Unrealities of call for Covid-related burials: London protestor’s carrion call
Posted on January 4th, 2021

By Rohana R. Wasala

I would like to kindly alert  readers to certain distorted versions of my articles,and forged documents falsely attributed to my authorship appearing in a fakeFace Book account created in my name by an unknown person, who is probably assuming a pseudonym. However, there are an unknown number of genuine social media websites that reproduce my articles without distortion and with due acknowledgements to the sources that I originally direct my writings to. Apart from several best known, widely circulated Sri Lankan national newspapers, there are only two reputed online news media journals – Lankaweb and Sri Lanka Guardian – that publish my articles with my explicit permission. Thank you for your attention to this matter. – RRW

(Note on the sub-title of this article: It is a play on the well known phrase ‘clarion call’ and refers only to what I choose to call propaganda vultures.)

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., alleged 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 General of Health Services (DGHS), 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 that 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 healthcare 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, whenever they are made available.

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 prison 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 Muslim community 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 healthcare workers who were doing their level best to help them, while taking the risk of exposing themselves and their loved ones back home, including their children, to the deadly 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?

It is obvious why JP is writing this sort of stuff. He is hardly known outside the English speaking NGO circles, either by the monolingual Tamil speaking minority or the similarly monolingual Sinhala speaking majority, for both of whom the avowed vision of his NGO enterprise: ‘A just and peaceful Sri Lanka in which freedom, human and democratic rights of all people are assured’ is hardly beyond our reach. It is what paradoxically foreign interventionists operating through NGOs and local anti-nationalist collaborators are doing their damnedest to batter to wreck and ruin in order to destabilize the country. This seems to done in pursuit of the interfering powers’ own geopolitical ends. 

His claim that during ‘the holiday season’ he received a number of telephone calls from civil society members across the country must be taken with a pinch of salt in view of what I said about him above. He seems to link what he describes as ‘the greater concentration of coronavirus relative to population amongst the Muslim community’ to the alleged unjust treatment meted out to them by the government through the ‘enforced’ cremation of dead Covid victims. The dangerous implication of this 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 to time-serving 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 bolster his arguments by quoting BBS General Secretary Ven. Galaboda-aththe 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.’ To the likes of JP, Buddhist monks are bete noires, and this one (Gnanasara Thera) is arguably the most hated by them. 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 usually laid-back 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 DGHS’s ruling. The Thera may now be thinking of a safe modification of the burial mode like using an impervious concrete casket or a crypt in which to seal the body before being buried (but these are not viable options). As a Buddhist monk he may be suggesting this at least partly 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 (in)famous fast in the Maligawa precincts, something that the Most Ven. Mahanayake Theras censured in no uncertain terms, and that 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 (I am sorry about there being no time or space to unpack this assertion of mine here.) 

About a fortnight ago, Ven. Gnanasara told the media how NGOs are creating global hatred and illwill against Buddhist monks based on the false allegation that it is they who are 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. 

Religious sensitivities are common to all communities and these must be inter-communally respected without discrimination. One religious community’s feelings cannot be regarded as more sacred than another’s. Anti-Sri Lanka agents abroad and anti-national forces at home have launched a calculated propaganda blitzkrieg whose barely concealed target is the present government. The propaganda onslaught is justified on the basis of 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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