Conveniently ignoring the anti-social elements that have participated in past elections, some sections of the Sri Lankan media have criticized female artistes who wish to participate in the country’s provincial council elections.
Of late, Sri Lankan politics has taken a most interesting turn. At center stage are local actresses and female singers who are making their presence felt in time for the country’s provincial council elections. This unique trend has received much criticism, especially by the country’s media. Many feel that these female celebrity figures have no business being in politics because that is considered a ‘serious’ endeavor. In fact, most media outlets in Sri Lanka have labeled these women as ‘sex symbols’ after news of their interest in local politics broke.
Particularly offensive was a statement issued by a mainstream website called the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) which said: “The main political parties have
commenced interviews to select candidates for each district. Reports have revealed that a large number of regional politicians with years of experience behind them have been neglected in favor of ‘sex symbols’… CaFFE urges all political parties and independent groups to disengage from petty politics by promoting ‘sex symbols’ for short-term gains.”
This extremely offensive statement reflects the prevalent mindset. For starters, there is the assumption that the fairer sex and intellectual ability can never go together. The fact is that it is not the gender that is being argued here but the understanding of politics of those wishing to contest elections. That may not be what the Sri Lankan voter checks when polling his vote. Then there is the fact that several questionable characters have made their entry into Sri Lankan politics but CaFFE, or any other news website for that matter, has not questioned their credibility as public servants. This shows a clear bias on the part of the media as far as these female celebrities are concerned.
The response of the Sri Lankan media is surprising, considering that women have made their presence felt in the country’s politics time and again. As early as 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike shattered the glass ceiling to become the first woman prime minister in the world. When she took charge, her political opponents were less than receptive and even said that the prime minister’s chair would have to be washed monthly. Bandaranaike ignored these baseless and childish jokes and showed her mettle. She is regarded as one of the greatest and most popular prime ministers of Sri Lanka. She was even able to exercise control over the ‘golden brains’ of the Left parties that joined her government and became members of her cabinet.
Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, Margaret Thatcher (known as the ‘Iron Lady’) Prime Minister of the U.K., Benazir Bhutto, two-time Prime Minister of Pakistan and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, are examples of some other women who made a name for themselves in politics.
The Sri Lankan actresses and female singers who wish to be elected as councilors in the Provincial Councils of the Western and Southern Provinces are likely to derive greater strength from their forerunners in politics and, if elected, would make a strong bid to improve the impoverished conditions of the voters who placed their faith in them.
Therefore, calling these women sex symbols and editing their pictures (a trend that has been making the rounds on the social media) to prove the point is highly offensive and defamatory. Perhaps these artistes have become a target of ridicule because of their popularity among their fans who like their performance as actresses, singers and models.
The section of Sri Lankan media that has been criticizing these female artistes surely does not deem it necessary to demand from political parties and groups that they avoid nominating criminals, drug peddlers, rapists, child abusers and other such anti-social elements in elections. For them, the only issue is ‘sex’ in elections, based on their own understanding of the concept. According to the Colombo Telegraph, a popular Sri Lankan newspaper, “The CaFFE mindset and value system on ‘sex’, obviously representing the Sinhala majority, perhaps explains increased rape and sexual harassment in our present-day society.” It is time some in the Sri Lankan media let go of their Victorian, puritanical morals.
Meanwhile, others have lambasted the statements issued by election - monitoring agencies and critics on the social media circuit, saying that there would have been no fuss had these been male actors and singers. This, they say, shows that Sri Lanka is still a patriarchal society that deems women as being incapable of doing anything else besides procreating. “Are they worried that the Provincial Councils would get into a mess? Surely not, as it is conventional wisdom that the Provincial Council is an absolute joke. The PCC have added nothing to the quality or level of governance; rather they have been a huge burden to the public purse and thereby a serious distortion to the allocation of taxpayers’ money. They have amplified the pressure of politicization of governing agencies in the island. Policemen are at risk in their duties; so are doctors in hospitals, heads of schools, teachers, and even sanitary inspectors. The application of the rule of law is dangerously at risk. Even ordinary men and women on the street are at risk,” writes Shyamon Jayasinghe in response to the comments made by CaFFE in the Colombo Telegraph.
The fact is that Sri Lankan politics is marred by corruption, double-dealing and the works. To date, more than a hundred ministers have been accused of indulging in all kinds of questionable activities and have nothing to show for policy development in their jurisdictions. An illegally constituted chief justice says he wants to reform the justice system while the prime minister is facing allegations of heroine dealing. Similarly, an examiner who had failed the son of a big shot in a preliminary aviation test is being pushed out of office and a law college principal who was sacked on serious allegations of nepotism in the conduct of examinations is being promoted to high office.
If people like these can participate in local politics and don’t suffer the consequences of their actions, then why, ask critics, should the actresses be punished for wanting to do the same? Who knows, they may produce better results than the aforementioned male politicians and may actually have something to show for in the coming years.
(Left to right): Gayesha Perera, Nadeesha Hemamali and Anarkalli – Sri Lankan beauties who are testing political waters.