The Shoat Statements

Random musings by the multiple voices inside my head.

When I was 9 or 10, the president of Sri Lanka was Ranasinghe Premadasa. I remember boasting in school that my family met him when he was the prime minister.

The story went like this: my father being a diplomat, was in Japan in the '80s, when both President J R Jayawardene & Prime Minister R Premadasa came a-visiting, spouses in tow. I remember they were put up at the Imperial Hotel, and we all got another room somewhere in the hotel to prepare.

So yesterday evening, when ITN decided to show President Mahinda Rajapakse's Japan visit highlights, I watched with nostalgia. As he and his wife entered the hotel - horror of horrors - an eight-or-nine year old, dressed in a white, ultra-frilly dress gave the President some flowers and scooted off. That's it. No hint of the kid being Sri Lankan at all save for her skin colour. Nothing at all for the First Lady. Someone had managed to get the Kandyan dancers though, to escort them inside.

I was shocked, as was my mother, to whom I related the event. When Jayawardene and Premadasa came, they decked my sister in a proper redde & hatte (and my mother still tells us how difficult it was to prepare such costumes in a foreign land) and she garlanded the President, while a young boy of equal age and height presented the First Lady with a bouquet of flowers. For the life of me I can't remember what he was dressed in though. This ritual was standard fare when any dignitary came visiting.

I know this incident may not seem like much to most people, but to some of us former diplomats (or their family members), it is a shocking lapse in form, style and decorum. It is unthinkable that in this day and age, embassy officials in Japan failed to find an appropriate national costume for the child used. It is worse still that nobody thought it necessary to greet the First Lady in some manner.

This is yet another sign that today, we have all the wrong people in the all the important places. We can get Kandyan dancers, but we are unableto get a simple costume, garland and a flower bouquet right. Style over substance, as always. What hope is there for diplomacy?

I know this is going to be a long post, but I'm asking everyone to read it till the end, and to please, please post a comment on how your true opinion.

I got upset in class yesterday, which is nothing new. We were discussing assault according to English law. To understand the rest of the post, I will simplify the definition of assault for you: in legal jargon, assault need not cause any physical harm. The victim only needs to apprehend (ie. sense) immediate and unlawful personal violence. That means, if I make a fist and try to punch you, I've committed assault (so long as you realized I was going to punch you and you either got scared or took evasive action like ducking).

To illustrate assault, the Professor gave us an (actual) case, which I've described below:

Smith v Chief Constable of Woking Police (1983)
X had terrified a woman occupying a groundfloor flat by staring in through the window at her while she was in her nightclothes. He was found guilty of assault. It was not necessary to establish what the woman feared would happen, as a general apprehension of violence was sufficient.

Now, while this case was being dictated and explained, all I heard was sniggering from the entire section of males in my class (they all sit behind me). As soon as the professor was out of the room, they started. All the guys thought stalking a woman, or harrassing her with blank calls, or staring at her in her own house were not crimes worthy of punishment. In fact, they thought those shouldn't be crimes at all. They were talking amongst themselves. Another girl, C, and I were in front of them and we overheard. We didn't argue with the guys there. One of the guys, (my dad's former colleague so roughly about 50 years old) was saying that "sheesh, we can't even look at women anymore". Their overall attitude was incomprehensible to me.

I had to drop one of the guys (aged about 22) and C home the same evening. He actually wondered why the professor said he'll be handing out notes when we do Sexual Offences . I told him that it isn't surprising, given the level of immaturity demonstrated by our class. Wonder of wonders - the guy is actually surprised. Why, he asks. I (obviously) needed no further invitation. I declared that I thought his and all the other guys attitude reflected a level of immaturity LLB students shouldn't have. Thus started the argument on the case given above.

Firstly, let me state that he was not arguing from a legal perspective. As in, legally speaking, the man is obviously guilty. The points he (and all the other men) were saying was that:

a) Staring at a woman may be perverted, but it should not be a legal crime;

b) Being perverted was not something wrong;

c) Being stared at shouldn't have made the woman scared - it should at best have made her uncomfortable;

d) That instead of being frightened, the woman had other options, like going to another room, closing the blinds etc. so the choice was hers, and therefore the man is guilty of nothing at all as she had a choice.

e) That by having the curtains open, she was inviting trouble (the woman is always to blame, isn't she?).

The other girl, C, and I were speechless (well, as speechless as I could ever practically be). We couldn't believe that educated men in this country thinks this way. C later said that we shouldn't be surprised that Sri Lankan men have such attitudes, as they couldn't ever imagine what it was like for a woman. I replied that it showed a basic lack of respect for women, and that is a sign of severe immaturity.

Later, I actually thought of what C said, and was shocked: are all Sri Lankan men that bad (not that she specified nationality)? C certainly seemed to think so. I hate to generalise, and I personally don't think all men are that stupid. But certainly, all the guys studying LLB with me are, and these are educated, well off, respectable men. That really isn't a good sign.

These are the future lawyers of Sri Lanka. How can they possibly be good lawyers when they can't empathize with half the population? Actually, forget empathize - replace the word with respect. I shudder to think of the future. My hair stands on edge when I think that one of them might become a judge. What has gone wrong with these guys? What makes a guy so chauvanistic?

Additionally, this guy said that if I blog the case on the net, I would find that majority of people, even foreigners, would agree with his view point. Especially from a social perspective. I think he is dead wrong.

But I'm up for the challenge, so here it is. Please leave a comment, with your genuine ideas on this. Please state whether you are male or female, age is up to you. What I need is feedback and opinions.

Thanks a lot.

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