Mischievous opinion and ulterior motives
Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
Communication has been the most dominant means of influencing and shaping a society. Approximately in and around 720 BC the Greek alphabet reflected on the Greeks to mull over and acquire astuteness. Writing allows the author of a story to register what he writes in a reader’s mind exactly he intends it to be. Thus, communication media have influenced human existence from time immemorial.

A media turbulence did surface during the last few days out of a statement apparently made by the Secretary to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs about a ‘request received from an unnamed group proposing a dress code in public holy places’, especially for women. This appeared to have been submitted to the official committee machine to mull over it.

Dress code
An AFP correspondent quite successfully managed to bring a hornet’s nest upon journalists in general by making a meal out of this news item, layered with his ‘imagination’ making a mockery of the Sri Lankan Government policies.

Catching it halfway, some in this country have magnified the issue by publicising statements to the effect that the ‘Government is going to disallow females wearing miniskirts altogether, prohibit walking on streets bare-foot, prevent people chewing bulathvita (pan-rolled betel leaf) and most anomalous of all, to prohibit wearing sarongs sans underwear’ (which jerked my memory on the ‘virginity tests’ imposed on Asian fiances’ on entry to UK at the Heathrow airport by a Labour administration some years back).

Even some newspapers jumped the gun in putting the fear of Moses into the general public by stating that such alleged ‘proposals might bring about ‘Talibanism’ to Sri Lanka.’

Existence of dress codes is not new or an isolated issue reflected on Sri Lanka alone. In many sanctified environments the world over, especially in Italy and France, scantily dressed women are not permitted to enter places of worship. India’s holy places attract more and more foreigners every year. There are some basic rules to visiting India’s religious sites that tourists should pay attention to. Like in Sri Lanka shoes have to be

Removed prior to entering a holy place
There are dress codes for professionals and office staff. The reason for introducing a dress code for women particularly in consecrated environments could be that the human eye automatically gets attracted to some parts of the human anatomy to distract and dispel tranquillity in one’s mind in such surroundings.

Public outcry
Whatever the reasons and demands that boosted the latest quandary and public outcry on a ‘proposal to ban women wearing miniskirts in public’, one need not go overboard or too obsessed by paying attention to a nit-picking group, representing religious or cultural interests who by their own deed and actions, becomes denuded sometimes on social issues.

Undoubtedly those who have managed to arouse a public unrest which automatically has dampened the credibility of the government, even temporarily, should have realised that Sri Lankan people, in the past, generally went topless, or draped part of their clothing over their chests and shoulders only when needed. Rodi) men and women were compelled to go bare bodied and forced to reside in Kuppayam (separate villages). With the advent of the Portuguese later, widespread European type Christian ideology gave people the idea that ‘the sight of women’s breasts was sinful’. From the natural topless Rodi women and men in Amude (loin cloth) we have become unnaturally dressed and now proceeding to be paranoid about it. Miniskirt is a worldwide phenomenon except in Islamic-countries. Sri Lanka is not governed by Islamic Shariah.

Sigiri frescoes
While discussing this topic with my good friend Tony, he suggested that the so-called pundits who have come up with bizarre and hair-splitting suggestions ‘should have first and foremost thought of covering the boobs of the Sigiri frescoes without showing the world that once our women were topless even before modern day female emancipation hit America’.

Looking at beauty naturally soothes the eye and is harmless, but the carnal perspective one presupposes and creates in others’ mind would be the most dangerous and sinful exploit in a society.

With thousands of tourists expected (Western females in particular) by the year 2012, are we to dictate terms to them on a dress code and say: “Hey lovely, no bikinis or swim suits please” in open beaches and hotel pools. Imagine all women tourists wearing sleeved long frocks frolicking in the sea in baggy long pants or ankle length long skirts! What a preposterous suggestion?

Wearing Sarongs sans underwear, or walking barefoot is one’s personal choice, if at all, why should a State be bothered about such trivialities.

If we want to comply with a sole idea of forming moral and Dharmistic society we need to ban horse-racing, casinos and close down the lotteries board as well, pin point critics, as gambling too is immoral.

As long as we are governed by a secular government that does not have religion based dress codes like in non-secular countries, even to suggest to the State to impose such codes on its citizens would be unacceptable.

Development process
Although the latest alleged suggestion or the proposal is ridiculed by cynics, the authorities categorically deny that there is no such pretence on the part of the Government and the news item that appeared in the media was totally incorrect.

Confirming to this effect, a special statement issued by the Government Information Department stated: “It is regretted to note that at a time the government has embarked upon an accelerated development process especially in the area of tourism, these types of mischievous ideas are propagated with ulterior motives”.

For all that matters, in certain circles, the whole saga is viewed as a storm in a teacup which has only given ammunition to a starving opposition!