Islamophobia in Sri Lanka Throughout the Pandemic

From 1983 to 2009, Sri Lanka noticed a bloody civil struggle between the bulk Buddhist Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. The battle led to invaluable losses each economically and politically. To at the present time, the deep socio-religious wounds have but to heal on the island in South Asia.

For the reason that struggle ended, there have been intermittent episodes of violence between ethnoreligious teams. Though the patterns appear related, completely different communities are actually concerned within the confrontations. The main focus has shifted to make Sri Lankan Muslims — who make up round 9.7% of the nation’s whole inhabitants — the brand new goal of maximum Buddhist Sinhalese factions that jumped on the bandwagon of rising Islamophobia.

Islamophobia in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Muslims are outlined by religion, not ethnicity since they’re neither Tamil nor Sinhalese. Throughout Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidential time period in workplace from 2005 to 2015, in addition to below incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Muslims skilled an increase in Islamophobia. Acts perceived as anti-Muslim embody calls, in 2013, by a hardline Buddhist Sinhalese group to boycott halal meals objects. In 2019, the federal government banned burqas following the Easter Sunday bombings during which Islamist militants killed 269 folks at church buildings and lodges.

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Probably the most severe incidents involving the Muslim neighborhood for the reason that finish of the struggle passed off in Aluthgama in 2014, Gintota in 2017 and the Ampara and Kandy’s districts in 2018. Acts of violence concerned the burning of mosques, the destruction of Muslim-owned property, the displacement of 1000’s of civilians and the lack of lives.

The brutal assault on Easter Sunday led to, amongst different issues, the draconian software of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which elevated strain on an already scrutinized minority. A well known instance of this backlash towards Muslims was the case of Mohamed Shafi, a gynecologist on the Kurunegala Hospital. Shafi was arrested in 2019 below the PTA on trumped-up prices of illegally sterilizing Sinhalese girls. Hejaaz Hizbullah, a senior lawyer, peace advocate and human rights activist, is at present in detention below the PTA. He has been accused of “aiding and abetting” one of many suicide bombers who attacked church buildings on Easter Sunday and “for participating in actions deemed ‘detrimental to the spiritual concord amongst communities.’”

Pressured Cremations

The COVID-19 pandemic has supplied the right breeding floor for far-right governments to bulldoze the human rights of minorities. In Sri Lanka, Muslims have been the goal.

In December 2020, Fahim, a three-wheeler taxi driver, and his spouse mourned not solely the loss of life of their 20-day-old son, however the pressured cremation of his tiny physique by state authorities. The new child was admitted to the hospital, the place he handed away after contracting COVID-19. Fahim was denied entry to his son’s corpse and, regardless of refusing to offer his consent, the child was cremated simply days later.

That household’s grief was felt by many Muslims throughout Sri Lanka. Since COVID-19 first reached Sri Lanka in early 2020, the federal government introduced a compulsory cremation-only coverage. The federal government claimed this was to stop the doable unfold of the illness by coming into contact with contaminated corpses. The coverage alarmed Sri Lankan Muslims as cremation is forbidden in Islam. A number of petitions and pleas have been made by the minority neighborhood to permit for the burial of their family members. But the Sri Lankan state, which has an extended historical past of violence towards minorities, refused to vary its coverage for over a 12 months.

The anguish skilled by Sri Lankan Muslims was by itself an incredible burden to bear throughout these unprecedented instances. However the state didn’t maintain again on delivering additional blows to the neighborhood. In line with Amnesty Worldwide, households have been “pressured to bear the price of cremation, usually round LKR 50,000-60,000 (roughly USD270-325), in a 12 months that has economically strained many households.” The human rights group acknowledged, in December 2020, that many households led a tough and painful protest by refusing to simply accept the ashes and making the related funds required for cremating their family members.

Burying the Useless

In April 2020, Sri Lankan Muslims noticed a glimmer of hope when the World Well being Group (WHO) declared that burials have been secure. The WHO introduced that there is no such thing as a proof to recommend that the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 illness, can unfold from an contaminated corpse. In the meantime, in December, high Sri Lankan medical doctors launched a press release urging for the burial of Muslim victims of COVID-19. They acknowledged that “every citizen of Sri Lanka ought to be allowed to be cremated or buried as per his/her and the household’s want inside the strict pointers beneficial by the Ministry of Well being.”

Regardless of professional opinions and proposals to permit COVID-19 victims to be buried, the Sri Lankan authorities claimed that doing so “might contaminate floor water.” In an interview with the BBC, Professor Malik Peiris, a world-renowned Sri Lankan virologist, acknowledged that COVID-19 is “not a waterborne illness.” He added: “I haven’t seen any proof to recommend it spreads via lifeless our bodies. A virus can solely multiply in a residing cell. As soon as an individual dies, the flexibility of the viruses to multiply decreases. … Useless our bodies aren’t buried proper in operating water. When you bury the physique six toes below wrapped in impermeable wrapping, it’s extremely unlikely it might contaminate operating water.”

In January 2021, an professional panel appointed by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Well being revised its preliminary pointers by approving both burying or cremating COVID-19 victims. However the minister of well being, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, selected to disregard the advice. She mentioned in parliament that “the choice to cremate COVID lifeless in Sri Lanka won’t be amended on spiritual, political or another grounds.” She claimed a sub-committee mentioned corpses ought to be cremated.

Sri Lankan Muslims have raised considerations at how the neighborhood reacted to the state-sanctioned racism. In January, Sri Lanka’s Muslim Council (SLMC) claimed that greater than half of the island’s COVID-19 victims have been from the Muslim neighborhood. “We have now a disproportionate variety of fatalities as a result of Muslims don’t search remedy fearing that they are going to be cremated if they’re recognized with the virus after going to hospital,” spokesman Hilmy Ahamed instructed AFP.

The SLMC and Sri Lanka’s justice minister, Ali Sabry, accused the federal government of attempting to impress the youth into doing “one thing rash” by refusing to permit Muslims to bury their lifeless. There have been no reviews of remoted incidents or proof of younger Muslims taking to violence in response.

Underneath Strain

Whereas Muslims have been singled out by the state and Buddhist Sinhalese hardliners, they acquired help from spiritual leaders and Sri Lankans of different faiths. Acts of solidarity passed off in current months and lots of Sri Lankans spoke out towards the cremation-only coverage. The federal government, which is dropping public confidence over its dealing with of the pandemic, had been below intense strain to overturn its determination. Apart from involved residents, worldwide our bodies such because the United Nations and the Group of Islamic Cooperation condemned the pressured cremations.

On February 22, because the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) commenced its 46th annual session, Sri Lanka was in a precarious place. With a backlog of struggle crimes that remained unaddressed, a UNHRC decision towards Sri Lanka loomed. On February 25, the Sri Lankan authorities issued its official gazette, lastly permitting Muslim and Christian victims of COVID-19 to be buried.

*[Honest Observer is a media companion of the Centre for Evaluation of the Radical Proper.]

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Honest Observer’s editorial coverage.

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