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Rajapaksa's big cover-up: Young lovers and naked women had better watch out

Oct 29, 2010 12:24:27 AM- transcurrents.com

Sri Lanka's moral policing


DAMAGE to Sri Lanka’s wondrous Sigiriya frescoes—5th-century depictions of lovely women with ample and mostly bare breasts—sent President Mahinda Rajapaksa clambering up to the rock fortress that houses them for an anxious look. Yet contemporary portraits of the barely-clad female form offend the eye of Mr Rajapaksa’s po-faced regime.


More to the president’s liking ~ pic courtesy: The Economist

Since he was re-elected in a landslide in January, Mr Rajapaksa has sought to make good on a campaign promise to “create a society with good values and ethics”. In Colombo, this has meant police tearing down “indecent” posters and flyers. Citing a law against obscene publications, the officer who led that operation said he had ordered his men to remove any image of “women with their legs out”.

In a country whose textiles firms turn out thousands of racy bras and frilly knickers a year—including for Victoria’s Secret, an American apparel firm with longstanding ties to Sri Lanka—at least one lingerie company has stopped advertising. The crackdown will spread to other cities. But it has been delayed while Sri Lanka’s own vice-and-virtue squad launch another assault, on internet pornography.

Real-life lewdness is also out. In July police rounded up hundreds of red-faced couples caught holding hands, cuddling and kissing in public. In Kurunegala, a town near the centre of the island nation, they scoured hotel rooms for unmarried lovers. Similar crackdowns have been reported in many other places.

Prathiba Mahanama, a legal expert at the University of Colombo, says arresting consenting adult couples is illegal and suggests the victims could sue. But these efforts are popular. They are also backed by Sri Lanka’s powerful Buddhist clergy, whose support Mr Rajapaksa has carefully fostered. In March Sri Lanka denied a visa to Akon, a Senegalese-American singer, after he was pilloried by Buddhist monks for a pop video that showed women in bikinis dancing around a statue of the Buddha.

Victims of Mr Rajapaksa’s moral rage might wish to reach for a consolatory drink. But that is also frowned on. Advertising alcohol is banned to the extent that televised scenes that show drinking are pixellated. Oddly, parties flowing with free booze were a common feature of Mr Rajapaksa’s presidential campaign. - courtesy: The Economist -