If you visit Sri Lanka, you will find a society that, on the surface at least, is quite modern especially when it comes to the status of women. Women have access to education and occupy high levels of the government and private sectors and there are few restrictions on their movement. Women can and do go about alone, drive, and do pretty much anything that men do. You will see women everywhere, dressed in all manner of styles from the latest western fashions to traditional clothing.
But beneath the surface, there are still some holdovers of the patriarchal past. For example there is the tacit assumption that while they can take prominent roles outside the home, they are still mainly held responsible for the running of the home, the cooking, and the taking care of children. Even though more men are learning to share in those tasks, they are still seen as women’s responsibilities.
There is also a puritanical streak in the country in that public displays of affection are frowned upon. Although foreign films can show people kissing, locally produced media do not. Anything that goes beyond holding hands is frowned upon. This became a major issue recently when the pop star Enrique Iglesias gave a concert in Colombo during which women rushed the stage and kissed and hugged him and some threw their underwear at him.
This caused the president of the country to express outrage, telling a public meeting “This is most uncivilised behaviour that goes against our culture.” He added, “I don’t advocate that these uncivilised women who removed their brassieres should be beaten with toxic stingray tails, but those who organised such an event should be.” The punishment he was recommending is a medieval one that I had not heard of before but apparently used to be done only to hardened criminals.
He may run into a problem advocating this punishment for the organizers of this event because it turns out that it was by a company that is owned by two of Sri Lanka’s most famous cricketers Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardana, both of whom had just recently retired from representing the national teams and are revered in this cricket-mad country almost as gods.
I do not know if the president was aware of this when he suggested the punishment. But the two cricket stars have apologized and so this may be allowed to quietly fade from the spotlight, sparing everyone further embarrassment.