Why didn’t 163 civil society activists and Sri Lanka Human Rights Commissioner speak on behalf of Sinhalese & Tamil New Year celebration cancellation too?

On 5th April 2020, a group of 163 civil society activists & 17 organizations placed their names on a letter to H E President Gotabaya Rajapakse on behalf of the Muslims appealing to grant burial to covid-19 dead. This is not to argue against their petition but to ask 2 questions. Firstly, why not issue a similar petition on behalf of the Catholics who also bury their dead? Isn’t their mental state affected as well? If mental state is what the petitioners are highlighting how about the feelings of the families of the other victims who had to forsake their traditional customs as well. Did these petitioners comment one word on behalf of the other dead victims? Secondly, why not speak on behalf of the Sinhalese & Tamils who comprise almost 90% of the population & had their Avurudu (New Year) celebrations cancelled by the Government-aren’t their sentiments hurt too? Doesn’t this selective championing of ‘justice’ highlight very clearly the bias of these petitioners?

These 163 ‘civil society voices’ were appealing to address the ‘country’s distressed Muslims’ and ‘put to rest their fears’ that they are being ‘punished’, and that the country has ‘little respect for their concerns’. They cite the cremation of a Muslim on 30th March 2020. The activists claim that the Muslim faith requires the dead to be buried and not cremated.

Close to 70 signatories are Muslim, just over 40 signatories are Tamils, close to 40 signatories are Sinhalese:

Prominent names on the list include

Academics: Dr. Nimalka Fernando, Attorney-at-law, Dr. Paikiasothy SaravanamuttuDr. Jehan Perera, National Peace Council Prof Ameer Ali, Dr. Farzana Haniffa, University Of Colombo, Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare, Dr. Kaushalya Fernando, Prof. Arjuna Parakrama, University Of Peradeniya, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, University Of Colombo.  Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Open University Of Sri Lanka

Legal: Lal Wijenayake, Attorney-at-law, Justice. Dr. Saleem Marsoof, Srinath Perera, Attorney-at-aw, United Socialist Party, K.S. Ratnavel, Attorney-at-law

Journalist: Latheef Farook, Emil van der Poorten

Others: Radhika Coomaraswamy, Bhavani Fonseka, Visakha Tillekeratne, Chief Commissioner, Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association Ruki Fernando, Devanesan NesiahBishop Duleep de Chickera, Prof. Rajan Hoole, Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Some of these names of course are well known for their open bias but it is strange to see the signatories of Church heads who ideally should have insisted on the petitioners mentioning the denial of Catholics to bury dead too. Why is the entire petition voicing only 1 community only?  Then you get a member of the Election Commission also signing and he does what he likes.

A day after the petition the Island newspaper carried a statement by the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commissioner Deepika Udugama Cremation of Muslim covid-19 victims – Govt should have consulted the community’  – leaders of the Muslim community, medical professionals of the Muslim community, scientists of the Muslim community.


If the SLHR Head is highlight religious sensitivities why is she not asking if the Govt consulted the Buddhist leaders, the Hindu leaders and all others who were going to celebrate the Sinhala-Tamil Aluth Avuruda? Why is she not coming forward to speak on behalf of the Buddhist-Hindu sensitivities for having their cherished and ancient custom completely cancelled. Avurudu is a time where there is much sharing and giving, families prepare all sorts of food items which are shared to family and friends, there are rituals like preparation of meals, going to the temples, worshipping one’s parents, visiting one’s relations, the exchange of money which even the banks and companies look forward to, there is exchange of clothes and gifts and there are plenty of games and fun that all communities take part in and look forward to. The government has not only imposed curfew throughout this period but the police have declared that even if anyone is going visiting family or friends with sweetmeats they’ll end up eating them in prison.

How about the sensitivities of the country’s majority faith and populace who are told they cannot celebrate Avurudu? Why is the SLHR not coming forward on behalf of them and speaking for their sensitivities too? Why are the 163 petitioners and other organizations also ignoring the mental condition and sensitivities of these people?

Covid-19 Dead

Victim 1 – Sinhala Buddhist

Victim 2 – Muslim

Victim 3 – Muslim

Victim 4 – Sinhala Buddhist

Victim 5 – Sinhala Catholic

Victim 6 – Sinhala Catholic

Victim 7 – Muslim

Though the victims died on different days the same procedure was followed for all

  • Bodies were not washed, embalmed or touched
  • Bodies were placed inside a sealed bag and coffin was sealed
  • Bodies were taken to crematorium within 12hrs of their death
  • ONLY 2 of the closest relatives were allowed to witness
  • GMO explained to relative the cause of death & procedure being carried out
  • Bodies were placed in incinerator that generated heat of over 1200 centigrade
  • Protective garments of pallbearers were destroyed immediately afterwards
  • All involved were sprayed with disinfectant
  • Crematorium was disinfected
  • Vehicle that transported coffin was also disinfected.
  • NONE of the victims had final rites as per their faith

It is completely wrong of the 163 petitioners to claim that Muslims are being ‘punished’ and that the country has ‘little respect for their concerns’ and that the Government should ‘put to rest their fears’. The petitioners were voicing only 9% of the people of Sri Lanka.

What about the 91% why are the petitioners ignoring their sensitivities?

Seven persons died of covid-19 of this only 3 were Muslims.

2 Sinhala Buddhists and 2 Sinhala Catholics also died.

Final rites and customs were not performed on these 4 non-Muslims too. No victims’ funeral took place following their cultural values or religious practices. Why then are the petitioners presenting a notion that Sri Lanka was purposely targeting only Muslims?

Only highlighting the sensitivities of only one community totally ignoring the other communities equally victims is unacceptable and the petitioners and the SL Human Rights Head owes the 91% a public apology.

For academics, professors, professionals, attorneys and people holding important portfolios in society this is a despicable act and quite unbecoming of them.

However, in so doing it has publicly exposed their names and their characters to all.

The opportunism of NGOs can be seen in this post



Shenali D Waduge

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