20 July, 2024

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Was President Ranil Apologising Or Defending Gota’s Racist Forced Cremation Policy?

By Mohamed Harees –

Lukman Harees

“Nobody does good to men with impunity” –  Auguste Rodin

They say birds of a feather! This is how the nation felt when President Ranil Wickremesinghe was speaking in the Parliament recently issuing an apology for the then Gota’s decision to enforce forced cremation during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also subtly (and shamefully) justifying that policy on palpably inaccurate contention, ignoring the context, stating ‘a committee appointed to look into the matter at the time recommended cremation, a decision which was upheld by the supreme court. So the government had to follow that. There was no choice at that stage’. Gota in his recent book titled “The conspiracy to oust me from the Presidency” passed on the blame to members of the expert committee, in particular one member, for insisting on cremation only for COVID victims. He however did not issue an apology or express any remorse for this massive blunder which earned him the ire of the entire nation. It thus appeared that Ranil was trying to bring closure to those affected by this controversial decision of Gota’s regime, but his apology seems more like an attempt to whitewash the sins of the Gota’s regime  instead of a genuine statement of apology.

Gota regime’s dismal failed attempt to stage a tragicomedy by imposing an unwanted burial ban was  thankfully later openly exposed as a racist diversion tactic, with no basis in science. The burial issue grew beyond Muslim circles and there was more solidarity and consciousness, and this discontent added to the public activism gaining momentum, to hold the government to account for many other crises befitting Sri Lanka – rule of law and impunity, economic mismanagement, and chronic corruption.

This contentious stoke of policy was widely considered as arbitrary, racist and Islamophobic, disregarding  the religious beliefs particularly of the Muslim community, sans any scientific or medical evidence and contrary to the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the disposal of bodies of those who fell victim to the coronavirus. Early this year, Minister Jeevan Thondaman extended an apology to the Muslim community for the pain inflicted on many families by the enforced cremation policy. He alongside Minister Ali Sabry announced plans to submit a Cabinet paper seeking a formal government apology for the harm caused.  He explained that since assuming office as the subject Minister he had requested officials to conduct an independent study to determine the truth about allegations of groundwater contamination through COVID burials. “The findings of this study have now proven to us that the concerns regarding water contamination were misguided and the decision to forcefully cremate those who succumbed to COVID-19 was not based on any science.”

Actually, the real apology should come from those who were behind it, and this includes the members of the so-called “experts committee” who brought shame on the entire country. It was interesting to hear Prof Jayasumana, an Islamophobic who went at lengths to implicate Dr Shafi in a case of forced sterilization of Sinhala women ( which was later proven to be false), on this issue . In an interview with Daily Mirror in April 2024, on this issue, he stated “From the beginning, I was of the opinion that cremation, disregarding religious beliefs, was not appropriate or acceptable. At the same time, there was no scientific evidence to support the claim that the virus could spread through COVID-infected burials and contaminate groundwater. It’s impossible, and is basic biological knowledge.  a senior official responsible for intelligence services made a statement asserting that the burial of Muslim bodies could cause tensions between ethnic groups. “The particular official said that if Muslims were allowed burials, extremist groups may exhume the bodies and cremate them. But it was obvious that during a pandemic, nobody would take the risk of exhuming bodies.” The Task Force was never empowered to take a decision on the burial issue. Prof. Jayasumana added that if anyone should apologise, it should be the expert committee that recommended the cremation of bodies and not the subject Minister of Water Supply. “The government has some responsibility, but the ones who took this decision should be the ones who must apologise.” 

Prof. Deepika Udagama, who served as the Chairperson of HRCSL during this period, too stated if the Government had provided internationally accepted credible evidence of groundwater contamination through COVID-infected burials, the Commission would have accepted the decision. “However, in the absence of such evidence, we wanted to understand the rationale behind the authorities’ refusal to permit burials. We were unaware of who the scientific authorities that the government relied on. There was some indication that it was the University of Sri Jayewardenepura that commissioned a report. I cannot recall what the outcome was. If the government had scientific evidence, they should have presented it to the public categorically. My recollection is there was no such evidence.”

