Feature Article

Sinhala-militarised COVID-19 deterrence whips up anti-Muslim sentiments

[TamilNet, Sunday, 05 April 2020, 23:52 GMT]
Two of the early COVID-19-related deaths in the island have been those of Muslims. The SL authorities have forcibly cremated their remains, most probably with the instructions from the SL military hierarchy. A few days ago, SL Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, who is also the acting chief of defence staff went to the extent of mentioning two specific instances of persons testing positive for COVID-19 infection as Muslims. Shavendra Silva, who also heads the “National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak,” was reiterating that both those tested positive were Muslims in a video comment to Hiru on 29 March. Coupled with the body language of his insinuating smile, what Shavendra Silva uttered in the Hiru should qualify as a hate speech.

Furthermore, the command responsibility for the hate speech, in a military context, should be seen as originating from SL President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Commander-in-Chief of the military towards his highest-ranking SL military officer Shavendra Silva.

The chain of command responsibility for anti-Muslim hate speech in 2020 and the genocidal onslaught in 2009 involving Gotabaya and Shavendra Silva remain the same.

Similarly, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, a minister in the “caretaker” cabinet of Mahinda Rajapaksa has gone a step further in uttering racial hatred in a video talk-show, Wadapitiya, with Chatura Alwis of Derana television.

In the meantime, Acting SL Inspector General of Police, C.D. Wickramarathna, has instructed the Police arrest those who “publish posts on social media criticising government officials and obstructing their duties,” the Daily Mirror reported on 01 April.

“The global pandemic is a challenge for authorities as they try to protect the population with necessary public health measures. However, criticism will not hinder their work, even if some find it aggravating or unjustified,” the US-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued on Friday.

“Sri Lanka’s authorities must respect the right of religious minorities to carry out the final rites of their relatives in accordance with their own traditions unless they can show that restrictions are needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Amnesty International said in its statement, which was also issued on Friday.

“The World Health Organization’s guidelines for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 allows for either burials or cremations and this position was mirrored in the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health guidelines issued on 27 March 2020,” the statement by the AI said.

“On 31 March, the Sri Lankan guidelines were revised to exclusively order cremations for people who die or are suspected to have died as a result of contracting the COVID-19 virus. The government has not provided adequate or reasonable justification for departing from the WHO guidelines, which underlines concerns that the change was not necessary to protect public health.”

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The Rajapaksa siblings have not regretted or taken any disciplinary action against the two individuals.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was campaigning about “Disciplined, Law Abiding and Values Based Society,” during his presidential elections.

The kind of “social discipline” he implied is best understood when read between the lines of his election manifesto and through witnessing the actions such as those demonstrated during the so-called Independence ceremony and the presidential pardoning of a convicted soldier of a brutal massacre.

“It is our pledge to bring about a country where no one is above the law. Our intention is to ensure that the legal system works devoid of considerations of political affiliations, social standing and connections. In this context, we will also ensure that our traditional values as a country are protected. We will ensure that differently abled citizens and the young people of all religious beliefs and ethnicities are accorded the ability to develop their talents in a safe environment.”


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External Links:
The Business Standard: Coronavirus : Unrest in the Muslim minority as Govt forces to cremate bodies in Sri Lanka


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