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.
Norochcholai Power, and the Rajapaksa reality
The CEB Chairman’s claim that Sri Lanka would have been facing daily power cuts if not for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s initiative to build the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant prompted this comment. Credit should be given to those who deserve. Let’s see how the Norochcholai project came into being.
According to the Long Term Least Cost Generation Plan of the CEB, a coal plant was to be commissioned in the year 2000. However, all governments refused to grant approval due to an objection by the then Bishop of Chilaw, saying it would have adverse effects on the Holy Shrine – St. Anne’s at Talawila, 13 km away from Norochcholai; despite the fact that local and foreign experts allayed the fears of Bishop and those who supported him.
The weak governments fearing loss of Catholic votes, (Chilaw and the western coastal belt having a significant Catholic population) did not take a political decision. It must be stated that the CEB Engineers Trade Union, carried out a vigorous campaign to educate the masses by holding a series of seminars, and panel discussions over the electronic media. The Sri Lanka Institute of Engineers, – Electrical Division, headed by Engr. B. R. O. Fernando-held a very successful convincing seminar where Industrialists, Mercantile Organizations and domestic consumers were present. At this seminar, papers were presented by eminent electrical engineers — to name a couple, Dr. P. N. Fernando, who retired from ADB, Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya, and yours truly too, handed over a letter to Karu Jayasuriya, the then Minister for Power and Energy, the chief guest. With much expectations we waited for a favourable response but to our utter dismay and disappointment, he wrote back to say it cannot be allowed as a policy matter.
By that time, the country faced a six-hour power cut and the situation was grave. Undeterred, the CEB engineers carried out a relentless campaign. The press too supported and the then Editor of The Island, Gamani Weerakoon, in a hard-hitting editorial, had this to say,’ if political leaders cannot take decisions in national interests, they are not fit to be leaders’.
At the general elections, held in 2005, the UNP government was defeated, mainly on this issue, and the SLFP formed the government, with Mahinda Rajapaksa as President, and Susil Premajayantha appointed Minister for Power and Energy. The CEBU and others went on pushing the new minister, to the wall, so to say, and it came to a climax that Minister Premajayantha, had no other alternative but threaten to resign his portfolio unless Cabinet approval was granted to go ahead with the Norochcholai 3×300 Mw. Project. At last, it was granted, but by that time it was too late to call for worldwide tenders, and the government had to call countries to come to its rescue. It is here that China came in with a proposal to fund and construct.
If timely action was taken by governments, since 2000, to approve the project, worldwide tenders could have been called and selected the best, state-of-the-art coal plant which would have relieved us for the constant break-down plant put up by Chinese, gaining the jocular term ‘Always break down’ as it is well known, the first plant was a refurbished one, which yet gives unsatisfactory service.
It will be seen from the above that it is not MR who should get the credit, although the approval was given by his government, as President, but the CEB engineers, and those of the public, the press – especially The Island – for having a rather steady supply of electricity today.
The Chairman CEB Vijitha Herath could be excused for giving credit to MR without knowing the facts, and at the same time as present-day public servants are political appointees, for their existence, boot-lick, say and act giving praise to those who do not deserve. Do not forget MR, too, was in the Chandrika Bandaranaike government as a cabinet minister when this subject was the hot topic then. I must honestly and sincerely state this is not to discredit MR but to state facts.
While on the subject of Coal Power Generation, the present Minister for Power, Dallas Alahapperuma should forthwith undertake the construction of the 4th additional coal plant at Norochcholai, not as a joint-venture, but one operated by the CEB as desired by the CEB engineers; and also take immediate steps to undertake the construction of the coal plant at Sampur, to make CEB a profitable state venture, as coal generation is much cheaper, while at the same time encouraging renewable sources of energy though expensive.
Having written about the history of the Coal Plant at Norochcholai, let me turn to the sordid history of this LNG plant, which was ceremonially inaugurated. Tenders for this plant were called for, as far back as four years as far as I could remember, and the lowest tenderer was the local Lakdhavani, which the tender board recommended for acceptance. This recommendation of the tender board was not accepted by the then Minister for Power and Energy, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who is at present the Deputy Speaker to the House of Representatives, and on instruction of the Minister, the Secretary to the Ministry Dr. Suren Batagoda , requested the tender be awarded to the next highest tenderer — a Chinese Construction Company. Having no response to several appeals by the local firm- Lakdhavani – to the Ministry, it filed legal action seeking redress. It is at this stage, the present government, on the direction of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, that the court case was withdrawn and the award made to the rightful tenderer, Lakdhavani. Else, the government would have had to face a very unpleasant situation.
