Sri Lankan Muslims in Sydney gathered as a motorcade to protest against the ‘cremation-only’ policy being implemented in Sri Lanka, a policy that has been identified as discriminatory and a human rights violation.

The policy, which was in place since April 2020, has received global backlash for its forceful cremation of COVID-19 fatalities with reports of some cremations being done without the consent of the family, sparking protests in countries across the world.

The motorcade headed by the Austra-Lanka Muslim Association (ALMA) made its way around Western Sydney towards Sydney CBD on Sunday 10 January 2021, bearing posters that called on the Sri Lankan Government that the “Sri Lankan Government is denying the burial rights of Christians and Muslims.”

A parade of cars drive on a street with posters pasted on the cars

A motorcade makes its way through Sydney suburbs, protesting against forced cremations

ALMA President, Mr Ubaidur Rahmaan Mahmood said, “Cremation has left the minority communities, especially the Christian and Muslim communities, feeling helpless.”

The Sri Lankan Government continues to cite “ground water contamination” as its primary reason for implementing a ‘cremation-only’ mandate for all COVID-19 fatalities. The claim has since been debunked by epidemiologists and virologists across the world.

The World Health Organization clearly identified that burial of coronavirus fatalities is safe and that burial rights may be permitted if adapted for COVID-19 safety regulations.

Nearly 10 months into the pandemic and with numerous petitions, protests and global outcry, Sri Lanka remains one of only two countries in the world that continues to implement the policy.

“This has nothing to do with science,” Mr Mahmood said.

“Many opposition politicians [in Sri Lanka] have pointed out that the hardline policy of the government is nothing but to hurt the feelings and religious practices of the Muslims,” Mr Mahmood explained.

As the car parade made its way throughout Sydney, protesters expressed the need for proactive global intervention.

“It’s absolutely devastating,” one protester, Mohamed Fazli, said, “we believe burning is a punishment that only God has the right to do.”

For many Muslims in Sri Lanka and around the world, burial of the deceased is one of many sacred rights that must be upheld by those who are alive.

But under the stringent policy, the extensive burial rites dedicated to the deceased are unable to be carried out, leaving the surviving families distraught from the loss and from the inability to hon- our them properly.

“It is our responsibility to bury the dead,” said Mr Fazli. “We have failed them.”

Burial rites are not just present in Islam but are also upheld by many Christians, Jews and through- out other cultures as well, prompting many communities to rally together against the human rights violation.

During early December 2020, protests held in the UK saw Muslims, Christians and Catholics unite in solidarity against the policy.

“We at South Asia Solidarity Group, stand in solidarity with the Muslims, Christian and Catholic communities of Sri Lanka who are at present facing the thoroughly inhumane and arbitrary policy laid down by the Sri Lankan government,” said protest organizer Baazir Rahman.

“Mourning and grieving for their loved ones has become a fraught political issue, provoking great pain and anger amongst the Muslims and Christians,” he said.