by Jehan Perera
One of the issues that has created internal division in the country is the cremation of those who have succumbed to the Covid virus. This policy of enforced cremations has been most opposed by the Muslim community for whom burial of the dead is a part of their faith. It has also brought international disapproval to the country. The UN Human Rights Commissioner’s January report on Sri Lanka states that “The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted on religious freedom and exacerbated the prevailing marginalisation and discrimination suffered by the Muslim community. The High Commissioner is concerned that the Government’s decision to mandate cremations for all those affected by COVID-19 has prevented Muslims from practicing their own burial religious rites, and has disproportionately affected religious minorities and exacerbated distress and tensions.”
The shift away from international practices with regard to the burial of Covid victims was initially justified on the basis of science. During the early part of the pandemic ,when less was known about the disease, and more stringent methods were adopted to halt its spread, such as the two-month long 24-hour curfew, practiced in Sri Lanka, there was a real fear that the coronavirus could be spread through dead bodies and water. However, when the practice of burying those who died of Covid internationally began to be better known and scientists worldwide, and in Sri Lanka, began to downplay the significance of water transmission of the virus, Sri Lanka’s unwillingness to change its policy began to take on another dimension.
Among those who most strongly opposed the burial of Covid victims have been nationalist ideologues and religious clerics with a limited knowledge of science. Many of them placed their faith in indigenous cultural practices of producing antidotes to the virus that had no basis in science. These included measures such as putting pots of water, which had been chanted over, into rivers and a concoction of honey and herbs as being efficacious in protecting against infection. There have been some amongst the scientific community itself who have identified with these positions on the grounds of belief in the efficacy of indigenous knowledge. The opposition to burial also took on an anti-Muslim sentiment that had escalated following the Easter Sunday bombings of April 2019.
Over the past 10 months the government has come under pressure from a variety of sources to change its policy with regard to enforced cremation on both political and humanitarian grounds, but to no avail. The main source of pressure has been the Muslim community, within the country and their political representatives. They have been supported by sections of the Christian community to whom burial is the traditional way of farewell to the dead. The human rights organisations in the country and internationally also have made numerous appeals including a campaign of tying white ribbons on burial grounds. A further source of pressure has been the international community with governments of Muslim countries making their own representations to the government.
However, the ramping up of local and international pressure only led the government to harden its stance. It appears that a strategy of the government when it is under pressure is to rally its nationalist voter base. The election winning platform of the government was the need to uphold national sovereignty and not to yield to either international pressure or to the ethnic and religious minorities. The electoral rejection of the leaders of the previous government who were seen as appeasing both the international community and the minorities within the country has been a lesson that has made inroads into the thinking of the main Opposition parties who have been cautious in the positions they take on controversial issues. However, when Sajith Premadasa, the main Opposition leader, led a protest against enforced cremations which was also attended by civil society groups, the prospects of a bipartisan approach to resolving the problem became possible.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s declaration in Parliament last week that burials would be permitted even in the case of Covid victims was welcomed both locally and internationally and has not been politicized by the opposition parties. Ironically, the prime minister’s statement has been contested within the government and not been immediately operationalized. A ruling party parliamentarian had the audacity to say that the prime minister was referring to burials in general and not to Covid burials in particular. The Minister of Health has announced that the matter still needs to be assessed by a committee of experts prior to a final decision being taken. The problem is that different committees of experts have been coming to different conclusions depending on the degree of nationalism they espouse.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is reported to have informed ambassadors of Western countries who met him that the political decision regarding Covid burials had been taken and what remains is to implement the decision through the Health Ministry. The President is trying to find his way amongst contending powerful forces. The fact that the mainstream Opposition parties are also supportive of following the WHO guidelines with regard to the option of burials would be reassuring to the government that this matter would not be politicised to its disadvantage. The problem that the government faces would be confined to an internal one which can more easily be resolved as it is in the self-interest of government members to come to a unified position on this issues.
The manner in which the Covid burial issue is being addressed suggests the way forward with regard to the issue of the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Sri Lanka has been at the receiving end of a very strong report b the UN Human Rights Commissioner which recommends that a variety of punitive sanctions be utilized against the government leaders and those accused of human rights violations. It warns of the accelerating militarization of civilian governmental functions, reversal of important constitutional safeguards, political obstruction of accountability, intimidation of civil society, and the use of anti-terrorism laws. The report also has several recommendations to the Sri Lankan government. Addressing the issue of the UN report and the recommendations it makes needs to be seen as a national issue in which the government and opposition work together without politicizing the issue for their own partisan advantage.
The issues being canvassed in Geneva are primarily about matters that concern the people of Sri Lanka. The recent march by Tamil and Muslim political parties and civil society groups from east to north highlighted issues such as the takeover of land, settling of Sinhalese and construction of Buddhist temples, the neglect of families of the missing, stopping memorials to the dead, and problems faced by cattle farmers. These are matters that are in the interests of all Sri Lankans to peacefully resolve regardless of their communities and political affiliations. Just as the Opposition leadership has given its support to the practice of WHO guidelines for the disposal of Covid bodies it needs to give its support to the resolution of these issues of the past and the present. If the government and Opposition leaderships are united in their resolve to address the grievances of the ethnic and religious minorities we can be assured that the international community will seek to support Sri Lanka rather than to engage in punitive measures.
Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric
Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.
For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.
As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.
This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.
Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.
On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.
Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.
However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.
For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.
However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.
The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.
The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.
Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.
Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.
The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.
However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.
As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.
Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers
Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.
At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.
The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.
The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.
Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.
She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.
The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:
a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.
who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”
Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya
has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.
According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.
A mask of DATES…
Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.
Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing
To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.
Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.
After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.
Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.
Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.
Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.
After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.
After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.
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