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Sri Lanka’s youngest virus victim heightens campaign against forced cremations

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The 20-day-old child, who died of COVID-19, was cremated against his household’s needs.

The final week has been the worst but for N.F.M. Fahim’s household residing in Colombo. The 38-year-old and his spouse misplaced their new-born to COVID-19 on December 8, and even earlier than they may course of the devastating information from the hospital, authorities have been prepared handy over the newborn’s ashes to them.

“I did not have the heart to take the ashes. We were already dealing with the shock of losing our son who was just 20 days old, and then to be told he was cremated, which goes against our religious practice, was just unbearable,” stated Mr. Fahim, breaking down. He final noticed his son on December 7, the night time he rushed him to a number one authorities hospital for youngsters, after noticing the newborn’s congestion-like signs.

In barely two days, child Shaykh was within the information as Sri Lanka’s youngest victim of the virus, cremated against his household’s needs due to the federal government’s coverage of permitting solely cremation, primarily based on unsubstantiated claims that our bodies of COVID-19 victims might contaminate groundwater. “We were repeatedly told the cremation has to be done within 24 hours,” Mr. Fahim recalled.

Ever since COVID-19 struck Sri Lanka in March, the federal government has been implementing cremations for all victims, regardless of the World Health Organization saying our bodies “can be buried or cremated”. The island is witnessing a surge in instances — totalling over 32,000 now — because the second main outbreak in October.

Making up about 10% of the nation’s 21 million-strong inhabitants, Sri Lanka’s Muslim neighborhood has been urging the federal government to revise its pandemic pointers that go against Islamic non secular beliefs, however to no avail. The UN and International Human Rights organisations urged Sri Lankan authorities to reverse the coverage, however the authorities’s guidelines stay unchanged. Opposition parliamentarians raised the difficulty within the House, whereas a dozen activists and politicians petitioned the Supreme Court in May, difficult the federal government’s ‘cremations only’ coverage. On December 1, the highest court docket rejected all petitions.

‘Losing hope’

The Muslim neighborhood is dropping hope, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress chief and opposition legislator Rauff Hakeem instructed Parliament lately. “The community is getting ahead with a civic resistance programme of refusing to accept the bodies. This is a traumatic situation for the entire community… the trauma aside, this is going to have serious implications for generations to come,” he stated, “pleading” with the federal government to revise its pointers.

Many in Sri Lanka see the federal government’s coverage mandating cremations as a part of a collection of assaults focusing on Muslims over the previous couple of years. According to Farzana Haniffa, professor, Department of Sociology on the University of Colombo,the Rajapaksa administration has cultivated a place in relation to its base, the place the demonising of Muslims is required, and needs to be maintained. “The denial of Muslims’ burial rights is just yet another step in that pursuit,” she instructed The Hindu. “It is unfortunate that the government, with so much power and such a huge mandate, sees the need for this,” Ms. Haniffa stated. Pointing to the mobilisation of a bit of the intelligentsia, together with medical doctors and scientists, to venture the Muslim neighborhood as one bereft of civility or scientific mood, she stated: “The complicity of the intellectual elite in this messaging is troubling.”

However, the current passing and forcible cremation of child Shaykh, has set off a silent protest. Dozens of Colombo residents tied items of white material on the gates of the crematorium this weekend, expressing solidarity, however that they had been eliminated on Monday reportedly by the police, in response to a tweet from Ali Zahir Moulana, a former parliamentarian. “This is an overt attempt by the Government to stifle peaceful civil disobedience by well-intentioned members of public, & a clear indication of suppression,” he stated on Monday afternoon.

As calls to cease obligatory cremations grew louder over the previous week, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa directed officers to search out land appropriate for burials, native media reported. There has been no official announcement on the event.

Maldives gives assist

Meanwhile, neighbouring Maldives, an Islamic nation of almost 400,000 folks, has stepped in to assist. Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid stated on Monday in a tweet: “On special request from Sri Lankan President @GotabayaR, President @ibusolih is consulting stakeholder authorities of the Government of Maldives to assist Sri Lanka in facilitating Islamic funeral rites in the Maldives for Sri Lankan Muslims succumbing to COVID-19 pandemic.”

The burial rights of Muslims have drawn appreciable consideration inside Sri Lanka, particularly on social media, however not all responses are sympathetic. “You see many younger people expressing utter insensitivity to the fact that people could have a different set of values in regard to the dead, or how they grieve their loss and mourn. This is another sad comment on the state of the country. The government’s refusal of burial rights to Muslims is similar to them refusing Tamils the right to mourn,” Ms. Haniffa stated, observing that it was unlikely that the federal government would obtain the peace and prosperity they promised utilizing these dated techniques “of inciting ethnic animosities”.

Six years after Mr. Fahim and his spouse had their first youngster, child Shaykh was born final month, bringing a lot pleasure to the household in an in any other case stifling pandemic yr. “I drive a rented three-wheeler to make a living. We were struggling financially, but our baby boy made us so happy,” Mr. Fahim instructed The Hindu. “It is not easy to talk about our child, but I have put my feelings aside to speak up, only in the hope that what happened to our son doesn’t happen to even one more person. Our wounds will begin to heal only when they put an end to forced cremations.”


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