The bodies of muslim Covid-19 victims are forcefully being cremated, and their families are being asked to foot the cost of cremation in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world which has made cremation compulsory for the bodies of all those that succumbed to Covid-19. However, this has become a distressing and expensive situation for muslim Sri Lankans, as Islamic dictates mandate that muslims be buried and not cremated after death.
Many muslims generally believe that cremation is not permitted in Islam, as burning a body is akin to mutilating it thus muslims prefer to bury their dead in accordance with religious guidelines to respect the human body even after death. The Sri Lankan Ministry of Health’s guidelines earlier in this year permitted both burial and cremation for coronavirus victims. Yet, the body of the first Sri Lankan muslim coronavirus victim was forcefully cremated against the wishes of their family. This provoked widespread condemnation and protests from muslim leaders in Sri Lanka, and the muslim community in the country.
The Ministry of Health, however, doubled down on their stance and amended the guidelines to omit burial and leave cremation as the only option for Covid-19 victims. The government’s chief epidemiologist, Dr Sugath Samaraweera, claimed that burials would “contaminate ground drinking water”. But, the World Health Organisations guidance on the management of the bodies of Covid-19 victims states that the bodies can be either cremated or buried.
Reports have indicated that muslim Sri Lankans are now being asked to pay for the cremation of their loved ones, despite the fact these cremations are happening against the will of the family. Typically, a cremation would cost around LKR 50,000-60,000 (approximately Rs.43, 269- Rs.52, 083). This cost is, reportedly, a great burden for many economically strained families.
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka dismissed all Fundamental Rights petitions before it which challenged the directive on mandatory cremations, on the 1st of December. This move by the court means that no further legal challenges can be mounted against mandatory cremations.
The Government Medical Officer’s Association (GMOA) and the Information and Communication Technology Agency Sri Lanka (ICTA), in a proposal to deal with the spread of the coronavirus, assigned Sri Lankan Muslims the highest weightage of risk when determining the risk of the spread of the virus in each district. But, after heavy criticism on such racial profiling of Muslims the ICTA distances itself from the report and it was reprinted by the GMOA without the aforementioned risk assessment of the Sri Lankan muslim community.
Muslims have fallen victim to violence and discrimination in Sri Lanka in the past as well, there were attacks targeting Muslim businesses, homes and places of worship in the country through 2014, 2017, 2018, and attacks that followed the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019.