Covid-19 - Government accommodates Muslims’ wishes to bury corpses | Sunday Observer

Covid-19 - Government accommodates Muslims’ wishes to bury corpses

7 March, 2021

Sri Lanka urged the UN Human Rights Council Core Group on Sri Lanka to remove the clause pertaining to the ‘forced cremations’ from the Resolution that was tabled recently, as officials here on Friday (5) carried out the first burials of bodies of those who died of Covid-19.

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, C.A. Chandraprema, informed the Core Group of the government’s decision to allow burials.

The Government said Covid-19 deceased will be buried in Oddamavadi in the Batticaloa district and Irikamam of the Ampara district in addition to; the Iranaitivu island in the Gulf of Mannar as burial sites.

The spokesman for the Covid Prevention Task Force Vijitha Hettiarachchi said seven bodies of Covid-19 victims were sent from mortuaries for burial on Friday.

Cremation and Islamic law

Muslim Societies regard burial in the ground as the proper way to show regards for dead bodies; cremation is prohibited because it is thought to violate the dignity of the human body, thus states the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in its report titled the Management of the Dead under Islamic Law.

When the bodies of those who died of Covid-19 were cremated on the grounds that burial of such bodies would contaminate water resources in the country, it drew protests from the Muslim community and other concerned parties.

Former State Minister Ali Zahir Moulana tweeted saying that preparations for burials to be conducted in the proposed lands coordinated with the consultation of the Ministry of Health, Institute of Geology, local stakeholders, community representatives and local authorities.

The government announced that burials will be allowed in an Extraordinary Gazette notification published on February 25, amending the regulations made by the Minister of Health under Sections 2 and 3 of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance (Chapter 222).

The decision was welcomed by many including the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan who was in Sri Lanka on a two-day official visit days before the announcement was made.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told the media that officials were looking for burial sites on higher ground to reassure that drinking water is not contaminated.

Cabinet Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said on Tuesday (2) that the Iranatheevu island was identified as a burial site. “The burying will be done according to the health authorities guidelines”, he said.

Angered islanders protest

The decision to bury bodies of Covid-19 victims angered those living and depending on the Iranatheevu island. On Wednesday they carried out a protest against the decision.

In an open letter they urged the concerned parties to revise the decision to bury the bodies in the island saying that 417 families lived in the village.

They said that after the battle against terrorist the Navy took control of the island and they have not been allowed to return to the island yet.

“We the people of Iranaitheevu along with our fellow north and east people continuously stand up for the burial rights of our fellow Muslim community and voice against the forced cremation.

We emphasize that the dead bodies must be given due respect according to the culture of our country as well according to the universal humanitarian values.

Transporting the dead bodies of Covid infected persons from place to place is a violation of the dignity of those deceased as well their families.

Therefore, we emphasise the Sri Lankan Government to withdraw the decision that was taken by them to making the Iranaitheevu island as the graveyard of Covid deceased.

We also call upon the Government to give due respect and ensure the burial rights of Muslims and other communities in suitable places”, they said.

However, government officials said that the burial sites were selected evaluating the positioning of the land and considering all necessary aspects.

Director General Health Services Asela Gunawardena told the media that “this is only a temporary measure. We will soon identify other locations too.”

Shocking news

Vice President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka Hilmy Ahamed said that he was shocked by the decision to bury the Covid 19 victims in such far-off places.

“The Jeniffer Perera Committee clearly approved burial in all Muslim burial grounds subject to strict adherence to quarantine rules and placing the body in double body bags”, he pointed out expressing hope the government will revisit this decision soon.


New burial guidelines

The circular containing the guidelines on the burial of victims was issued by the Ministry of Health on Wednesday (3).
It states;

The relatives of deceased should inform the Director/Head of health care institution (where the death has occurred) of their desire to bury the corpse without delay.
* The Director of the hospital/Head of health care institution should obtain a written request from relatives for burial.
* Director/ Head of health care institution should make arrangements to include the place of burial as Iranathivu island in death declaration form by coordinating with the nominee of Director.
* If an inquest is held, the burial site has to be included by the Inquirer in to Sudden Deaths (ISD) / Magistrate in the document issued by them.
* The relatives have to provide the coffin as soon as possible.
* It is the duty of the Director/ Head of health care institution to transport the corpse in a coffin provided by the relatives to a designated location in Colombo Institute of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology (office of JMO Colombo) / B.H. Welikanda where the corpse will be received by the designated officer.
* The vehicle transporting the corpse to “Nachchikuda pier” will leave daily at 5.30 a.m. from the designated receiving center nominated by the DGHS. Corpse carried by authorized personal will be handed over to respective authority at the “Nachchikuda pier” which is supervised by the area MOH/ representative PHI.
* Burial will take place by the facilitation and coordination of the Police/Security personal at an Island earmarked by the Government of Sri Lanka in the presence of two relatives, MOH/ his representative PHI of the area of burial.
* Before departure of the corpse, designated health staff of the hospital wearing PPE should bring the corpse from the pre designated area to the viewing area for relatives to view the corpse.
* Religious activities are permitted only at this point according to the guidelines provided by DGHS.
* The corpse in the coffin is placed in the transportation carriage and handed over to MOH/representative PHI and police to be carried to the designated place of receiving corpses in Colombo.
* The relatives or unauthorized persons are not permitted to obtain photographs, video and video calls in the health care institution/s.
* Two of the relatives who visited the hospital where death has occurred and identified the deceased, allowed to be present at the Nachchikuda pier in the Kilinochchi district on the following day for witnessing the burial at Iranathivu island.
* At the final destination, the corpse inside the coffin is received by the area MOH/ representative PHI of the area of burial.
* After receiving the corpse, it will be taken to the site of burial by the designated officers with necessary health precautions. Only two relatives are permitted to be present at the burial along with area MOH, representative PHI along with Police and security personal handling the burial process.
* The coffin should not be opened and relatives/next to kin will not be permitted to handle the coffin under any circumstance.