27 April 2009, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The government is considering a proposal to usher in a new ‘barefoot revolution’ in Sri Lanka as part of its philosophy to revive ancient Sinhala traditions.
This will see the systematic phasing out of footwear use in all government offices, and other places where politicians and officials are present. The practice will be first introduced in Parliament, as well as offices of the President and Prime Minister, and later extended to cover all government offices.
“Wearing shoes and slippers is a recent habit introduced to our people by western colonialists,” says Emeritus Professor Amaradasa Gunasekera, originator of the idea. “The ancient Sinhalese knew that we living in a tropical country do not need to cover our feet. In our current quest to revitalise indigenous knowledge and traditional Sinhala Buddhist culture, we want to restore this excellent practice.”
Professor Gunasekera, who is Presidential Advisor (No 223) for reviving ancient traditions, has drafted a policy paper on transforming Sri Lanka’s public sector into a ‘barefoot zone’. When introduced, this will require visitors to all public places in local, provincial and central governments to remove their footwear and leave them in a secure place at the entrance.
“We don’t anticipate a problem in public cooperation,” says Professor Gunasekera. “After all, we all do it willingly when entering temples and kovils. So why not extend this good practice to our ‘temples of public service’?”
He was emphatic that this should not be seen as a ban. “Bans are another decadent concept of the crumbling west. We in the east do everything voluntarily through enlightened public consensus. Barefoot Nation will be introduced on this basis.”
Asked whether public officials themselves will be allowed to move around inside their offices with footwear, he said the matter was still under discussion. “We have to tread carefully on this one,” he said, intending no pun. “We don’t want any retrogressive public official petitioning Supreme Court on his fundamental rights being violated.”
Creating barefoot public offices is to be the first step in transforming Sri Lanka into a fully-fledged barefoot nation under the prevailing chinthana. The Health Ministry is to send a top level delegation of officials to study China’s barefoot doctors programme, with a view to emulating it here.
Meanwhile, a defence ministry source denied that this new national policy had anything to do with fears of disgruntled members of the public throwing shoes, sandals or slippers at politicians or senior officials.
“This is a malicious rumour, possibly started by the opposition or a subversive journalist,” the official said on the condition of anonymity. “Our dear leaders are held in such high esteem by the adoring public and there is no threat of any offensive behaviour.”
India’s politicians contesting in the general election, fearful of shoes hurled at them by disgruntled voters, have asked for more security and are erecting metal nets at rallies. An angry party worker threw a slipper at Lal Krishna Advani, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate, during an election meeting last week. The slipper missed Advani, but was enough for authorities to step up security for all leaders across the country.
The incident was the latest episode of shoe-throwing as a protest against political leaders, including former US President George W. Bush when visiting Iraq, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a lecture at Cambridge University, UK. Throwing a shoe at someone is considered an extreme insult in many cultures.
The multi-million rupee ‘Barefoot Lanka’ campaign, to be handled by the 123Ads company, is to use the famous Nanda Malini song, ‘Miriwedi sangalak illa henduwemi’. It refers to the absurdity of craving for footwear when some people have no feet to wear any.
“We are a nation with a very large number of valiant soldiers and innocent civilians who have lost one or both limbs from landmine explosions. Phasing out footwear use will also make us sensitive about their plight,” said Professor Gunasekera. Anyone opposing this campaign would have to be considered a traitor, he added.
It is not clear whether the boutique shop currently known as Barefoot would be asked to change its name. “If you ask me, we can’t have a handful of elites standing in the way of national progress,” Professor Gunasekera said.