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Sri Lanka’s higher education minister under fire for advocating crude violence on women

EconomyNext: Sri Lanka’s higher education minister is facing calls for resignation from a citizens group after he allegedly said a former woman president should to be stripped naked and forced to run along public roads.

The Friday Forum, a Sri Lankan citizen’s group said the higher education minister S B Dissanayake made the remarks about former president Chandrika Kumaratunga on December 12 on privately run Sirasa TV.

“This is a terrible statement to come from any individual, but that a Minister of Higher Education, a supposed role model for young people, felt it was even remotely appropriate for him to make such a statement, is truly appalling,” The Friday Forum, comprising several professionals and academics, said in a statement.

"In many other countries, he would have been forced to resign or have been dismissed the very next day. At the very least he would have been asked to apologise.

“None of this was forthcoming, pointing to the culture of violence and hate speech having been so normalized in Sri Lanka that both government and public seem to tolerate it with little or no dissent.”

Minister Dissanayake was at one time a minister in Kumaratunga’s cabinet and he crossed over making the administration fall. After being with the main opposition United National Party and being jailed for criticizing the judiciary he crossed back to his old party.

The group said "viciousness and vitriol" has now come to the mainstream and especially in state media "horrendous things" are written.

“We have become accustomed to the crudeness of the so called ‘attack dogs’ of the government, whether they be Ministers, members of Parliament, editors of newspapers, journalists or supportive intellectuals, so much so that we read them with amusement or turn the page," the Forum said.

“Some people, however, sadly take them seriously."

The Friday Forum called for a drastic change in political culture, not just the institutional changes, better economics and a fight against corruption, talked about by the main candidates as the presidential election fever hots up.

The intention is to intimidate the targeted victims, keep them silent or make them stop their work and go abroad, the group said.

The Friday Forum said that such words could come from a minister of higher education advocating violence against women could hardly be believed.

“He feels no shame in saying such things in a country that once extolled ‘lajja’ as one of the highest virtues, and he thinks that they are acceptable words to be broadcast to the people of our country on public TV," the Friday Forum said.

“That such crude words of violence against women, advocating forced nudity – which in situations of armed conflict is an international war crime – should come publicly from any human being, let alone a Minister of Higher Education, truly beggars belief.

“Minister  Dissanayake should  resign forthwith,  making  a public apology to Chandrika Kumaratunga and to the country. The Attorney General should look into the possibility of taking legal action against him,” The Friday Forum said.