Jehan Perera |
Published: 00:00, 31. 12th. 2020
Medical workers wearing protective clothing collect swab samples from residents to be used on Jan.. December in Colombo to test for the COVID-19 coronavirus. – Agence France-Presse / Ishara S. Kodikara
The map of COVID-19 infection in the country is steadily spreading to more remote parts of the country, starting from the most severely affected western province and the origin of the second wave of infections. There was an expectation that the government would put in place a lockdown in the last week of the year to prevent people from traveling and celebrating the start of the new year. This impression was reinforced when the public health inspectors jointly voiced their concern by calling on the government to order a halt to travel between the provinces. The government may have been reluctant to put such an inter-provincial travel ban in place when trying to convince foreign tourists to take up international travel to the country.
With the COVID-19 situation nowhere near as dire as it is in other parts of the world, there is a kind of complacency in Sri Lanka’s approach to the pandemic, which can perhaps best be seen in the government’s delay in placing orders manifested for the COVID-19 vaccine. As in the case of COVID-19 cremation, where a government-appointed committee has been grappling with the issue for over six months, another government-appointed committee is reportedly considering which vaccine to order. In the context of this calm demeanor, it is to be expected that many people would feel safe enough to throw parties and enjoy themselves over the vacation weekend in hotels, with little attention given to the advice of medical specialists that the less personal, the better Interaction taking place would be from the point of view of the COVID-19 control.
On the other hand, the impact of the coronavirus has been greater in some parts of the country than others, and even in some parts of the cities than in other parts of the same city. Those who live in crowded circumstances where social distancing is difficult and hygienic sanitation is not available, those who have been most at risk. The prison population that embodies these traits has been disproportionately affected by disastrous consequences as they reject the situation in which they find themselves. The prison riots can be a harbinger of what can happen in the larger society when a large segment of people feels trapped and marginalized to suffer the consequences. Among these worst-hit populations, the Muslim community appears to be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 infection.
ALSO, although Muslims only make up about 10 percent of the national population, it appears that their communities have had greater numbers of COVID-19 deaths. However, this is only partly due to the congested nature of their life situations. In contrast to the Sinhala and Tamil communities, which have traditionally been used for agriculture and own land, the Muslims who originally came to the country as traders tend to live in urban environments with less housing. There is another important factor that goes into the greater number of Muslims currently falling victim to the coronavirus. They fear that if they are confirmed as COVID-19 patients, both they and their loved ones will be at risk of violent cremation if they fail to recover from coronavirus infection, which violates fundamental Islamic principles.
During the holiday season, I received a number of phone calls from members of civil society across the country. The higher concentration of coronavirus infections relative to the population in the Muslim community is an issue that has spread to the general population. A Muslim Moulavi in Panduwasnuwara, Kurunegala District, lamented the fate of Muslims who feel they have been treated unfairly by the government for the forced cremation of the deceased COVID-19 victims. This was not surprising as it is a complaint that virtually all Muslims articulate, even the Minister of Justice. The fact that the religious belief of the Muslim community is violated has led the leader of the nationalist Bodhu Bala Sena, the Buddhist prelate Ven Galagodaaththe Gnanasara, to advocate the religious right of Muslims to be buried even in cases of COVID-19 Deaths.
The venerable monk said that issues related to the burial of the bodies of people who have died of COVID-19-19 should not be politicized, adding that Muslims are allowed to bury the bodies as this is an issue of religious belief. “It is a religious right of Muslims. Because they believe that humans are born on this earth and one day they should be fertilizer for the earth. That is Muslim culture. It is a religious right. He also recommended the inclusion of religious representatives on the Expert Panel on Disposal of Corporations Dying of COVID-19, which consists of doctors and technical experts. He also called for the government to form an adequate policy. He also cautioned that if this problem is not resolved, it could heighten emotions to the extent that it is not a question of what is right but which side wins.
A member of the Buddhist civil society from Monaragala, reflecting the enlightened sentiments of the Ven Gnanasara on the matter, had a positive message to deliver. He said the district interfaith group he coordinated had decided to donate the travel allowance they received to help a nearby Muslim village that was locked down due to the discovery of COVID-19 patients. This was because the interfaith group had Muslim members who, through their interaction on the committee they formed, were able to win the trust of Sinhala and Tamil members. These informal groups provide a first line of defense against the spread of distrust and violence between communities and are effective problem-solving bodies at the community level. This suggests the value of structured interactions between ethnic and religious divisions that can build trust between communities and the nation.
The role religious clergymen can play in bringing together divided communities is not to be underestimated. In the Sri Lankan context, religious clergy are highly respected and given a status that even surpasses that of politicians despite their better access to resources and coercion. They are people who are respected and influential in their communities. As a result, they can have a multiplier effect in their places. They have sufficient maturity to continue their peace and reconciliation work and the necessary experience to navigate political space if they so choose. This now emerges from the joint statement of the Buddhist clergy of the Amarapura and Ramanya Nikayas, who wrote to the president asking him to rethink the government’s policy to enforce the cremation of people who died of COVID-19 against the religious traditions of the US Muslims and other religious groups like the Catholics.
Civil society organizations like the National Peace Council have shown at the micro level that it is possible to build goodwill between communities and enable them to mitigate potential conflict without turning into violence. During the last administration, attempts were made to establish district reconciliation committees in each district under the direction of the district secretary of the government. Dr. Joe William of the Communication Training Center, who conducted an investigation into these structures, said: “The role of the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be to investigate the background and causes of religious and ethnic tensions in the field. formulate a suitable strategy and convey the problems; quick response to the resolution of conflicts and tensions; Mediate conflict resolution; Maintain a database of tensions and negotiate and resolve conflicts. This is an initiative that the current government would do well to face the challenges of the present from the grassroots to the national level. It will also act as a vent for the emotions felt by people trying to find a solution, or an opportunity to at least ventilate them.
Editor: Nurul Kabir, Edited by Editor-in-Chief ASM Shahidullah Khan
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Sri Lanka, Cremation, Government, Muslim Council of Great Britain, Coronavirus
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