Thursday, 26 November 2020 14:25

25.11.2020 - Covid Cremation is Test of Equitable and Responsive Governance

From the time the first Covid death was reported in Sri Lanka in March this year, the government’s policy has been to cremate Covid victims. This has been a source of unusual controversy as it goes against both science and religion. Islam in particular requires the burial of all human beings who die regardless of the circumstances of death. The World Health Organisation’s Covid guidelines permit burial of Covid victims. However, the government continues to take the position that Covid burial is not permissible due to the threat to the health and safety of the larger population as it leads to the possibility of groundwater contamination.

The steep rise in Covid infections due to the difficulties in controlling people-to-people spread of this highly infectious disease has brought into question the efficacy of Sri Lanka’s strategy to contain the spread of Covid infection. The enforced cremation of Covid victims should not be part of a viable strategy of containment especially as it is a source of great distress to the members of the Muslim and Christian communities to whom burial is an honoring of their faith. There are reports of vulnerable members of the Muslim community leaving the country due to their fear of being eternally damned by cremation.

The National Peace Council is pleased that the government is reported to be willing to consider the burial of Covid victims in specially located sites which would pose no risk of groundwater contamination. If there is no evidence for or against such contamination, then the prevailing law and practices relating to burial should continue as the course of justice. If proven otherwise, then the rationale would be to mitigate this in larger interest of the society. By disregarding the strongly felt sentiments of a significant section of the population, NPC fear that the government is risking the buildup of conflict in the future. We urge that a start be made and viable options for the burial of Covid victims are found as many of the Christian faith and others too prefer their loved ones to be buried with religious rites when they pass away.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has frequently reiterated that he will ensure justice and equal treatment to all sections of the people. In his address to the nation last week the president said that “An administration that protects the rights of all citizens regardless of racial or religious differences will be established during my tenure.” Individuals should be treated the same, unless they differ in ways that are relevant to the situation. The issue of Covid cremations is a test of more responsive governance, as the application of one law equally to those who are differently situated and hence unequal, in this case on the grounds of religious convictions, is not equitable especially as it is also not scientific

Governing Council
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.