SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka’s recent announcement to ban the burqa on grounds of ‘national security,’ while calling its use ‘religious extremism’ has been termed as racist agenda in an attempt to appease the country’s Buddhist majority and cause divisions.
The burqa has cultural significance in the Muslim community. It is a commonly worn outer garment to cover the entire body and the face by some Muslim women.
On Saturday, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Public Security Sarath Weerasekera said that he had signed a paper for cabinet approval to ban the burqa. He added that the government also has plans to ban over 1,000 Islamic schools that defy the national education policy.
“This is a racist agenda, they are trying to convince the Buddhists that they are going after Muslims,” Hilmy Ahamed, vice-president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka said. He added that the burqa should be a right of a woman to choose.
During a ceremony at a Buddhist temple on Saturday, Weerasekara said that the burqa has a direct impact on national security and called it a sign of ‘religious extremism’.
It is interesting to note that Weerasekera’s announcement came only a few weeks ahead of the second anniversary of the 2019 Easter attacks. In 2019, three luxury hotels and three churches in Sri Lanka were attacked that killed around 269 people. Two local Muslim groups in alliance with the ISIL (ISIS) group were blamed for the attacks.
In March 2020, the government had announced that the bodies of COVID-19 victims could only be cremated. The rules banned burial on the grounds as the virus could spread by contaminating groundwater. The regulation caused forcible cremation of over 350 Muslims (COVID-19 deaths) against their religious belief, hence making the stance to ban madrasas and burqa a racist agenda.
This has posed a question to the government if the same scrutiny would be imposed on Christian and Buddhist education which serves the same purpose as madrasas to educate the theologians.
On the announcement of the government-mandated cremation of COVID-19 victims, Vraie Cally Balthazaar, a gender activist based in the capital, Colombo, said the move will affect the lives of Muslims in the country. This ban was lifted last month after months of protests mainly by Muslim groups and harsh criticism from international rights groups around the globe.
“I don’t think anyone making decisions on the burqa are doing it with the intention of national security or keeping the rights of women in mind. I think the burqa has become a symbol of a power struggle that the state wants to control,” said Balthazaar, adding that after the cremation issue, this will affect the lives of Muslims again, particularly women.