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Unrealities of call for Covid-related burials

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London protester’s carrion call

By ROHANA R. WASALA

Jehan Perera has proffered unsolicited advice to the government (‘Religious clergy take stand for religious right to burial’/The Island/December 29, 2020) seeking to force its capitulation to foreign interventionist forces, through false propaganda. The same article appeared simultaneously on the organization’s website under the title: ‘Government to take a stand for religious right to burial’. The charge implied by this title (i.e., indecisiveness in allowing burial of Corona-dead Muslims) against the government is baseless.

It was in March (nine months ago) if my memory doesn’t fail me, that the Director of Health Services (DHS), the duly appointed Competent Authority in the Covid-19 containment situation, issued a special gazette notification decreeing that bodies of persons who die of the disease be cremated. That decision was taken by the Competent Authority based on the advice of experts, not directly by the government which had delegated the power to do so to that official. Muslims’ (or anyone else’s for that matter) right to burial has never been denied, and is not being challenged in any way. But that right cannot be exercised in this national emergency. It is only because of the strict health guidelines laid down on a cold scientific basis that cremation has been made mandatory.

Religious sentiments are common to all. Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, and others are also affected by the same painful restrictions in the performance of religious rituals, and in the choice of the proper mode of disposal of the bodies of their near and dear ones dead from the corona infection. If our local experts say there is no alternative to cremating bodies to prevent the virus from contaminating the soil or the water resources of the country, then that has to be accepted in the best interest of all. The WHO periodically issues certain broad health guidelines, but common sense tells us that they need to be adapted to suit the specific local conditions that exist in each country. It is absolutely wrong to cry out to the world that the government is trampling on the right of Muslims to bury their dead.

The government is not neglecting its duty out of a sense of complacency (‘a kind of self-satisfaction’) as JP seems to suggest. Only those without an iota of humane concern for the wellbeing of all Sri Lankans, can discount or totally ignore the prodigious amount of work that our health workers and the security personnel (the latter looking after the logistics aspect of the massive operation) do, and the tremendous personal sacrifices they make in helping the nation to survive the catastrophic corona pandemic. If the present administration was as dysfunctional as the cursed yahapalanaya that JP supported, could this sort of efficient mobilization of the nation be realized? There is no need for me to refute his false allegations of delays in decision making regarding the artificial burial-cremation issue or in ordering suitable vaccines (several of which, globally, are still being tested); the government has already taken the necessary steps in obtaining them at the earliest possible.

JP drags in the (recent Mahara) ‘prison riots’ in order to highlight them as ‘a harbinger of what can happen in the larger society, if a large section of the people feel they are being trapped and marginalized to suffer the consequences’. The implied allegation that Muslims (because the prison population cannot be described as ‘a large section of the people’) ‘are being trapped and marginalized’ is entirely baseless. There is congestion in prisons. That is a longstanding problem that must be fixed. The incidents are under investigation. JP’s concern is not with the welfare of the prisoners (most of them drug addicts under detention) or the difficulties the prison and security forces personnel experience in dealing with groups of drugged inmates fighting among themselves, while others were trying to break the gates to escape.

He asserts that ‘among these worst affected sections of the population, it appears that the Muslim community has been disproportionately affected by the Covid infection’, thereby falsely suggesting that, like the prison population, the Muslims are being confined to cramped conditions, enabling the rapid spread of the deadly infection. JP who knows how abominably some innocent but ill-informed and irresponsible Muslims behaved towards the health workers who were doing their level best to help them, while taking the risk of exposing themselves and their loved ones back home to the virus through contact transmission. Ten times more non-Muslims also live in congested areas, not out of choice, but for lack of better places to live (in spite of the fact that Muslims, according to JP’s opinion, as a traditionally trading community, tend to live more in urban settings than the Sinhalese and Tamils, being basically agrarian communities, who possess lands and live in more spacious environments).

But JP goes on to distort facts to project the few deliberately non-cooperative Muslims as victims of alleged governmental insensitivity to their religious feelings: ‘They are afraid that if they are confirmed as Covid patients, both they and their relatives will be at risk of being forcibly cremated if they fail to recover from the coronavirus infection, which goes against fundamental Islamic tenets.’ Won’t these Muslims listen to reason, if their educated leaders explain to them that if cremation is what the health authorities order in this hopefully temporary situation, that is the law, and that it must be obeyed without questioning.