She correctly summed up the feelings and stance of the Muslim community on this issue thus, “If the apology is sincere and is issued officially by the government, then it is a step in the right direction for a country that is not used to apology or accountability. Of course, the community affected has to decide on whether an apology is sufficient, because it was an extremely painful ordeal. From these painful episodes of our history, we have to learn lessons for our future.” However, the apology which President Ranil made in the parliament, lacked sincerity and instead tried to whitewash Rajapaksa sins as he is popularly known to be famous for  since he took office thanks to Rajapaksa’s ruling party support.

MP Mujibur Rahman OF SJB  too criticised President Ranil for allegedly attempting to justify the forced cremations of bodies.He explained that there were two committees during that period: a technical committee made up of certain political appointees and an expert committee which was appointed following the request made by the Muslim community.  “The technical committee, comprised of political appointees appointed by the former President, insisted that bodies must be cremated. However, the expert committee, headed by the Dean of the University of Colombo’s Medical Faculty, Prof. Jennifer Perera, recommended against cremation, aligning with the findings of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Government led by Rajapaksa ignored the expert committee’s recommendations and continued with forced cremations based on the technical committee’s advice. So, this cannot be justified. The entire Cabinet of Ministers must be held responsible,” he added. Even the SLMC dismissed Thondaman’s apology and said “The apology must come from the Cabinet of Ministers in place at the time under the leadership of [former President] Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It looks like a gimmick to get votes.”

The grieved families of the 300+ Covid-19 Muslim deaths in Sri Lanka, forcibly reduced to ashes against their religious dictates, with no funeral rights or family nearby, only to later discover later that it was all a racist hoax played upon them for petty political gains, need some plausible answers. Who will take responsibility for this tragic and wilful negligence? Who can transform their ashes to flesh and bones, so that that bitter past can be rewound and their remains be buried whole in dignity, and not in urns? The fact of the matter and the reality was that there were no feasible medical reasons for the Covid burial ban then and obviously none now. Both the medical fraternity and the scientific community, local and global were pointing this out in plain and simple language, which unfortunately did not strike a chord with the racist agenda of the Gotabaya government. If this was not State sanctioned racist discrimination and raw racism, then what was? Thankfully, the successful resistance to the policy of enforced cremation saw it reversed in early 2022, which was the product of an unusual and inspiring coalition of activists, religious institutions and citizens from all of Sri Lanka’s communities, working in tandem with international bodies and Sri Lankan diaspora groups. My book on ‘Dying While Muslim in Masked Sri Lanka’ outlined the whole failed episode of Gota’s government’s forced cremation policy.   

Sri Lanka’s COVID response was proof that demonization of particularly the Muslims was normalised. In an article in Human Rights Pulse, titled ‘Discrimination against Sri Lanka’s Muslim community during the pandemic: a chilling foreshadow’ (21/12/20), Esther Hoole says, ‘The government’s stance is, at best, careless of the rights and requests of the Muslim community. At worst, it is deliberately discriminatory and cruel. Neither of these attitudes is a new phenomenon. From the outset of the current government’s entry into power in a landslide vote by the Sinhalese majority, the Sri Lankan government has—both subtly and overtly—highlighted its disregard for minority communities, of which the Muslim community is one. Within this majoritarian structure, there has also been growing hatred particularly against the Muslim community, continuing the trajectory of the past few years’.

In February 2021, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) tweeted, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?”  Hitler’s words and legacy remind us of the massive historical and contemporary importance of racism to public health and medical care. Thus, as we engage in the continuous project of identifying and responding to the ways racism impacts health and health care, we must also hold our institutions, our political leaders, and ourselves to account for the harms of interpersonal and structural racism. So  there is an imperative need to hold accountable the top rungs in Gota’s government and its public health official stooges including the so-called technical committee led by the likes of Dr Channa Perera and Prof Methikaa Vithanage, who brazenly advocated and implemented the racist, discriminatory forced cremation policy, which wreaked havoc on the social fabric, and harmony of this nation. Dr Channa Perera, Consultant Forensic Pathologist “attached to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health” told the BBC World Service: “the government has nothing against Muslims but they have a small fear about whether the virus can be used for unauthorised activities. Maybe an unwanted person could get access to a body and it could be used a biological weapon.” This was an unnecessarily anti-Muslim statement that created unwarranted divisiveness when the need to fight this pandemic together was then felt more urgent than ever.

