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Learning from Corona:
When it comes to life: religion, race & caste don’t matter

“When we are told that so many have contracted the disease, we don’t feel like asking their religious identity”

16.04.2020  |  

The world is currently taking precautions to protect itself from COVID-19. With Sri Lanka currently trapped in the corridor of the virus, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian places of worship have been closed as a preventive measure. In this context, a Buddhist organization has launched projects to distribute facemasks to the public, free of charge. Through this, they intend to raise public awareness around Coronavirus and ensure public protection.

Videos and photos of the Buddhist Thero at the Fort Railway Station distributing masks for Muslim religious school students have now gone viral on social media. Thousands of people shared these images on their social media pages, especially those popular among Muslims. These pictures have also been circulated in the media under the titles ‘Only Humanity Can Beat Corona‘ and ‘The most beautiful photo I have seen on the internet today‘.

Everyone should wear a mask for protection from the virus. Using the current situation, some sell the mask for Rs. 150 which was normally sold for Rs. 15. This is not the time to do business and maximize profit. We noticed that people are unable to buy face masks because of this price increase. That’s why we started this project. We are distributing this to everyone, regardless of ethnicity or religion,” says Japurewela Thero, the head of the organization.

More than 5,000 masks have been distributed at the National Hospital, Fort Railway Station and Katunayake Airport on Monday  as at 16th March 2020. Further, face masks were distributed in the Kegalle National Hospital and the surrounding areas. They also had plans to distribute masks in Kandy but due to the declaration of curfew, the initiative was abandoned.

The Thero says that Muslim religious school students at the Fort Railway Station did not know how to wear the masks accurately, so he volunteered to teach them. He also says that even Muslim women, who did not wish to show their faces to the camera, took the masks with a smile on their face. The masks were distributed to all without any discrimination. Our main aim was to protect all ethnic groups from the deadly disease. We had about 15 volunteers to distribute masks; there were others who joined them in the activity.

We are facing a national crisis today. Coronavirus will affect everyone. It does not recognize caste like human beings. People need to realize the seriousness of this. We said the same to our volunteers. We advised them to treat Tamil and Muslim people with dignity when distributing the face masks. We all are of the same country. Even though there are ethnic differences, this is not the time to think it. We are working together to eradicate the virus. This is our intention. Nobody told us to do this, we are doing this on our own initiative”, he added.

Freedom of expression and religious freedom have been enshrined in the constitution of Sri Lanka. But, interfaith conflicts have emerged in many places from time to time. There are people who only believe in their religions. Hate speech emanating from such people have created religious conflicts in the country. Today all are united to defend humanity forgetting differences. Religious leaders have announced that people should not gather at temples this month, which is a time of year for all festivals, prayers and masses. Generally all places for people’s gatherings are closed.

Engineer Kasun Dassanayake, who received a mask from Japurewala Thero, told The Catamaran: “Corona is an epidemic. The virus is not going to respect the sanctity of religious places. If anyone with coronavirus is to be present at places of worship it would be disastrous. When it comes to life, we must consider others’ right to life too. Religious belief is his or her own personal matter. When it comes to a problem like COVID-19, we should not consider if one is Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim. In such a situation, it is mandatory that everyone should come together to overcome the crisis, whether they like it or not”.

Now it is essential to protect lives rather than follow religions. It is not compulsory to go to places of worship. Worship can also be done at home. First of all people have to be alive to go to places of worship. Therefore, life is more important than arguing on religiosity or rationale,” says Nabris, an Agriculture Faculty student.

One person, who did not wish to be named, said that religious places are the first to open their doors to people in the event of a natural disaster or a calamity. But what we face now is a lethal disease. Understanding this, it is necessary to raise awareness among the people. The faithful of all religions are giving up their ‘religious’ sentiments for the moment and preventing people from gathering together. This unity is needed until the crisis is over.

It is common for people to gather when confronting problems. But in this case, it is important for people to be isolated and be clean and healthy to save themselves and others from this life-threatening disease. “Nobody is concerned whether a victim is a Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim or Christian. Not even the media is interested in that. Even when we are told that so many have contracted the disease, we don’t feel like asking their religious identity” says Thiyaganathan Yogan (55).

COVID-19 has made us realize that all religions teach the same thing. Even religious leaders are compelled to show concern for followers of other religions. Even though churches, mosques, temples and viharas are shut down, we are happy to see people on the streets who are helping others with humanity.

When it comes to life, religion, race or caste do not matter. When people come together and embrace pluralism, the country will benefit and develop.