The Sunday Leader

The Cleansing Has Begun: Indecent Hoardings

By Raisa Wickrematunge

The bustling city of Colombo is being given a thorough spring-cleaning. Recently, an initiative was announced to remove ‘indecent’ advertising, film posters and billboards from Colombo.

The Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse for Children and Women, a police department, is behind the move. A director at the Bureau revealed that the department was already filing legal action against some of the offenders. What’s more, he claimed that removal of the offending material had already begun. For further information, the Leader was directed to Police spokesman Prashantha Jayakody, who had other things on his mind. “I have a lot of cases to attend to, so I can’t tell you the information off-hand. I would suggest you contact the relevant department,” he said. Jayakody added that he was busy with preparations for the upcoming Victory Day celebrations on Friday. Cultural Minister

Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Minister for Cultural Affairs said the matter did not fall under her purview. In short, everyone was very keen to pass the responsibility for the implementation of the measure onto some other board, body, or person.

Although the director at the Bureau dodged questions as to who would be the judge as to what would be considered indecent/offensive and what wasn’t, it is said the decision would come from the Bureau itself. The Bureau objected to images of ‘scantily clad women,’ saying they promoted female objectification.

However, prominent feminist and human rights activist Sunila Abeysekara was unhappy with the decision. “Subjective and ad-hoc decisions are being taken. This isn’t conducive to democracy,” Abeysekara said. She also noted that there had been no explanation as to what, exactly, would be defined and constituted indecent.

The salacious ‘adult film’ posters plastered inside cinema halls like the Olympia, for instance, would almost certainly qualify. What about billboards? At what point does an innocuous billboard segue into indecency? How is it decided whether or not a woman is ‘scantily clad?’ Does it depend on the length of a skirt, or the neckline of a dress? There are no guidelines and no answers- yet.

The Bureau reportedly plans to extend their focus to include newspaper and magazine advertisements as well, and offenders could end up imprisoned for 6 months. Quite a hefty punishment, considering no one seems to be able or willing to define what could and would be considered offensive.
The Bureau’s proposal comes shortly after 200 couples were brought to court, for kissing, cuddling, or holding hands in public. It also comes shortly after the banning of pornographic sites on mobile phones.

Out of sight, out of mind. That seems to be the mindset of the authorities. Wipe away the ‘bad pictures’ the couples, and the porn and young men will realize that women aren’t commodities. Is it really that simple?

Daily, the catcalls and the derisive comments made towards women trying to go about their daily lives continue. Is further repression the answer to this problem? Or will it exacerbate it, as frustrated youth find fewer and fewer accepted outlets for their raging hormones?

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