Colombo, Politics and Governance

Misguided cultural policing in Sri Lanka: Where’s the morality amongst politicians?

No more scantily clad foreign cheerleaders at cricket matches in Sri Lanka as it goes against our “culture”, the Minister of Sports and Public Recreation Gamini Lokuge recently decreed. He was awakened to this “foreign evil” by the Minister of Cultural Affairs Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, after seeing them at the first one-day match between India and Sri Lanka at Dambulla on August 19th. So instead of foreign dancers, the Sports Minister suggested hiring Sri Lankan dancers in keeping with our traditions.

My view is that the action of the Cultural and the Sports Ministers stink of the worst kind of duplicity and mirrors the reaction of the other political parties in Sri Lanka.

The Tourism Ministry sponsored the much-hyped Hikkaduwa Beach Carnival to coincide with the SAARC heads of state meeting earlier this month. There they were plenty of foreign women clad in even less attire energetically gyrating to the beat of trance and house music, to the delight of hundreds of people who where present. Is this keeping with the so-called Sri Lankan culture? The same Government that objects to the women in Dambulla had spent money to bring down these foreign women to perform in Hikkaduwa and yet, I haven’t read about anyone objecting it.

Did foreign cheerleaders became an issue in Dambulla simply because the Sports and Cultural Ministers feel that the spectators from a particular class of society who watch cricket need moral policing?

Surprisingly, the UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayaka has also gone on record saying they are against foreign dancers performing at cricket matches. That stinks of even worse hypocrisy than the Cultural Minister’s ramblings. Wasn’t it the UNP that introduced mini-skirt wearing newsreaders to the national television station and later got castigated for it by the then Opposition? How culturally correct was that move by the UNP? As expected, the JVP and the JHU too have jumped on the anti-foreign cheerleaders bandwagon saying pretty much the same thing, albeit with more froth and pulpit fervour.  

If you look at the bigger picture, how relevant is cricket to the Sri Lankan culture. Isn’t it a sport we are clinging onto jealously as if it is an indigenous invention when we all know it’s another remnant of our colonial past? How many things that are alien to our culture have we adapted? Are we to discard all of them because some politician thinks it goes against his prudish and misguided morality?

If politicians think they are qualified to set moral standards, they themselves need to adhere to what they decree. Today, we all know that the politically powerful and elite have one set of rules while the ordinary people of this country have another.   

We don’t need politicians to set moral standards. The Cultural Minister can start by setting out a moral code for his colleagues and asking them to live by it.

If he succeeds, he can include it in his party’s election manifesto the next time around.