One of Sri Lanka’s main Buddhist institutions, the Asgiriya Chapter, has protested regarding the appointment of the newly appointed Governor of the Central Province on the basis of gender.
President Maithripala Sirisena appointed Niluka Ekanayake to the post of Governor Central Province on the 17th, March 2016.
She is the first transgender person to hold such a high profile post in Sri Lanka’s history.
After the appointment of the new Governor, President Maithripala Sirisena tweeted “Congratulations to Niluka Ekanayake, Governor of Central Province. She replaces the eminent spokesperson for women, Surangani Ellawala“.
“Niluka Ekanakayake has no qualifications to justify her appointment to such a lucrative government position. Her only qualification is that she is the secret horoscope reader for President Maithripala Sirisena.”
” I’m not sure whether he is promoting a marginalised person or promoting his secret astrologer. I didn’t ask President about this since it is his choice and he has power to appoint anyone he wants, since this appointment didn’t want the approval of the Constitutional Council” one of the President’s close confidantes told Colombo Telegraph on the condition of anonymity.
Although she was born as a man and named Sattambige Don Neil Sriyaratne at birth, she behaved like a girl from her childhood days, Niluka’s father told media some time ago.
According to Colombo Telegraph research, as a transgender person, especially a transgender woman, she has been experiencing widespread prejudice, discrimination and other forms of stigma.
Earlier in 1997 a man named Sattambige Don Neil Sriyaratne pleaded guilty to a Criminal Investigation Department charge for impersonation.
In 1998 he was also charged for forgery.
According to court records from 1997, Niluka was produced before Doctor Nalaka Mendis at the national hospital Colombo who after inspection had confirmed in his report that the accused happened to be biologically male.
It is not clear whether Niluka Ekanayake is just wearing women’s clothes whilst being a man. However she now claims she is married and has a child.
According to existing Sri Lankan legislation Niluka Ekanayake then risks being guilty of being ‘male’ and operating under a female alias, with which she went on to obtain huge bank loans on the pretext of being a prawn farming businesswoman.
The details and verdict of that particular case hit world news headlines when it also stated that the same man Sattambige Don Neil Sriyaratne in Sri Lanka had earlier won the award for the “Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in 1995”.
On the 19th of April 1997 The Spokesman-Review carried a story “Honored Female Isn’t One After All“. On 13th April 1997 the New York Times carried a headline ” No Businesswoman, He“. According to the New York Times story she did obtain a bank loan of US $ 500,000.
It was in the Magistrate Court of Colombo Sri Lanka that President Counsel Tilak Marapana appeared for Niluka Ekanayake in her defence.
Sattambige Don Neil Sriyaratne the man was fined and warned when he pleaded guilty to the charge of impersonation.
A lawyer who also represented Niluka Ekanayake confirmed to Colombo Telegraph that the new Governor Central Province is the same man Sattambige Don Neil Sriyaratne that he appeared for in that case in 1997.
Sattambige Don Neil Sriyaratne’s legal team had even gone on to state that their client was born male. However a hormonal condition meant their cliententered adulthood with female features.
An LGBTQI rights activist when contacted said “this is a progressive step in our quest to have the Lesbianism, Gay, Bi- Sexual and the Transgender act implemented in Sri Lanka. Currently citizens of Sri Lanka can legally change their name but there is no law passed yet to change one’s gender. I applaud President Sirisena for this historical appointment” she said.
According to media reports in Colombo, two powerful Government Ministers S.B. Dissanayake and Mahinda Amaraweera who are close confidantes of President Maithripala Sirisena had visited the Anunayake of the Asgiriya Chapter Wendaruwe Upali in Kandy last morning. The High Priest had then gone on to vehemently oppose Niluka Ekanayake’s appointment as the new Governor of the Central Province. Leading buddhist monks of the Asgiri Chapter – Warakagoda Dhammaratana, Urulewatte Dhammarakkhitha, Anamaduve Dhammadhassi and Gallalle Sadhdhatissa were also present at the meeting.
“The Governor has to work with Buddhist monks in the central province and also has to participate in religious ceremonies at the ‘Temple of the Tooth Relic’ (Sri Dalada Maligawa). So she is not suitable for the post and President Maithripala Sirisena should appoint someone else” said the Maha Sanga who had been firm in their request to the two Ministers.
Prior to Niluka Ekanayake’s appointment the Governor Central Province was a female Surangani Ellawela. She passed away on the 14th, March 2016.
Sri Lanka had the world’s 1st female Prime Minister and 1st female Executive President. Both of them as well as the former Governor participated in religious ceremonies at Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. At that time no Maha Nayaka Thera opposed their participation at those religious ceremonies then.
According to history the tooth relic belonging to Lord Buddha was smuggled from India to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamala when she concealed it in her hair.
UK-based trans rights activist, blogger and comparative politics academic Dr Chaminda Weerawardhana noted; “Transgender people have existed in every society throughout history. The dominance of the male-female gender binary, which was reinforced across the world especially under the influence of Abrahamic traditions, long resulted in obliterating, and blatantly discriminating against, everybody who did not conform to the cisgender male and female identities. This repressive nature of the gender-binary is such that Trans and gender-fluid/plural people face tremendous levels of violence across the world. In the USA, over twenty transwomen, especially transwomen of colour, were murdered in 2015 alone. In Brazil, some 48 transwomen were killed in January 2016 alone. Despite these appalling circumstances, the right to affirm one’s gender identity has emerged as a crucial civil rights issue of the present time. Trans people have gained increased visibility, and quite a few countries now recognise the presence of trans people and their potential. In the USA, the Obama administration has appointed Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a Latina public policy expert (and transgender woman) as its LGBTQI liaison. In Tamil Nadu, K. Prithika Yashini, a trans woman has been appointed as a police officer, and in the UK, a transwoman, Dr Victoria McCloud, is a high court judge.”
“In 2015, the Irish Republic introduced a Gender Recognition Act, which facilitates the legal formalities for trans people seeking to legally change their gender. A similar bill is currently being debated in the Norwegian parliament. In South Asia, Nepal and India have ‘third gender’ options on their passports. All this is complemented by an on-going struggle to recognise the civil rights of people who identify as ‘non-binary’. The bottom line is that it is up to each individual to ‘self-determine’ their gender identity. Governments and judiciaries cannot impose hormone replacement therapy or gender reassignment surgery on free citizens. It is up to each transgender person to decide how far they wish to go in terms of medical transition, decide which gender pronouns they use or whether they wish to change their name or not. Someone’s gender identity, whether cis or trans, should certainly not be an impediment to excel in a chosen profession, or assume governmental or diplomatic office. Sri Lanka has a vibrant trans community, with people making great contributions through their work, and it is high time that Colombo introduced gender recognition legislation, repealed sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code, and put in place regulations against all forms of discrimination, including anti-trans discrimination.” Dr Weerawardhana told Colombo Telegraph.