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Remembering Batty Weerakoon

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The first anniversary of the passing away of Richard (Batty) Weerakoon, who was Batty to all those who came to know him, falls on October 7th. He had a varied career as a political activist who rose to the position of the General Secretary of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, lawyer who rose to the position of one of the leading lawyers of our time and creative writer with a collection of serious writings to his credit He studied at Trinity College, Kandy, and was a contemporary of Lakshman Kadiragamar, who was a life-long friend of his. He entered the University of Ceylon, in 1952, and there he was elected as the President of the Student’s Council in 1955. He read English under Prof. Ludowyke at Peradeniya. He was committed to left politics and well-known for leading the University students on the historic March from the Peradeniya campus on Harthal day in August 1953; it ended in a clash with the police at the entrance to the university. He was Minister of Science and Technology and Minister of Justice and Ethnic Affairs in the Chandrika Kumaratunge Cabinet.

The biggest achievement he was proud of was to have successfully led the Ceylon Federation of Labour, which was the largest Trade Union Federation at the height of Trade Unionism in our country for long years

Batty, born on the 20th of January 1932, at Mathale to a well-known respected Kandyan family in Tenne with a conservative background took to left politics at a very young age, and this shows how attractive and respected the left movement was at that time. After he left the university he joined the LSSP and was closely associated with left stalwarts of the time like NM, Colvin, Leslie, Doric de Sousa and Bernard Soysa. In fact, he served for sometime as Private Secretary to NM when the latter was the leader of the Opposition in the 1956 Parliament. He passed out as an Advocate of the Supreme Court and had the privilege of studying under Colvin R de Silva, and this opened up his life to professional greatness. But Batty was essentially a left activist. As Minister of Science and Technology he fought against the sale of Eppawala Phosphate Deposit to foreigners and campaigned the protection of natural resources and the environment.

His Prof. G. F C. Ludowyke memorial lecture in May 2003 at the Peradeniya University stunned many academics at his incisive understanding of English Literature. He specially mentioned with deep gratitude that it was Prof. Ludowyk in his first year helped him discover in himself the talent to write imaginatively. He remembered with joy the occasion when he was offered by Prof. Ludowyk the prize to the student who could best turnout a story and how that prize had introduced him to the pleasing engagement to story writing. In spite of his busy life as a left activist, trade unionist and lawyer, story writing he did and published several well studied books such as ‘Sinhala Jathaka Stories ‘(1974), ‘Sri Lanka Mythology’ (1985), ‘Mythology and the Early Aryan State ‘(1998), ‘Elephant Kraal and Other Stories ‘(1990), ‘Alexander Solzhenitsyn – Soldier, Prisoner and writer ‘ (1072), ‘ Kusumasana Devi as Dona Cathrina of Three Sinhale.’ (2013). He also authored a book, “Sri Lankan Labour Legislation.”

Batty put out numerous booklets on political issues relevant to the time . These are available for reference at the Dr. N. M. Perera Memorial Library.

His deep insight into Sri Lanka’s mythology is evident in the dedication of his book on the subject to his grandfather; he says, “My paternal grandfather, born in Aluwihara, bought to me a representative of the last generation on which the old traditions had as yet been relevant, Bernard Soysa, having looked at the book, told me that I have written about my ancestors meaning the Yaksas. That I think is a relevant comment because one can regard the Yaksas as a people who passed on to us a large part -if not all of our indigenous mythology. In cultures that is transfered downwards done by ancestors who in the Vedda language are called Nae-Yakas. Theravada Buddhism did not seek to incorporate it unlike what Hinduism did to the Mythologies especially of the Indian peninsula. Our Mythology was thus preserved in tact for us. It is the language of a people and I found that it was there for me.”

One salient feature of Batty’s illustrious life that touched me was that he did not go after cheap popularity. He stood by principles even at the most adverse circumstances. When I met him in his last days when he was bedridden I saw that his main concern was about the deteriorating political situation in the country and in no uncertain terms expressed his dismay at the politics of today and the plight of the underprivileged and the working class for whose rights he had fought throughout his life.

He was a Buddhist in his way of life and his philosophy of life. May he attain Nirvana!

Lal Wijenayake

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Opinion

SOFA: The reality in Iran under the Shah?

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In 1964, Iran under Shah Reza Pahlavi, signed SOFA with the USA. Earlier his father Reza Shah had in 1928 abolished capitulations and judicial immunities to Westerners in Iran.

The amount Iran got then was US $ 200 million. SOFA was opposed by many as it reminded them of the time when Westerners in Iran could not be punished by the ‘terrible’ native courts. Leading the opposition was Ayatollah Khomeini, who called it an agreement for enslavement, and called for the overthrow of the Government. As the Shah would brook no opposition, Khomeini was expelled. He was to come back in 1979 and take over the leadership of Iran. The Shah had fled.

