Covid19 Islam Islamophobia Racism

Racism in Sri Lanka Succumbed a 20-Day Old Baby

Sri Lankan Muslims face racism on a daily basis, but it wasn’t expected that it would reach this level. It is at its peak when the final rites of a human have become nothing more than an opportunity for the racist to enjoy. More importantly, it was the final rites of a 20-day old Muslim baby who unfortunately contracted COVID-19.

According to Dr. Wijesuriya, the Director at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, “The infant was confirmed COVID-19 positive in the afternoon, while it was also confirmed that the parents were not exposed to the virus.”

However, Ali Zahir Moulana, a Sri Lankan politician, has inquired about the incident from the father of the baby, and here’s what he gathered:

The whole incident still has unsolved issues that the government would hardly believe because we, Muslims, are minorities. It’s disheartening to witness that Muslims’ bodies are burnt while there’s an option to bury. The WHO has approved burial, but Sri Lanka is against it, and one thing that I can comprehend is Sri Lankan government is racist.

Dr. Sugath Samaraweera, Sri Lankan’s chief epidemiologist, said to the media that “burial might contaminate ground drinking water.” Shockingly, experts have denied the WHO’s take on groundwater contamination. The WHO discusses this misconception in their 3rd episode about Myths Vs. Science on 9th September 2020. They are clearly indicating that water cannot transmit the virus, but definitely, close contact with an infected person could.

Therefore it’s essential to maintain social distancing, which we don’t see in Sri Lanka. There are many instances that I can cite, but one of the major incidents was “Appalling Scenes In Kagalle: Thousands Gather Near The House Of Witch Doctor To Obtain Mysterious “Local Cure” For COVID19.” But the government is more worried about cremating the minorities even if it doesn’t have any scientific evidence that it could increase the spread.  

Along with that, another illogical reason for denying burial is that Sri Lanka has massive rainfall. This might be reasonable if other countries with higher rainfall followed cremation instead of burial. Here is the world map of annual rainfall, and Sri Lanka is definitely not the country with the highest rainfall.

It would be appreciated if the Sri Lanka authorities could actually spend some time reading, listening, and understanding the WHO’s interim guidance on Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for the COVID-19 virus. This discusses everything that the experts in Sri Lanka are refusing to accept. The WHO’s interim guidance on Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 shares every detail required when burying the dead. If the UK can follow it and provide respected and dignified final calls for its citizens, why can’t Sri Lanka? Here’s a first stand experience shared by Dr. Arshath on Twitter on how his dear father-in-law’s final rites were dignified in the UK.

While a 20-day old baby was cremated against his parents’ will, many other inhumane cases were on this political agenda. According to reports, more than 50 Muslims have been cremated though some of the cases remain mysterious. As if denying the final rites is not enough, the government further extends its ruthless take on minorities by charging around LKR 50,000-60,000 for cremation.

Initially, families would have paid the cremation cost, but now they are refusing the bodies and the ashes because it’s impossible for a family to afford this amount in a time like this. Yes, the government charges for the ashes too. I don’t think these families consider it a fight against injustice; instead, their hearts would get heavier every passing second. In Islam, we usually bury the dead within 24 hours, and to think that our loved ones have not yet reached eternal peace because of a cruel government is painful.

It’s somewhat insane that we, Muslims, still expect the government to treat us equally. The unfair treatment of Muslims isn’t new; it has always been there. There were attacks carried on Muslim houses, businesses, and worshiping places in 2018, fueling extreme racism, violence, and discrimination. The Easter Sunday Bombings in 2019 was another gloomy day for Sri Lankans. The Islamic Extremist groups and politicians (including Muslim politicians) took it as another opportunity to make the Muslim community miserable.

The victims of Easter Sunday are still waiting for justice, and it doesn’t look like the government is ready to give its due respect for minorities. The Government of Sri Lanka needs to understand that treating its citizens equally should be the top priority of a country if it needs to thrive. 

When a country is purely focused on demeaning the minorities, it’s nearly impossible to make them understand where they are heading. Even though there were 12 petitions from Catholic and Muslim families and civil society challenging the decision of cremation, the Supreme Court rejected all the petitions even though the science says otherwise. For most of us, it’s not contracting COVID-19 that scares us the most, but it’s the fear of losing a loved one and not being able to offer the dignified final rites deserved.

Forcefully cremating the Muslims without letting them bury their dead according to their religious beliefs is not a sign of good governance. A country should treat its citizens with due respect and dignity regardless of race or religion. According to Islam, cremating is forbidden, and there are spiritual reasons supporting it. Even though racism against minorities has been common in Sri Lanka, it didn’t reach the level where one cannot die in peace. Right now, Sri Lanka has caused the damage, and they still have the time to repair it. But the million-dollar question is, would they?

The Prime minister of Sri Lanka actually did respond on 10th December when most Sri Lankans raised their concerns over forceful cremation using #StopForcedCremations. However, the response wasn’t satisfactory because the same decision was taken exactly a month before, as published in Daily Mirror, “President says to search for dry land to allow the burial of Muslim COVID-19 victims.” But it was later denied that there were no such decisions as to allocate burial lands. We have to wait and see whether the government would walk the talk this time, although it has been 3 days since the decision.

It’s actually heartwarming to see most non-Muslims standing in solidarity against cremation, and currently, a silent protest against cremation is taking place in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the government is under pressure by several organizations, including the UN.

All in all, Ali Zahir Moulana’s tweet, “Heartening to note that the #WhiteClothProtest is spreading through business and homes across the country in less than 24 hours. A peaceful protest against the denial of basic rights, ignorance of science, and the embrace of racism. #StopForcedCremations” has restored hope in humanity. 

Shakira Shareef
Shakira is a freelance writer. She loves writing on lifestyle, freelancing, travel, self-help, business, and Islam. If not writing, she'd be cleaning or reading. Yes, zero human interaction –she's pretty boring!