The failure on our part of the world in adopting commonsensical social reforms has much to do with the political hypocrisy. Competitive politics, of course, mandate that the politicians grasp the public mood, but in our societies, when politicians do that, they often tend to relate to the fringe; the homophobes, puritans, ethnic and religious bigots and when there is none of them, the bottom of the social gutter. (See the types of people who are generally mobilized for election campaigns).
When President Maithripala Sirisena spewed his puritanism before the villagers in Agalawatta, he did exactly the same. There, he told a rally that he had ordered the government to rescind a Gazette notification on revoking the prohibition of selling liquor to females and the time extensions on liquor shops. That is a cheap political gimmick that we are all too familiar with by hordes of successive political leaders. That is also retrograde garbage. Needless to say that this arcane law is discriminatory against women- that it was never implemented may suggest that an average Sri Lankan bartender could perhaps be more enlightened than the Head of State.
The ban on selling alcohol to women was first introduced in 1955, one in a long list of religiously and culturally tinted policy making buffoonery that the independent Sri Lankan leaders indulged in well until whatever prosperity we inherited at the independence slipped through our hand. Having come into effect during the wave of prohibitionist movement, it might even have reflected the public mood at the time, which was much less perfect and less sophisticated than today. But, why keep them now?
Why President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who albeit her other misdemeanours is a social liberal, could not annul this anti- women booze law could well be because no one really knew that it existed. Therefore, the original gazette notification on revoking the ban by Minister Samaraweera is more of a symbolic act. It is also an act of political courage to stand up for very basic liberal values that define any civilized society.
The President’s intervention to rescind the gazette notification would not turn bar tables on the women. However, if this leads to a new kind of vigilantism against women who happened to unwind in a pub or places that served alcohol ( which happened in Mumbai after a puritanical drive by Hindu nationalists), the president should take responsibility.
His remarks threaten to energize the same regressive elements and rhetoric that Sri Lanka should strive to suppress if it is to become a successful modern society. Empowering those fringes at the expense of the aspiring and hardworking Sri Lankans who tend to mind their own business was the curse that led to incremental ruin of this nation.
Sri Lanka should empower the aspiring middle class, who as they become prosperous, also become more socially, economically and politically liberal and accommodating
Sri Lanka should empower the aspiring middle class, who as they become prosperous, also become more socially, economically and politically liberal and accommodating. Government policies should also aim to enable lesser privileged sections, who are also economically and socially less productive to graduate into upper social, economic and cultural ladder. That is not possible if the state policies are overly dictated by political short-termism to celebrate the social and cultural ignorance as bliss.
President Sirisena has been more accommodating towards political aspirations of Tamils. Though whether that political accommodation would in the long run doze the destructive attributes of Tamil exceptionalism- which itself is tribal- is to be seen, the President’s commitment to ethnic pluralism is commendable. However, sadly though, at the same time he had stood on the path of equally important social reforms, which any forward looking government should undertake.
The President may genuinely believe in his social conservatism of the by-gone era. He has all the right to his opinion, as much as women have their right to booze, - and gays’ and lesbians’ to their sexual identity
Earlier, he forced the government to rescind the plans to decriminalize homosexuality. The original government proposal was to revoke the Article 365A of the Penal Code, an arcane Victorian law inherited from the British. Like the ban on serving booze to women, Article 365 A has not been enforced for decades, yet it remains in the book. Expunging these laws signals a state commitment to shed the old baggage and journey towards more accommodating and pluralistic society.
The President may genuinely believe in his social conservatism of the by-gone era. He has all the right to his opinion, as much as women have their right to booze, - and gays’ and lesbians’ to their sexual identity.
But, when he acts upon his dogmatism, he is doing a great disservice to this country and future generations. ( Even the youthful crown prince of Saudi Arabia wants his country to shed its clock of religious ultra -conservatism). If he really cares for the country ( which I believe he does) he should get the government to invest in our education system, modernize our school syllabuses and teach more science, Maths and English to our kids. Set up a presidential committee, hire proven experts internationally, borrow successful practices from East Asian meritocracies, and make the government fund for a concerted progamme of education reforms.
In the meantime, let the women drink their drink, and gays and lesbians mind their own business.