Reeling from a massive corruption scandal involving the import of hundreds of thousands of metric tonnes of sugar to Sri Lanka the Government yesterday announced it would be banning the burqa, or full-face veil worn by a fraction of Muslim women in the island.
The ban has no legal basis and has only been presented by cabinet paper by Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Rtd) Sarath Weerasekera. If Cabinet approves the proposal, the Government will have to draft legislation to and get it passed in Parliament to have the ban legally enforced.
However, the premature announcement comes as the Government of President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa is at the receiving end of a devastating onslaught of criticism over a massive sugar tax fraud perpetrated by the regime for the benefit of one of its most treasured businessmen.
Minister Weerasekera – a hardline Sinhala nationalist inside the cabinet also announced that the Government would ban 1000 madrasas or Islamic teaching schools in the island. The government is also talking about “banning” Wahabiism in Sri Lanka.
Social media users openly mocked President Rajapaksa for race-baiting to distract from the corruption scandal rocking his government. Meme-makers have launched a series of mocking graphics that refer to President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa as “Seeni-Sena” or “Nanda-seeni”. Sajjad Mawzoon, the businessman at the centre of the sugar scandal is a long time Rajapaksa backer and owner of Shangri-La hotels. Mawzoon offered his hotels to Nandasena Rajapaksa’s Viyathmaga for glitzy meetings and conferences at rock bottom prices and is now cashing back his favours sources said.
The burqa and Madrasas ban is viewed as another way to discriminate and harass members of the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka. The move comes after year long tensions and rising anguish within the Muslim community over the Government’s blatantly racist decision to cremate all those who die of the corona virus. Muslims in Sri Lanka have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and some 330 Muslims have been cremated forcibly by the state.
The Nandasena Government has developed a pattern of using racially charged policies to distract the public from growing discontent over the regime’s mismanagement of state affairs and corruptions scandals. The Government of President Maithripala Sirisena used Emergency regulations to ban face veils soon after the Easter Sunday bombings in April 2019. At the time Muslim women wearing merely the hijab or headscarf, and even the niqab which exposes the eyes, were harassed in public spaces and forced to remove their coverings in order to access services like banking and shopping. The irregular ban on burqas could be similarly misunderstood by the public which may not be able to make a distinction between the types of Islamic dress.
Weerasekera’s announcement comes as Sri Lanka struggles to lobby for votes at the UN Human Rights Council where a damning resolution on its human rights record will be taken up for voting on March 23rd. Government sources said that the country had just managed to secure the support of Pakistan at the Council after finally reversing its policy on cremations. This fresh assault on Sri Lanka’s Muslim culture and way of life, will give pause to Muslim nations considering how to vote on the resolution at UNHRC the sources added. (By Janakie Mediwake)