Lanka's burqa ban proposal 'divisive steps' in the name of security: Pak envoy

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Colombo, Mar 15 (PTI) In an unusual move, Pakistan's envoy here on Monday criticised the Sri Lankan government's plan to ban the wearing of burqas in the country, saying such 'divisive steps' in the name of security will not only hurt the sentiments of Muslims but also strengthen wider apprehensions about the fundamental human rights of minorities in the island nation.

Pakistan's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ambassador Saad Khattak's remarks came three days after Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara signed a paper on Friday seeking the approval of the Cabinet ministers to ban burqas -- outer garments that cover the body and face worn by some Muslim women -- citing 'national security'.

Tweeting a news report on Lanka's proposal to ban burqa and other face coverings, Khattak said, 'The likely ban on Niqab will only serve as injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe.' 'At today's economically difficult time due to (the) pandemic and other image related challenges faced by the country at international fora, such divisive steps in the name of security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, will only serve as fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country,' the envoy added.

The Buddhist-majority nation in 2019 had temporarily banned wearing of burqas under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks in which nine suicide bombers belonging to the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) carried out a series of blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels, killing 270 people, including 11 Indians, and injuring over 500.

Announcing his proposal to ban burqa in the country, Weerasekara on Saturday said, “The burqa has a direct impact on national security. In our early days, we had a lot of Muslim friends, but Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa. It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We will definitely ban it.” Weerasekara also said the government is planning to ban over 1,000 Madrassas, which are flouting national education policy.

The Lankan government last year had also made the cremation of COVID-19 victims mandatory, citing health concerns. It cited the opinion of some experts who claimed that the burial of COVID-19 victims would contaminate the water table, thereby spreading the pandemic further. The cremation of bodies is forbidden in Islam and Christianity.

Amidst mounting international criticism, including from Pakistan, the government revised its policy last month.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had also raised the issue during his visit to Colombo last month.

Muslims make up about 9 per cent of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists account for more than 70 per cent of the population. Ethnic minority Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, comprise about 12 per cent, while Christians account for over 7 per cent of the population. PTI CORR SCY AKJ SCY SCY