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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

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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