To me, there appears to be a very anomalous situation as it makes no sense in undertaking the construction of this LNG plant without a terminal. Hence, it is suggested that immediate action be taken to call for tenders for the construction of a terminal to be completed when the LNG plant is ready for commissioning. It is strange why the CEB has not pointed out this requirement, if my suggestion is valid.
All in all, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa should be congratulated for taking action to right a wrong. However, it will be seen that political interferences delay essential projects. Who suffers? The country and its people.
G. A. D. SIRIMAL
Retd. Assistant Secretary, SLAS
Ministry for Power and Energy
An island of Pain and Destruction?
When there are several ‘tivus’ in the North, why was Iranativu selected for Muslim Covid burials? Why select an island with people living there, with Catholic priests, too? Why not an island with no humans at all: Is that so difficult for the Burial Experts in the Covid management?
Looks like the disposal of dead bodies, if they happen to be of Covid-infected Muslims, is the biggest problem Sri Lanka is facing today. This is bigger than any economic issue, or any other aspects of development the country and people may be facing. It looks like there is no possibility for a “Saubhagye Dekma” or Vision of Prosperity & Splendour if any Covid Muslims are buried in this Sinhala Bauddha Dupatha.
We tried to send these bodies all the way to the Maldives, on an official request. But failed. This time it is Iranativu – and once again a failure. So why not keep trying at Neduntivu, Sampaltivu, Vidataltivu or any other ‘tivu’ in the North or East; and till a suitable place is found, keep the dead bodies frozen at taxpayer expenditure?
Now that the US has decided to take some un-Trump moves about Saudi Arabia, why does not the former and present US citizens that rule Sri Lanka, think of sending all Covid Muslim corpses to Saudi Arabia, for sacred burials? With the Saudi leaders thinking of new plans for investment, Sri Lanka could become a new target of Saudi funds pouring in. But will this lead to the Sri Lankan Muslims getting any stronger than they are now?
Or, will we wait till we discover or develop a new “Gotativu or Nandasenativu” off Sri Lanka, an Isle of Saubhagya?
Are the Indian Aircraft flying in the special 70-year celebrations of the Sri Lanka Air Force an assurance of new Indian warmth in Sri Lanka-India relations? Did the power of the Indian Air Force, displayed over Galle Face Green, make the government take a quick pro-Indian decision on the West Container Terminal (WCT) in the Port of Colombo?
Can President Gotabaya or PM Mahinda give any explanation why handing over the development of the WCT to the same Indian company, involved in the ECT, could be any better for Sri Lanka? Apart from the Port Trade Unions that are likely to launch a new protest, will the Weerawansa-Gammanpila-Vasudeva team also carry out protests about the WCT? Or, will they be silenced by the realities of pro-Gotabaya Politics?
Has Gotabaya Team’s new position that the Provincial Council elections will be held under the new Constitution, an assurance given to India that the 13h Amendment will remain part of the structure of governance in Sri Lanka? What happened to all those voices of the Pohottuva political players who had virtually written off the 13A? Have they been silenced by the flight of Indian aircraft in the Air Force celebrations?
The Nandasena Gotabaya Team of the Rajavasala had better think of how the yellow robes of sections of the Maha Sangha would react to the WCT deal with India?
The problems of Iranativu and the WCT or Muslim burials and the Port of Colombo are certainly pushed back by the realities of Geneva. The Sri Lankan TV stations that have been very strong in their criticism of Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, about her handling of Human Rights, have given big coverage to her statements critical of the Myanmar coup and its military leaders. Will Michelle Bachelet have a big score against Sri Lanka? Keep guessing.
The issues facing Sri Lanka in Geneva are more about the policies of the present Gotabaya-Mahinda Rajavasala, than issues involving the defeat of the LTTE and matters of responsibility and accountability in the post-war period.
The Easter Carnage that took place, long after the end of the war against LTTE terror, and under the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Yahapalana regime, is certainly at the height of the Rajavasala problems today. Having promised the people that the truth about this carnage will be found and revealed, and the planners and manipulators identified and punished, the Rajavasala is trying to escape its promises and responsibilities.