President Ranil if he is sincere enough, should realise that repercussions of Gota’s  decision on mandatory cremation which defeated the ‘purpose’ and unleashed a fresh wave of Islamophobia within the majority community, upon the heels of an earlier wave of Islamophobia in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks. The government’s discriminatory approach was also aided by the dog-whistling television coverage, and the social media chatter too. The mandatory cremation of Muslim COVID-19 victims sadly polarized the country at a time it should be unified against the invisible enemy. Hopefully sanity prevailed thanks to the strong local public activism and international outrage and the government was forced to review its clearly discriminatory ‘Emperor’s clothes like’ position on the mandatory cremation policy. Those who made these decisions at the highest levels, did not assess the wider social consequences, leading those mistakes making Sri Lankans to regret in the years to come. 

Thus, the real culprits  should be held to account, in addition to an unconditional apology which should come from those who were behind it including Gota, and this includes the members of the so-called “experts committee” who brought shame on the entire country. Just mouthing an apology and whitewashing the culprits is not justice to the victims but an insult. In a way, this is how the cookies crumble in impunity crisis laden Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

  • 12
    1

    What do you think RW was doing, take a guess??? Journalist including you seems to know every detail about Israel/ Palestine conflicts but not sure about what your own leaders are upto ??? Let me try explaining in a different way. If the decision was recommended by committee which provided inaccurate contentions ignoring context, how come not one person including journalists questioned the decision?? Didn’t you’ll were even aware that no country including our neighbours forced such stupid / racist policy ??? More than our political clowns, I question the integrity of journalists and media who were silent through out and now vehement about Palestine and scratching old wounds. FYI rogue Ali Sabrey told ” it was the most humiliating and saddest day in his life ( hence he kept quiet ??? ) . This is the guy now alleged to have produced fraudulent papers to show Gotha was not a US citizen at the time of election. How long the Muslim community will play opportunistic politics??

    • 11
      1

      Dear Readers,
      .
      Tony s wording should be punishable. We should bring new laws to punish these guys.
      :
      No minorrities should be called as ” marakkalaya”. These terms accroding my knowledge were very insulting.

      Even after 30 years of a brutal war, two brutal insurections held us up stagnated in many ways, TONY or the kind of beasts in human disguise, the kind of sons of bitches to hang on further and promote sinhala-nationalism/racism is beyond all bearing. So pathetic !

      If i were the leaders in this country, I would have turned out to be the most rhythless dictator against our sinhala racists. I WOULD NOT TOLERATE ANYON INSULTING THE OTHER IN PUBLIC.
      :
      I could do itfor sure, by implementing harsher law and order like in Europe and Singapore.
      No excuses,it should be implemented rigorously.
      Nobody else, but our boomer sinhala racists including my relatives ruined lanken heritage and society.
      This was the case since RAJAPAKSHEs started mlechcha politics inthis country.

  • 3
    16

    Safety first!!! Everything else is secondary.
    /
    Marakkala Musl1ms should not think that the world is there to revolve around them. Even the Buddhist would like to bury their dead loved ones than cremate, but cremation is more practical. Now even Chritian countries encourage cremation.
    /
    According to some Indian media, Corona came to the Indian subcontinent after some Muslims from the Indian subcontinent went to participate in a conference held in a Muslim country in Southeast Asia. It may be because of this that the corona virus first spread in the Muslim areas of Colombo. Some Marakkala Muslims who contracted Corona were hiding in their houses secretly. In spite of the strict restrictions, Muslims gathered together to pray and socialize. Some tried to get their cards marked as they had been vaccinated without getting vaccinated.
    /
    This happened after 270 innocent people were killed and more than 400 people were seriously injured by
    Muslim extremists on Easter.
    /
    All the measures taken by the authority to curb Corona should be appreciated. At first no one knew the details of the virus or its treatment. Therefore, the advisory committee’s emphasis on cautious methods should be PRAISED and not criticized.
    /
    Once knowledge of the virus was gained and vaccines were found to suppress it, everyone was allowed to do their burials as usual. So nothing is discriminatory about it.

