Municipal workers carry the coffin of an unclaimed body of a Covid-19 victim to a crematorium in Colombo on Dec. 10. (Photo: AFP)
Activists have held a demonstration against the Sri Lankan government's refusal to allow the burial of Muslims who died of Covid-19.
Around 100 people protested in front of Borella Cemetery in Colombo and tied white ribbons on its gates at 5pm on Dec. 13.
The demonstration followed the case of a 20-day-old baby who died of a Covid-19 infection and was cremated against the will and beliefs of his Muslim parents.
Protester S. Gamage said that 194 countries have approved the burial of people who died of Covid-19.
"Despite the recommendation of the World Health Organization and the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission to allow burial, the government did not grant that right to the infant and others," Gamage said.
Activists say that 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 members of the Muslim community to whom burial is an honoring of their faith.
Some Muslims fear seeking medical help if they test positive for Covid-19 as they do not want to be cremated, it has been reported.
When the baby was admitted to Colombo Children's Hospital on Dec. 7, he was found to be Covid-19 positive. However, tests confirmed that both parents were not infected.
Officials told Fahim, father of the child, that the baby would be cremated at Borella Cemetery. Fahim went to the cemetery with some friends but did not go in because he did not want to see his child cremated.
Sri Lanka made cremations compulsory for coronavirus victims in April, ignoring protests from minority Muslims.
Activists said that religious customs and final rites must be treated with humanity and mutual respect, while certain communities should not be made to bear an additional burden in the interests of public health.
They said that the practice of cremation goes against the fundamental teachings of Islam. The religion prohibits cremation as it is believed to be a desecration of the deceased; the soul and body remain connected after death.
Sri Lanka has a population of about 21 million, of whom some 10 percent are Muslims.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and other international bodies have spoken out against the forced cremation of Muslims.
But Sri Lankan health officials have said there has been no change to the current cremation procedure.
The country has been experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases since October, with the number of infections increasing more than eightfold to 32,790 with 152 deaths.