At one time the USA considered Iran as an invaluable ally. The US preferred Iran to Saudi Arabia for the security of the Persian Gulf. Iran was bigger, had a far bigger population and more military clout. It had used its vast wealth to buy US planes and weapons, especially after the 1973 oil spike. The US knew how the Shah used his dreaded secret police, SAVAK, to crush opposition, but chose to overlook it. They appeared not to have lecturers in Human Rights then, especially for their close friends. The war in Vietnam was coming to its bloody end.

When the protests by the Islamist clerics, bazarees, village tribals, students and leftists became more violent, the US, hedging its bets, did little to protect the Shah, despite its close relationship with him. He backed the US on Vietnam. To the credit of the Shah, whatever advice he was given by the US/UK, he refused to sanction the use of the Army to quell the protests.

SOFA is in force in NATO, South Korea and Japan. The latter two countries have very many objections to many clauses in SOFA, as US troops have been accused of many grave crimes and got away with them.

This is how Iran, ’the brightest spot in the Middle East’ (Lyndon Johnson) viewed SOFA which granted diplomatic privileges and immunities to members of the US administration and technical staff, guided by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations (1961). However the USA selectively rejects Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

‘By it (SOFA) an American non-commissioned officer (Sergeant) could slap the face of an Iranian Colonel with impunity’.

Khomeini said ‘the dignity and of the Iranian Army will be trampled underfoot by some American servant. An American cook can assassinate a girl in the middle of the bazaar or crush her underfoot but the Iranian police may not interfere’.

‘Even if the Shah himself were to run over a dog belonging to an American, he could be prosecuted. But if an American cook runs over the Shah, the Head of State, no one will have the right to interfere’.

However for honour’s sake will that prevent someone from punching an occupier in the mouth? Will a curfew be declared?

It is said that SOFA differs from military occupation. What comfort does that give?

 

A. PATABENDIGE

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Burial or cremation? Muslims remain in a Covid quandary

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By Dr M. HARIS DEEN

The second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic and the extent of its spread worldwide, has left the Muslims of Sri Lanka in a serious quandary. To bury or cremate? That is the question. As far as the Muslims are concerned, the Sri Lankan government does not seem to give in. At first, what appeared to be a genuine cause, now clearly appears to be motivated by discrimination. Despite the advice of the WHO, several local organisations, representation by eminent professors of medicine, several distinguished ulemas, who diminished the argument that the water table issue as a fallacy, the Sri Lankan government stays unmoved on the issue of cremation against burial.

Article 3 of the Sri Lankan constitution states that “In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise.”

Relevant to my arguments are what is stated in Article 4 of the constitution, to wit:

Article 4 – The Sovereignty of the People shall be exercised and enjoyed in the following manner:

(c) the judicial power of the People shall be exercised by Parliament through courts, tribunals and institutions created and established by law, except in regards to matters relating to privileges, immunities and powers of Parliament and of its Members, wherein the judicial Power of the People may be exercised by Parliament according to law.

(d) the fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognised shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied save, in the manner and to the extent provided,

Article 10 – Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to adopt a religion or belief of his choice,

Article 11 – No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel or degrading treatment or punishment.

One will see from the above cited Articles of the Sri Lankan constitution that the sovereignty is in the hands of the people, unlike in Britain and most other civil law countries, where the sovereignty is vested in the parliament and legislation passed by parliament cannot be challenged, although there is judicial review as to execution of the law but not the law itself.

Therefore, I submit that the Sri Lankan Parliament did not have the People’s mandate to present the “The Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance” (Chapter 222) on 11th April 2020. The contents of the Bill had not been presented as a “White” paper for discussion by all communities. Hence, it is a “bolt from the blues” for those who seek a dignified end to them or their loved ones. It is further submitted that the fundamental rights of not only the Muslims, but also of every citizen of Sri Lanka who wish to be given dignity to their last rights, has been denied. Furthermore, the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 10 have been infringed against the guarantees contained in Article 4 paragraph (d) of the constitution. In my opinion, this Bill could have been challenged in courts by invoking Article 4 (c) of the constitution, in which I believe there is adequate ground for a judicial review.

That is as far as the law is concerned. What about the position of the Muslims vis-a-vis what the Qur’an and the Ahadith say about the dignified treatment of dead persons.

“O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination”. (4:59)

I have researched and discussed with Islamic scholars on the issue. Allah in His absolute wisdom says in the Qur’an that death is inevitable and no matter how people try to escape death it will reach everyone (50:19), also “every soul shall taste death and only on the day of judgement you will be paid your full recompense on the day of your rising. Anyone who is distanced from the fire and admitted to the garden has triumphed . The life of this world is only enjoyment of delusion” (3:185). This is the only place where “death” and “fire” have been related as a punishment to be distanced from.