The dangerous implication of what JP writes is not hard to guess: at least some Muslims may try to hide Covid patients and deaths from the authorities, and put paid to all the latter’s endeavours to contain the spread of the virulent virus. JP even refers to the Minister of Justice having raised concerns about mandatory cremation of bodies of Muslims who have died of Covid-19. In this situation sensible people listen to doctors and scientists, rather than politicians. The local experts who know what is best for Sri Lanka in the current situation say that cremation guarantees the total destruction of the virus, and that burial doesn’t, and that therefore the first (cremation) is the only option for the country.

JP tries to bolster his arguments by quoting BBS General Secretary Ven. Galabodaaththe Gnanasara Thera: ‘The fact that the religious belief of the Muslim community is being violated has led the leader of the nationalist Bodhu Bala Sena, the Buddhist prelate Ven Galagodaaththe Gnanasara to speak up for the religious right of the Muslims to be buried even in cases of Covid deaths.’ JP butters him up as a ‘Buddhist prelate’; the monk is no prelate (no Nayake); he is just an ordinary monk, who has nevertheless achieved some success in waking up the Nayake monks at least to a sitting up position, prising open their eyes to the existential threats currently posed by religious fundamentalists of both varieties to the Buddha Sasana. Originally, he was vehemently against burial, because that is contrary to expert advice and is in contravention of the DHS’s ruling.

As a Buddhist monk he is suggesting this out of compassion for innocent Muslims who are upset (out of ignorance) about having, for this while, to burn the bodies of their relatives dead from corona. He must be thinking of some way to stop Islamic religious extremists from gaining a firmer foothold within the Muslim polity by exploiting this highly sensitive burial issue. Ven. Gnanasara, remained apolitical, whatever critics might say, until Ven. Ratana’s fast in Sri Dalada Maligawa precincts, something that the Most Ven. Mahanayakes censured in no uncertain terms, and Ven Gnanasara himself criticised. The BBS secretary may be launching a preemptive strike at Ven. Ratana, who is going to parliament as the national list MP from the AJBP.

About a fortnight ago, Ven. Gnanasara told the media how NGOs were creating global hatred and ill-will against Buddhist monks, based on the false allegation that it was they who were demanding the cremation of bodies of Muslim dead, out of spite. In a video of a protest rally held in London on December 13, 2020 against Sri Lanka’s (health-authorities-imposed) Corona-related temporary burial ban, a female demonstrator, speaking in Sinhala, is heard loudly demanding that our President should reject offhand what she mocks as the ‘legal advice of the bald-headed uncles dressed in yellow robes’ (sivuru porawagath thatta mamalage neethi upades piliganta epa). BBS General Secretary Ven. Gnanasara Thera played a fragment of the woman’s denunciatory harangue containing this remark from his phone at a short news briefing on December 22, 2020. The phrase ‘thatta mamala’ is an utterly disrespectful way to refer to Buddhist monks that only an ignorant insensitive uncultured person could use. It is deeply offensive to all Buddhists, especially to Sinhalese Buddhists, who treat monks with reverence whatever criticisms are justly or unjustly made about them. Obviously, the woman is an uncouth non-Buddhist Sinhala speaker. She says: ‘We don’t want any religious frictions. We want to live in peace, without having to burn our children, these people, like animals. Mr President, please (mediate in this matter and) arrange for us to bury (our dead). We have no use for the yellow-robed thatta uncles’ advice’. She hardly conceals her callous disregard of the feelings of fellow Sri Lankans who make no issue of cremating their dead relatives in the present circumstances in the interest of public health.

The monks have repeatedly made it clear that they, like the rest of the people of Sri Lanka and the government, are not concerned about whether dead bodies are buried or cremated, or about whether one method is of greater merit than the other, except that in the deadly Corona pandemic situation, the mode of disposal of corpses of Corona dead should be done according to the strict instructions of the authorised health experts, who, invariably take into consideration the global guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO). The wording of the WHO guidelines shows that they are not expected to be followed blindly by every country; they need to be modified primarily to suit the local physical conditions, and only secondarily to the religious sensitivities of the people. It is common sense that religious sensitivities are common to all communities, and that these must be inter-communally respected without discrimination.

Anti-Sri Lanka agents abroad and anti-national forces at home have launched a carefully calculated propaganda blitzkrieg whose barely concealed target is the present government, although it is overtly based on the false allegation that Buddhist monks are demanding the cremation of bodies of Muslims who have died of Covid-19 spitefully disregarding their surviving relatives’ religious sensitivities. Nothing is further from the truth than this charge against Buddhist monks.



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Opinion

MPs can show their colours

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I refer to this article, ‘Covid bonanza for….’ by Shamnidra Ferdinando.

It was obvious that the LC could not easily be cancelled. It will be interesting to know when the LC was actually opened; before or after Cabinet approval? The answer will be revealing.

