The National Human Rights Action Plan [hereafter referred to as ‘Action Plan’] is one of the best developments that came out of the otherwise jaundiced Sirisena–Wickremesinghe joint government. A crucial component of the Action Plan was a call to work towards repealing legislation of yesteryear that restrict fundamental freedoms of Sri Lankan citizens.
Last week, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera MP announced a decision that was part of the gradual implementation of the Action Plan – which involved amending a law passed in the Dominion of Ceylon in 1955. This extremely misogynist ‘law’ banned selling alcohol to women. It also prohibited women from working in bars, distilleries and breweries. Samaraweera’s directive was intended at rescinding this archaic dinosaur of a law, which simply has no place in a country that is even parsimoniously serious about gender equality.
What happened thereafter does not require any reiteration here. The first and the trickiest of elections since the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections is on the way, and President Sirisena was quick to jump in the bandwagon of fundamentalist and, in the book this writer has read, thoroughly uncultured conservatism. He used presidential powers to overturn the ministerial directive, reinstating the 1955 monstrosity of a law.
This decision can be interpreted as an effort by Sirisena to reap electoral advantage among the non-urban, and to a very large extent socially conservative vote base. It can also be understood as a decision that helps cement Sirisena’s position as a politico from the rural conservative hinterland, as opposed to the urban, cosmopolitan and to follow the much-repeated cliché, ‘westernised’, types heading the UNP.
It can also be argued that Samaraweera, being the seasoned politician he is, ought to have waited until the end of the local government poll to come up with this directive.
At another level, Samaraweera’s directive can also be understood as precisely intended at appealing at a very specific vote base that would be extremely decisive at the forthcoming elections – the Colombo electorate. This time around, the UNP has fielded one of its most progressive voices, Rosie Senanayake, as the Colombo mayoral candidate. To the cosmopolitan Colombo electorate disillusioned by the Joint Government’s many vices, a directive of this nature would have meant that their 2015 vote was not in vain. A decision with gender equality and fighting misogynist prejudice at its core implemented by her party would have been advantageous to Ms Senanayake.
Leaving political speculations aside, it goes without saying that Sirisena’s reaction to this directive is extremely pathetic and puerile. It is a move that relegates the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the absolute laughing stock of the world. This decision shows where Sirisena stands on the fundamental rights and freedoms of women.
Source: Click here.
This decision may come as a shock to some, but to this writer, a member of the LGBTQI+ community, it certainly does not come as a surprise.
Sirisena’s misogynist, homophobic, transphobic worldview came to light when he publicly affirmed that it was he who ‘threw away’ a recommendation to repeal Articles 365 and 365A from the Penal Code. His conduct as Head of State has been a sheer disappointment to Sri Lanka’s vibrant, multi-faceted and resourceful LGBTQI+ community.
This decision only adds up to strengthen Sirisena’s thoroughly misogynist credentials, and his disregard for progressive, forward-thinking citizens who voted for him at the 2015 Presidential Election.
Where do we stand, days from Dominion Status Day 2018,* in terms of our political class? Who gives leadership to a highly talented and extremely resourceful people? How can we come out of the abyss of conservatisms and misogyny in the most vital public policy apparatuses? Where do we go from here?
All these and many more questions abound. Possible answers could perhaps be found in a dire necessity for a new Sri Lankan political discourse that needs to be grounded in a logic of gender equality and justice.
* This writer, a Sri Lankan citizen, refuses to use the appellation ‘Independence Day’ when referring to 4th February. She believes that the ‘Independence Day’ of Sri Lanka should be changed to 22 May, the day on which the Constitution of the 1st Republic was promulgated in 1972, marking the end of Dominion Status.