This is certainly no easy task as it involves the hopes and expectations of many thousands who voted for the Gotabaya and the Pohottuva at the last Presidential and General Elections. Just look at the thousands in the Wattala-Negombo area who turned away from the UNP, did not support the Sajith Premadasa – Telephone, – and voted for the Pohottuva. It was the biggest Catholic turn away from the UNP, as took place in votes for the left in 1956.
We are now moving to a Black Sunday, when Catholics have been asked to wear black in protest at church services, seeking divine intervention to reveal and punish the Easter Sunday killers nearly two years ago. The response that divinity will provide remains to be seen, but with the voice of the Catholic Cardinal echoing the pain of hundreds who have suffered in this carnage, we are certainly moving to a period of much sorrow and even disaster.
Black Sunday may come and go, but by April this year, when black flags are to fly over houses, mainly Catholic, throughout the country, we certainly face a new rise of a major Majority/Minority conflict. Do we have to think of the possible revival of all the pains of the war against the LTTE terror, or think more in terms of peace and cooperation among people, with or without divine intervention.
This will certainly not be easy in the coming months, as we see so much of nature destroyed, forests cut down, sand mined and transported without permits, the greenery of the country rapidly vanishing and only hearing the call of a painful Saubhagya!
Will the call for Divine Help bring us to be an Isle of Peace and Understanding, and not a large Isle of Pain and Destruction?
Go forth boldly against global enemies
At the UNHRC meeting the true friends of Sri Lanka emerged to speak and defend the country battered mercilessly for defeating the world most brutal terrorist organization, i.e., Tamil Tiger terrorists in 2009, who held 20 million Sri Lankans to ransom for well over 25 years.
Leading the Sri Lanka bashing were the UK. Germany. Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands. Belgium and the USA, all of them having a chequered history in violating human rights at different times. India, our friendly neighbour, while thankfully taking a fair distance from the punitive stance of others, opted to emphasize on “the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils and their ‘aspirations’ insisting on the FULL implementation of the 13 A”. India should be requested to point out whether any Tamil person in Sri Lanka is deprived from enjoying a basic right because he or she is being purely a Tamil. On the 13th A, which was thrust on Sri Lanka along with the so-called Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, most Sri Lankans are of the view that it was a faulty restructuring effort of Sri Lanka’s government by India, and the Police and Land powers under the 13 A are a direct threat to the sovereign Sri Lanka. Further, the Provincial government system has not benefited Sri Lanka in any measurable manner, and has been an exercise in colossal wastage of hard-earned funds of the central government.
As regards aspirations, we are amazed how we can consider ONLY the aspirations of Tamils, as all other ethnic groups and the individuals too have aspirations, and it will be impossible to walk that talk. We need further training in the recognition of aspirations of different groups from India, and we pray for further comments from the HR specialists in India how they have reconciled the aspirations of other than Hindu religious groups — Sheiks, Kashmiris and other minority groups in Northernmost India.
But, many nations at UNHCR rejected the proposition of the Sri Lanka bashers who directly and indirectly were supportive of the LTTE armed insurrection and the separatism, threatening the unitary Sri Lanka. They also rejected the ‘the preventive prescription’ of the Secretary General Bachelet. The nations who supported Sri Lanka stood for the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a democratic country. Any weaknesses in Sri Lankan affairs should be allowed to be rectified domestically, in keeping with the constitutional provisions of the country, rather than to be dictated and decided upon by the holier than thou sloganeers. Most of the nations who attempt to foist their plan on Sri Lanka are from the Western bloc who killed and maimed millions of persons living in the colonized countries and subsequently destroyed other nations as pawns of the world power games. Their “adherence”to human rights are completely at variance with their practices on the ground.
Now, Sri Lanka should re-examine their directions and resolve to work with the friendly nations who supported her to extricate from the trap laid out by the countries who desire an unstable Sri Lanka. The Government and the people should resolve to reduce our dependence on Sri Lanka bashers, and re-design our imports to suit the geo-political reality and to avoid any plot to impose sanctions by the wounded nations. Time has arrived to consider the nation’s priorities by curtailing the luxuries even for a given period. We should try to get our requirements from the friendly nations, and try to improve our trading relationship with our friends.
This the ONLY way to extend our hand to REBUILD a new world order, to be less dependent on the predatory countries who always insist on their pound of flesh from the developing nations. While we thank the President, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Government for having rejected co-sponsorship of resolution 30/1 at UNHRC, we urge the Government to plan to reshape our trade and foreign relations, to play our role as an independent member of the international community.
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