By Paloma Scott
The recent incident of Dutch tourists being assaulted in Sri Lanka brings home to me the reality of living in Sri Lanka.
I have lived in Unawatuna for six years, managing a successful beach resort and on a daily basis I am personally subject to harassment, bullying, intimidation, constant leering and sheer rudeness. This treatment comes from my neighbours but also from Government institutions and officers of the law.
Despite highlighting and complaining about these issues to Government bodies, it appears that as a foreign woman, I have to accept this. And it seems to be an unsaid and unwritten rule that the very worst thing I can do is to say anything. ‘Put up and shut up’ if you want to live in this country, seems to be the message.
This is a particularly sad state of affairs for me as I am half Sri Lankan; I have been regularly coming to Sri Lanka since 1969 and have strong family roots all over the island. And now, I live here. It seems that because of the colour of my skin, I am not worthy of my birth right.
So, reading with utter dismay what a group of hapless tourists have experienced recently in Mirissa, is truly shocking. And worse, I know that despite the extreme damage that this report will do to an already fragile tourist industry in this country, nothing will change and Government institutions and those invested with the power to act will smile the problem away and go to lunch.
Of course, dreadful things happen to tourists all over the world, but for a country that is trying to develop its tourist industry and trades on ‘the smile’ and ‘the friendliness’, the law, State-sponsored religion and the Government must take action now against the ingrained culture of disrespect to white women.
This culture of disrespect is not confined to beach boys and tuk-tuk drivers; the male population as a collective seems not to reflect the values it assigns to Sri Lankan women, to white women.
A white woman is not seen as a mother, sister, aunt, wife, girlfriend or a woman happy to be on her own. First and foremost, she is objectified, judged, despised and abused.
The Sri Lankan male collective views the white woman as ‘up for it’ and desperate for indiscriminate sex.
The purveyors of moral guidance that proliferate around this island in every town and village; who provide spiritual sustenance for a nation struggling to balance progress with tradition, has to step up and take action where vested interests of elected governments have failed.
Sri Lankans must wake up and dismantle the perpetual ingrained cycle of turning a blind eye to these terrible events.
(The writer is the Managing Director of Unawatuna Beach Resorts Ltd.)