Allah’s book is for every situation rather than any situation, hence Allah in His absolute mercy refrained from committing His faithful from committing to any particular obligations as death can happen anywhere under any circumstance “No self knows what it will earn tomorrow and no self knows in what land it will die.” (31:33; 31:34). However, Allah showed the son of Adam, Cain what he should do when he killed his brother Abel, during a dispute between them. Allah sent a raven which dug the ground with its beak and feet and buried another dead raven and closed the “grave” “so that he might show him how he should cover his brother’s dead body,” (05: 31). Therefore, it is evident that Allah promoted burial as a dignified manner to respect the dead under all circumstances.

The Prophet (Peace and Salutations upon him) encouraged haste in burial of the deceased. This includes the entire process from ghusl to burial, but in particular it refers to carrying the body of the deceased from the Janaaza to the burial. Abu Hurayrah narrates that the Prophet (Peace and Salutations be upon him) said: “Hasten with the Janaza. If it was a righteous person, then you are forwarding it to its bliss, and if it was other than that (not righteous), then you will remove this burden from your necks.” [Reported by al-Bukhari (volume 2, hadith 401) and Muslim (volume 2, hadith 2059)].

Death and human dignity – Humanitarian Forensics under Islamic Law

In many civilizations, traditions and religions—both ancient and modern—death is a mere transitional phase between one stage of life and another. Burying the dead is one way to ensure that the dead are accorded dignity and respect, and that the feelings of their living loved ones are considered. Throughout history, religions, traditions and cultural practices have influenced the ways in which the dead are managed, both in times of peace and conflict. Today, they continue to do so.

In Islam, human dignity is a right given by God to all humans—who are referred to in the Qur’ān as God’s vicegerents on earth. Islam grants certain rights to humans before they are even born, and others after their death. Whether dead or alive, the human body—created by God in the perfect shape—must be given dignity and respect. This importance of the human body is illustrated, for instance, in the Qur’ān 5:31. There, it is narrated that when Cain was unsure of how to deal with the body of his brother Abel—whom he had murdered—God sent a message in the form of a raven. God used the raven to dig into the ground to bury another raven, thus indirectly showing Cain how to bury his brother’s body.

Faced with the difficulties of ensuring the dignified burial of the dead in the context of armed conflicts and other situations of violence and natural disasters, classical Muslim jurists developed Islamic laws to deal with the challenge. These laws aim to respect the dignity of the dead and respect the feelings of their loved ones to the degree possible. The dignity of the dead surfaced in the discussions of the classical Muslim jurists on a number of issues. Some of the most significant of which, for our purposes here, are: searching for and collecting the dead, disposal of Muslim and non-Muslim mortal remains, quick burial, exhumation of human remains and burial at sea.

Before delving into these issues, it is worth noting that Islamic law at times combines purely legal rules with religious and/or ethical matters. This is the case as well with the management of the dead. For instance, burial and grave regulations are deliberated in the Islamic legal literature, along with the etiquette of visiting graves. Combining legal and ethical elements is an important characteristic of Islamic law that helps keep it alive. It helps ensure that Muslims voluntarily impose such rules upon themselves, and that they keep practicing even with regard to aspects that are not codified in Muslim States’ legal systems, and over which courts have no jurisdiction. This nature of Islamic law points to the impact Islamic law can have in influencing societal behaviour. Understanding these Islamic rules can help guide humanitarian forensic specialists to overcome challenges they face by respecting the religious needs of Muslim societies, when they work in Muslim contexts. It is a way to show that respecting the dead is the common overriding concern of both their forensic work and Islamic law. (Dawoodi, A. A – 2018 – Humanitarian Law and Policy).

In my capacity as a lay person, I have put my knowledge before Islamic lawyers and parliamentarians and the Ulema to take up the case of the illegality of imposing “The Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance” (Chapter 222) not only on Muslims but those of any faith, who do not want themselves cremated and request a dignified burial. It is not as yet too late, I am sure the government will listen to reason, when approached in the proper way. There is evidence that the reason given by the authorities of groundwater contamination is not proven.

In a web article posted on 19.05.2020 The Fast Company newsletter (accessed 27/10/2020) states inter alia as follows:

“Microbial and chemical contamination can also occur in cemeteries as a result of unmanaged, untreated and incorrectly sited sanitation services, solid waste, and wastewater, which allows for the flow of microorganisms and contaminants into cemeteries.

