Enrique and Maithripala: Polarised Social Culture of Sri Lanka


The Enrique show and the subsequent comments by President Sirisena really put Sri Lanka into a polarised debate on culture. This is a neutral look from a youth perspective.

Since President Maithripala’s statement regarding the recent Enrique music show, social media has been buzzing with so many passionate minds writing articles about how he was wrong to make that statement, memes have been made to ridicule him, so on and so forth Facebook probably hosted more pictures of the President within these 3 days than a month during campaigns.

Now, this article will justify neither President Maithripala nor the combined activists who spoke against his statement. Instead it will explore the root causes that lead to situations of this nature, and provide the readers an unbiased opinion on how the word ‘culture’ launched a thousand ships this past week. The sole purpose of this article is to provide an informed opinion for informed democracy.

Lets look at scenario one: Through the eyes of the President (“the defenders”)

The President is 64 years old. He grew up in a village at Polonnaruwa and over 45 years he slowly worked his way through the system to become the holder of highest public office in Sri Lanka. When growing up there was no TV, Internet or significant globalisation of any sort. He was brought up in a completely pro Sinhala culture: family life is the most important, personal life should remain personal and public stature is of utmost importance.

For someone who grew up in an atmosphere of this nature, in their eyes, the events at the Enrique show would be horrifying in the least or a downright insult to Sinhalese culture at the worst. Additionally it needs to be understood that a majority of the 35 plus year old Sri Lankans did grow up in an atmosphere exactly like this. Hence at the moment the majority of the population would stand on the same ground as President Sirisena.

Here is Scenario two: Through the eyes of the activists.(“the challengers”)

A majority of these activists are the social media youths (where a social media youth could be defined as “anyone between the ages of 16 and 26 who has been predominantly active in some form of social media/forums). These are kids who were exposed to everything that the defenders didn’t have when growing up. Access to the entire world through a box.

What I believe is the root reason for their acceptance of the events at the concert is the international film industry. In the eyes of these kids a kiss in public is romantic,(whilst the defenders believe that it’s a nuisance). In their eyes it’s okay if a relationship doesn’t work out the first time. In their eyes it’s okay to let personal and public life coexist as one. For these kids, who watched Prince Philip save an entire nation by kissing Aurora’s lips in the sleeping beauty, to seeing the love affair between Aria and Fitz from pretty little liars as magical, to seeing James Bond sleep with at least 2 women in every movie and still see him as a hero. Even though the physical environment where these kids grew up was the same as the defenders, the atmosphere was completely different because of globalisation.

Generation gap. That is the root cause for this situation. This is a generation gap like no other. These are 2 generations with vastly different ideas, the root reason for that being globalisation. The relationship between these 2 generations have been strained significantly over the years on this issue of social culture.

“As long as there are people who still, there’s a whole generation – I say this, you know, I said this, you know, for apartheid South Africa, I said this for my own, you know, community in the south – there are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die.” ~Oprah Winfrey

Oprah was talking about racism, an issue which is a lot damaging to the world and certainly a lot bloodier. However the logic behind the statement she made definitely applies to this scenario. Why is the younger generation “less racist” than those who were born in the 50’s? The atmosphere they grew up in wasn’t one where the African-American man was considered a waste of space. They grew up in a place where equality was actually starting to mean something.

So using that logic must this older generation die out before social culture really changes? Yes. Does this mean that what this older generation(i.e. the defenders) have to say carries no weight? No. Does it mean that Singhalese culture is irrelevant? Certainly not. In that case what is the solution? There needs to be some form of compromise.

The older generation led by the government needs to find a suitable way to influence social culture. Shouting out against it in public and saying that the “organizers of the recent pop star’s show should be whipped”, even in the voice of the President, is ineffective, and if at all counterproductive. That was very clear when things like this popped up all over the place.

“Present day Sri Lankan society isn’t one that upholds patriotism in the same regard as the society that King Dutugemunu saved 2000 years ago. ” I remember reading that quote as a child, however I never believed how true that was until our citizens started to revere to this article by metro UK (http://metro.co.uk/2015/12/28/sri-lankas-president-is-very-annoyed-that-women-fancy-enrique-iglesias-5588291/) as a sign that our president “shamed the country internationally”. Using metro’s statements that Enrique was “too hot for the president” is, sadly what made me think maybe that quote is accurate.

Example Of A Job Well Executed

During the 70’s the Indian government realized that people were starting to move away from traditional Indian clothing( Eg.Sarees) and moving towards more casual jeans, T-shirts, and so on. If prime minister Indira Gandhi(1966-1977) and Prime minister Morarji Desai(1977-1979) said “Casual wear is a horrible thing, Calvin Klein should be whipped and quartered” then the world today would probably remember sarees as something that Indians once used to wear. Instead the government funded Bollywood movies and requested the directors to make the characters wear traditional Indian clothing. Even today you never see a Hindi movie where the ladies aren’t all attired in spectacular sarees. Even today sarees and kurthas are the most demanded clothing items from India.

I’m not saying we need to revolutionize our film industry and make everyone see everything the way the older generation sees it. I’m saying the mode of communication needs to be re-written.

This doesn’t mean calling the older generation old fogies and making memes is justified. The solution requires the cooperation of both the groups mentioned in this article. Social culture isn’t a topic where any clear cut policy recommendations can be made. However it is an important factor in determining policy. An administration’s mindset on culture can even be the deciding line on it’s future. We certainly saw that happening at the 1956 general election with PM Bandaranayake getting a landslide majority from a campaign that is benchmarked for one reason.

My request as the writer for both groups is that you read, listen and inform yourselves. And don’t forget to respect each other. That way we can save ourselves from wasting time on naive arguments.

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