction, the destruction of the virus or limiting the damage it can cause are all information that has been vigorously researched and available.
Several reputed health related institutions of the world and countries in which the health sector is highly advanced have no issue with the burial of Covid-19 deceased. The World Health Organisation which is the world’s top most health authority functioning as an important organ of the United Nations also, has no problem with burial of such corpses. The World Health Organization’s guidelines for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 allows for either burials or cremations.
Even if it is unreasonable and that happens to a Muslim it is okay? Or, is it that if a good comes to a Muslim you bite your fingers and if a bad befalls on them you rejoice? I cannot resist the urge to refer to a tweet by an elderly politician who is widely respected. Former Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament, Mr. Karu Jayasuriya tweeted as follows on 3rd April 2020:
“Both #COVID19 & racism are killer contagions, that sicken anyone who catches them. Ironically, we lock down on one, but open floodgates to the other. Only way to save us is to improve immunity to them, as individuals and a nation. #LKA media should responsibly help the recovery.”
There is so much truth today looking at his statement made in April.
The pathetic side of this debate is that the ‘heta nama lakshaya’ has never focused on defending the constitution but busy bashing the Muslims. The types of questions asked betrays intelligence. To highlight some:
1. If Muslims are allowed to bury, will the Sinhala Buddhists also be allowed to bury?
2. If Muslims are allowed to bury, will the Sinhala Buddhists be allowed to perform the pansakula and other rituals for their dead?
3. The question is asked why are the Muslims asking for a separate law to bury their dead?
Brief answers to these are burial is governed by the Regulations to the Quarantine Ordinance. This Ordinance is applicable for all Sri Lankans. If the Regulation applies the earlier law to bury, it will be allowed for everyone. (2) The Muslims and those who ask for burial are not asking the right to perform funeral rituals. They do not want to do so because of the pandemic situation. (3) Muslims are not asking for a separate law. Before the pandemic, Muslims and some other non-Muslims buried their dead even, some Buddhists did. The new Regulations deprived them of a practice that had been followed for thousands of years. “Give us back what you took away from us” say, the Muslims and others who prefer a burial! We are not asking anything new.
A Muslim funeral is the simplest form of a dignified send-off of the loved one. It does not involve a myriad of complicated and elaborate rituals, traditions, embalming of the body, retaining the corpse for several days and superstitious practices. The bottom line is simple and clear. Is there authenticated and accepted scientific evidence that burial is safe? If yes, then permit burial. And, if there will be a problem, find a safe win-win solution. Like use of disinfectants, multiple sealed body bags, sealed coffin, deep grave etc. The law should not be allowed to be corrupted by prejudice, private interest, and misguided sentimentality.
“Quod alias bonum et jus turn, est, si per vim vel fraudem petatur, malnm et in justum efficitur.” (3 Coke, 78).
“What otherwise is good and just, if it be sought by force and fraud, becomes bad and unjust.”
The purpose of the law is to cause justice to rule. Therefore, it ought to prevent injustice from reigning. For public order is founded upon moral order, and moral order arises from religion.