    • 7
      1

      Tony ,

      leelagemalli has replied to your insulting remarks against Muslims .
      And eight Thumbs Down have disapproved and rejected you . So ,
      I do not think you deserve anything more here . All I can understand
      about you as a person is , you need medical attention .

      • 6
        0

        WW,
        I hope even a medical therapist turns go crazy after seeing the toxin loading in Tony or similar. THe kind of poisonous reptiles in human disguise destroyed their own folks. Be it in SRILNANKA, Israel or Germany it is the same outcome. However, what brought them to stay free even today ? We need real punitive actions against the kind of BPs.
        These people are the real cancer of this nation who are making their destiny worse by their own will. No matter what else is said, the dogs bark at the top of their lungs. Before implementation any other proper systems, we should start irradication of the sinhala racists of TONY nature sooner than later.

        • 1
          1

          L M ,

          Spot on .

    • 7
      1

      Hello Tony,
      Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to be infected by Covid 19 early in 2020. by a Chinese woman from Wuhan. “On 27 January, the first confirmed case of the virus was reported in Sri Lanka, a 44-year-old Chinese woman”.
      Kerala also had Covid 19 infection from Wuhan at the same time. This is from a report on one man – “A 23 yr old male medical student studying at the Wuhan University, China” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7530440/
      When all the world was declaring that Burial was safe, Sri Lanka was banning it. You claim “Once knowledge of the virus was gained and vaccines were found to suppress it, everyone was allowed to do their burials as usual”. This is factually untrue. My stepson died of Covid, whilst being treated for Cancer, on the 24th January 2023 in the ICU at Kandy Hospital. No-one was allowed to see him or come anywhere close to his body. The Undertakers took him directly from the Hospital Morgue to the Crematorium in Kossina where the coffin was almost thrown into the Furnace entry. The local Temple were allowed to do a short service at the Crematorium before we dispersed.
      TBC

      • 6
        1

        Continued
        When we first tried to have his body released to the Family for Burial we were told that the law was that all Covid Deaths had to be Cremated. I explained that he had caught Covid in the Hospital Ward around 8 days before he died. The PHI asserted that his PCR test was 6 days before his death and he must be cremated. Despite our arguments with the PHI he insisted. I wanted to call the police to show me this law in writing. My relations dissuaded me from this, saying that I would end up in the Police cells.
        Yes it was discriminatory, even the PHI agreed, calling it Rajapakse’s Law.
        Best regards

        • 7
          0

          LS,
          My elderly father died of covid. Unfortunatly, he had not been vaccinated. I was told that many elderly people had not been vaccinated despite the World Health Organization stating that priority should be given to the elderly when it comes to vaccination.
          Although it was loudly announced that the GOTA vaccination program was done to the best of its ability, I think that it was not done properly either. All that he did was just false advertising to win the hearts of the gallery.

