Catholics denied burial rights

[TamilNet, Thursday, 03 June 1999, 07:40 GMT]
Burial in the cemetery adjoining the Catholic church in Vakarai, Batticaloa district has been banned by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) which has its camp in the central section of the village, said sources. This has forced the Catholic population to use the cemetery traditionally used by the Hindus.

SLA refused to allow last rites for Saverimuttu Santhanam (68) who passed away last week to be performed in the Catholic cemetery. His body was finally buried in the Hindu cemetery. This has caused severe anguish among the christian population of Vakarai.

"We have been made foreigners in our own land. The whole world knows this fact. However, it is a revered tradition that the dead are given the final respects according to their own religious customs. But what happened today has not only buried human dignity but also has violated our human rights," said K. Sebastian, a Vakarai resident, to the TamilNet correspondent.

Vakarai is situated 64km north of Batticaloa district. The SLA camp in Vakarai encircles several residences, the Catholic church, the residence of the Priest, a hospital and a nursery school.

Before 1990, an estimated 400 families comprising 75% hindus and 25% christians lived in Vakarai. Majority of them lived in the central part of the village and led a decent life. During this period there were no army presence in Vakarai.

When the 'Eelam War II' started on the 11th June 1990 the Sri Lankan troops who moved to Vakarai set up a camp in the central section. Several families, fearing harassment, relocated to other safer areas.

In 1995, the SLA camps in that region were closed and the troops were sent to other parts. This allowed the LTTE to set up its camps in the region. The displaced population slowly returned and situation reached near normalcy again.

On the 22nd June 1998, the SLA advanced towards Vakarai and again set up their camp. The civilian population started to move out and only about 250 families currently live there. The SLA destroyed up to 65 houses while setting up its camp.

Since the Catholic church is inside the security zone surrounding the camp, the priest Rev. Ambrose stays in Batticaloa during the week and travels to Vakarai on Sundays to conduct prayers. The local population is not allowed to attend the church except on Sundays. The Locals have to surrender their Identity Cards at the checkpoint before they are allowed to enter church premises.

"We have been barred from attending our church to perform our religious duties. We are extremely hurt by the incident that occurred last week. The situation in Madhu was well publicized because it is a famous religious shrine. But basic human rights violations in smaller religious institutions such as ours are rarely made public. Only when these incidents are made public one can expect to see these problems solved," said a local teacher.


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