Cremation or Burial; Peoples’ Choice or Government’s Order?

“So far no changes have been made in the decision of burning the remains of those who died due to Coronavirus. Regarding this no concessions are expected to be given on racial or religious basis”, said Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, Director of Infectious Disease Research Unit ( This article was written today, the 24th)

So far there were many Muslims amongst the dead Corona victims and all of them were burnt, but not buried according to their religion. This controversy is continuing from the beginning of this year, the time Corona infection spread in Sri Lanka. Anyway, the Government in implementing its policy decided to burn the body of any person, regardless of his race or religion, when he dies of Corona infection in Sri Lanka.

This did not create any issue amongst other religious groups who bury their dead bodies. (Christians and some Hindus bury the dead bodies). Anyhow, amongst the Muslims who strictly adhere to Islamist culture and practices, especially religious, this has created displeasure.  They, the Muslim people do not agree with the burning of their relatives which is against their religious practices.

The Islamists strongly believe that when a dead body is buried, the person, according to his meritorious or sinful deeds, attains heaven or hell.  So, instead of burying, when a body is burnt, they believe that the soul is punished before it reaches the celestial world.

But, Health Experts in Sri Lanka are opposed to burial.  They say chances are there for Coronavirus to spread when the Corona victim’s body is buried and the reason is the high groundwater level in Sri Lanka.  Accordingly, their advice is to burn all Corona victims’ bodies.  The Islamists allege, that this has hurt the religious feelings of the Muslims.

Whatever may the opposition be from the local Muslims and Muslim Organisations abroad, President Gotabaya and his Government are not ready to review their decisions.  Under the circumstances, with   Government Ministers and the Opposition, Muslim Members of Parliament, in particular, exchanging their views regarding the burial of Islamist bodies, a solution for this problem is not yet reached so far. 

With Muslim Members and the Opposition Members, during every Parliamentary session since 4th November, requesting for the burial of Muslim dead bodies without burning them, Minister of Justice Ali Sabry and Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachie said they will consider about this.  But, so far, no decision was made in this regard.

A powerful Islamic Organisation in the world has already advised Sri Lanka to stop harassing the Muslims by connecting them with the Corona outbreak that started at the beginning of the year.   

With these controversies continuing, the World Health Organisation announced that the family and friends can see the body of a Corona victim and can bury it according to their practices.  Anyway, it mentioned that the body should not be touched or kissed.  Appropriate health procedures should be adhered to after burial.  Hands should be washed well with soap and water.

The World Heal Organisation has advised those who do the burying part to wear hand-gloves, face-masks and protective sanitary dress.  After that, everything including the overalls and the face-masks should be destroyed.  Hands and the body should be washed with soap. 

As regards Sri Lanka, Corona victims’ bodies are cremated according to Government rules and regulations and the cost of the coffin is recovered from the relatives.  One of the close relatives is allowed to pay homage to the sealed body.  They should also follow the health procedures.

At this stage, the Resident Coordinator of the UNO has written a letter to the Premier. He said “If the people choose to bury the dead body it could be done under World Health Organisation’s guidelines and abiding to local rules and regulations, also adhering to appropriate health procedures stipulated for handling it.  Muslim people feel that Sri Lanka’s policy towards burial is discrimination against them. In this background refusal to bury will impact the co-operation in the society.   I am afraid this will have a bad effect, especially on the action towards controlling the spread of Coronavirus.  Because, the people when they have symptoms of Covid 19, may refrain from communicating or making use of the health services” and he requested the policy to be reviewed.  There were many people who diverted the Government’s attention in other directions rather than looking into this.

President of National Patriotic Movement, Gunadasa Amerasekera, in his letter sent to President Gotabaya Rajapakse, said “The existing laws, policies or regulations should not be changed in response  to  requests made by racial or religious fundamentalist groups.”  Further, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, Secretary, Podu Bala Sena, at a news conference said, Islamists believe that when their bodies a buried they can go to heaven and that is why they request their bodies to be buried and pointed out that if such a God exists, he would have destroyed the Coronavirus. At the same time, ruling party Ministers and Members emphasised that under “One Nation and One Law” on the advice of the Health sector all dead bodies of Corona victims will be burnt and will not be permitted to bury.

The predicament now in Sri Lanka under the present situation is without talking anything about reconciliation among a multi-racial society and scientific proposals for it, many people who are in favour of one race and religion are sowing the seeds of hatred.

 

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