          • 5
            0

            Dear LS,
            I missed my feedback to one of your previous comments where you asked for my kind suggestions. Suddenly I thought that the best thing for you is to collect proper information from your family in Gampola. They should know them correctly, or they can direct you to places where you can pick up the information. The infrastructure issue remains the same for almost another decade or so. It cannot be compared to the West.
            :
            I think, as a retired professional with wide knowledge and expertise in various fields, you can join University of Peradeniya or any other local institution where your knowledge and expertise are in demand (Gampola – a Technical College should be there). It is my wish that you good contacts not to waste your expertise. . My thoughts may be unique as I have never worked in Sri Lanka and nor worked with Sri Lankans in my entire life. Once after getting to know some senior university postdocs/PhDs in Sri Lanka, my positive thoughts to come back and serve our nation were rejected by their evil actions.
            Tbc

            • 4
              0

              cont.
              It is always an asset that you, the genuine souls, impart your experience and knowledge to our youth. I have not lived in the country for the past three decades. So I don’t know the updates despite the fact that it is my home country.. Every time I come to Sri Lanka (1-2 times a year) I am between two cultures. Mostly, I don’t understand why so many of us act so far behind in their knowledge. SINHALA_Man often talks high but wasted his retirement for the last 15 years; this is what I observed all these years. His or similar wasted it again and again. There we lost a lot of knowledge that the youth could use.
              I have a handful of students who regularly contact me, they are undergraduates (science and medicine) who have shared with me that many in Sri Lanka do not think about their productivity. They are often used to pointing fingers at others, but do nothing themselves. So how to develop the country? They don’t care about their time either.

            • 3
              0

              Hello Leelagemalli,
              Thanks for the advice. I am more than willing to help voluntarily with Teaching/Training in IT, Electronics or English. I will let you know how I get on.
              Best regards

          • 2
            0

            Hello Leelagemalli,
            I suspect that I and 3 colleagues were infected very early in 2020 in Qatar. We all had a Flu like infection that laid us low for about 4 days. A couple of weeks later Qatar started to test extensively for Covid. We were all tested (PCR) and found to be negative, but we were never Antigen tested. Subsequently I had 2 Astra Zeneca (UK) and one Pfizer (Sri Lanka) Vaccinations. I am fairly sure that the Vaccinations do not give you full immunity. Most of my Sri Lankan relations and friends only had 2 Vaccinations both Sinopharm. Apparently many vaccines were wasted due to Expiry.
            Best regards

            • 3
              0

              “I am fairly sure that the Vaccinations do not give you full immunity. “
              It depends on your own physiology, biochemistry and genetics, how your own body reacts. I always think that any drug we take, we react more or less to one. Also double research has shown unprecedented results in some clinical trials for unique indications.

              Is being vaccinated better than natural immunity?

              Large, real-world study finds COVID-19 vaccination more effective than natural immunity in protecting against all causes of death, hospitalization and emergency department visits.

              • 2
                0

                Hello Leelagemalli,
                The reason that I said that I was fairly sure was the fact that one of my sisters had a full set of Vaccinations in the UK, but contracted Covid 3 times. The first infection nearly killed her, she was in the ICU for more than a week. The second infection gave her embolisms and the third infection led to a drastic drop in her RBC (Red Blood Cell) count, requiring a transfusion and drug treatment.
                By the way after watching Dr Faucci evading questions on Covid Origins, I would take anything he said with a “pinch of salt”.
                Best regards

    • 5
      0

      Tony
      (or is it Kallathonie convert)

      “Corona came to the Indian subcontinent after some Muslims from the Indian subcontinent went to participate in a conference held in a Muslim country in Southeast Asia.”

      When did you start working for the Hindutvas, RSS, BJP, VHS, ….. or are you the Amit Sha’s man in Sri Lanka? Do you link up with Maravanpulavu Sachi of Northern Sri Lanka for ideological reasons?

  • 5
    1

    RW is a man with zero care firstly for his dignity . And when it comes to dignity ,
    all 225 are hands down holding their pants and Sarongs . Yet , their bells are
    ringing loudest to the whole world but with rusty noise . There’s now no limit
    how much low they can stoop to stay in power , or cling on to . Very unfortunate
    we built a parliament for Jugglers , thinking it would be used by legislatives .
    It was not an apology but hoodwinking the innocent victims . The man thinks ,
    he played it smart and he played it to his donkeys .

  • 0
    0

    Our leaders endorse and approve the Supreme Court’s decision only when it suits them. When they disagree, they want to appoint a Select Committee to delve into the matter more deeply.

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