Now that the vehicles will come in, come hell or high water with burning ships, there is a simple solution.

If the government is sincere in its intentions to reverse this totally unnecessary expenditure, which the country cannot afford,  scraping the bottom of the vangediya as it is, then the vehicles can be sold in the open market, in a transparent manner and at a profit, too, and the wasted  funds reimbursed to the Treasury. Personally, I know this will not happen, seeing what we are helplessly seeing being enacted in the country yesterday, today and alarmingly, tomorrow, too.

The next best option is for those MPs who oppose this criminal waste of public funds, to work out a method by which they can sell the vehicles presented to them by the starving masses, in a transparent manner and utilise the proceeds again in a transparent manner to uplift the lives of the millions of poor citizens in their electorates.

ACabinet given opportunity for Members of Parliament to show their true, even if highly faded and smudged, colours!

 

CITIZEN FERNANDO

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Opinion

Gazette Bill in blatant conflict with Constitution

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The Colombo Port City Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Bill had been gazetted on March 24 after Cabinet approval, and placed in the order paper of Parliament on April 9. Normally, before placing a Bill on the order paper of the Parliament, it goes through the levels of the Legal Draftsman, Attorney General, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet of Ministers.

According to a news item that appeared in the Daily News, on April 27, the Attorney General has informed the Presidential Secretary that the Port City Economic Commission Draft Bill is not inconsistent with the Constitution. But the same Attorney General has advanced the submissions and amendments in court, during the hearing of 18 petitions filed by members of civil society alleging the Bill is inconsistent with the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has found more than one third of its clauses are conflicting with the Constitution – the supreme law of Sri Lanka. Thus, it has been proved the Gazette Bill was in blatant conflict with the Constitution.

High officials of the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General and the Legal Draftsman who are supposed to have been involved in the drafting of this Bill are professionals of recognized capability. They are committed to follow the best practices of their professions and should adhere to standards in procedural manuals and professional codes of conduct and ethics. They are bound by the oath taken by them in line with the Constitution and the accountability of the offices they hold. They also would have been supported by several legal eagles and experienced politicians in the Cabinet.

Citizens are confused as to how on earth such a Bill, in blatant conflict with the Constitution, could have been approved by the Attorney General and be drafted by the Legal Draftsman. 149 Members of Parliament have voted to amend 26 clauses of 75 clauses of the Legal Draftsman’s Bill. This is tantamount to a No Confidence Motion on the Legal Draftsman.

JUSTIN KEPPETIYAGAMA

jdkgama02@gmail.com

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Opinion

Probe into expressway construction and floods

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The news item appearing in your issue of 10th June, regarding the Expressway Construction and Floods, is of interest to me, as I had handled Road Projects when attached to the then Department of Public Works [PWD] and later the Ministry for Highways.

It’s stated that Minister Johnston Fernando had instructed his Ministry Secretary to investigate immediately, whether there was any truth in the claim that some areas in Gampaha were inundated owing to the construction work, in the first phase of the Central Expressway, from Kadawatha to Mirigama; and continues to say ‘Yahapalana adjustments to the construction master plan may have lead to the present situation’, which could be insinuated as placing the blame on the previous Yahapalana government. This is the usual blame-game adopted by bankrupt politicians. It will not be surprising if the present government will be blamed when a new government is formed, for mismanagement of projects carried out now.

As far as I know, while construction is on, there comes up certain problems, which may necessitate altering or deviating from the original design. Hence the responsibility lies entirely on the Engineer, and not on any politician or government in power. Here the integrity of the Engineer counts. Sad to say, there have been accusations where professionals have given way to political pressure and projects have become failures. I would like to quote Moeller’s theory “One of the major reasons for a country to be subjected to bad governance is when its professionals do not speak out, but worst still, these professionals actually gang up with those committing anarchy for their own benefit. What the professionals do not realize is that in the long term, they too would be subjected to the worst treatment by these despotic dictators whom they were keen to protect. Moeller’s theory being proved time and again consorting with an autocratic regime is a worst act of treason against one’s own country and its people”

To the credit of Minister Johnston Fernando, he also mentions the likelihood of this flooding by saying “We must keep in mind that the highest rainfall in the known history was reported from this area”. Whatever, the findings of the investigations be, the accusation should be taken as fault finding of Engineers, and they should now come forward to protect their prestigious profession and give reasons, which lay, incompetent politicians, do not have the capacity to understand. Hope the Sri Lanka Institute of Engineers will expose the viles of politicians to steer this country in the correct direction. This goes for other professions as well.

G. A. D. SIRIMAL

Boralesgamuwa

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