In general, bodies that are treated and buried in correctly sited and constructed cemeteries do not pose a threat to public health and are not a source of pollution. The WHO guidelines clearly stipulate that to date, there has been no evidence to suggest that individuals have become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who have died from Covid-19.

If conducted according to the usual recommended health and safety practices, choosing to bury or cremate a person who has passed away from Covid-19 should pose no additional risk to the environment or the people. However, in South Africa, based on the nation’s known religious and cultural practices around death as well as the lack of sufficient crematoriums, Covid-19 victims are highly likely to be buried in cemeteries. South Africa also has serious issues with access to land in metropolitan and rural areas. As a result, conservation and residential developments take precedence over cemeteries because they are not considered sustainable.

However, when sited properly and according to sound scientific judgement, cemeteries should protect surface water and groundwater from contamination regardless of the cause of death. Provided that the capacity of the cemetery is not breached, the placement and design of the cemetery should have a built-in resilience to supply enough time for the attenuation of contaminants on-site. In some instances, poorly sited cemeteries may be at higher risk.

To date there have been no reported cases of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 (officially known as SARS-CoV-2 ) being detected in drinking water in either private boreholes or public drinking water systems coming from cemeteries. This can be related to the travel time that SARS-Cov-2 will need in order to remain infective.

So far, SARS-CoV-2 does not have a high level of persistence in the environment, due to it being an enveloped virus and can be eliminated effectively by water treatment, especially chlorination, and would pose a minimal risk to drinking water. As the outbreak continues, and in the unlikely event that more people succumb to Covid-19; particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, more water-quality and hydrogeological (laboratory and pilot scale) experiments are needed before major conclusions can be drawn on their fate and the way they are transported in cemetery environments.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com

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Dangers of Pompeo and pandemic

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On May 3rd 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told ABC News that there was “enormous evidence” to prove that the Covid-19 virus had come from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, but did not reveal the enormous evidence or even a little of it. He comes to Sri Lanka perhaps bearing gifts like the MCC and SOFA. This is a clear case of “Greeks who come bearing gifts” and we have to be careful. Will he tell our leaders that the Covid which is raging in our country at present was introduced to Sri Lanka by China. and point to the fact that the first person detected with the infection was a Chinese, which is enormous evidence. The USA has no scruples regarding ethics or common decency when it comes to pushing its global agenda. They would want to stop Chinese developing their wheel of influence in the world, and Sri Lanka is an irreplaceable cog in that wheel.

The Covid conspiracy theory was first mooted by The Washington Times, which on January 26th 2020 claimed, “Corona virus may have originated in a laboratory linked to China’s bio warfare programme”. President Trump and Pompeo latched on to this idea, and started to issue statements in a desperate attempt to place the blame on China and escape the wrath of the people for the rampaging viral infection in the US and its total mismanagement. On April 18th 2020, Trump during a White House briefing said that the US was looking into the claim that the virus spread from a laboratory in China, which made “sense”. He did not produce any evidence to support his assertion that the idea made sense.

On February 18th, 27 prominent scientists outside China issued a statement in The Lancet which “condemned the conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin”, and pointed out that research “overwhelmingly concludes that Coronavirus originate in wildlife”. Further, five prominent scientists said in the Nature Medicine on March 17th that “we do not believe any type of laboratory-based scenario is possible” . Dr. Fauci, participating in the White House briefing where Trump accused China of conspiracy, said that mutations detected in the Covid virus were totally consistent with the theory that the virus jumped from an animal to human. These opinions made Washington Times to retract its earlier preposterous claim and say that there is no evidence to support a theory that the virus was man-made.

However, all this evidence did not dissuade Trump and Pompeo from making wild allegations against China, and the president called the Covid the “Chinese Virus”. The New York Times reported on April 30th that the Secretary of State Pompeo has pushed US spy agencies to dig up evidence to link a laboratory in China to the origin of the virus. This was in spite of the Inspector General of Intelligence Community reporting on 30th April that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made. And on the same day Trump states that there is “a high degree of confidence” in the theory that the origin of the Covid-19 was linked to a lab in Wuhan, China. And on May 3rd Pompeo told ABC News that there was “enormous evidence” to prove that Covid came from a lab in Wuhan, without producing any of that evidence. However on May 6th he hedges and says “we don’t have certainty” but “there is significant evidence”.

Could a small country like Sri Lanka have any confidence in people like Pompeo, who promises to look after our country and protect it from big powers, which are intent on getting us into debt traps? He is the chairman of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the controversial global aid agency. This agency has two areas of interest, land and transport, irrespective of the country or its needs. Several countries in Africa and Asia have terminated their agreements with Pompeo’s agency, after finding out the adverse effects it had on the sovereignty and independence of their country.

 

N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA

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