Controversy over Athaulla’s outfit

‘What is the dress Aththaulla is wearing?  This cannot be admitted.’

‘This member has come dressed as if going to Parliament in Afghanistan or Pakistan.’

‘We will remove our shirts.  Ask him to go out.’

These were the unusual voices that resonated during the Parliamentary sittings on 22nd of last September.

On that day the dress worn by the Ampara District Member of Parliament and the President of National Congress A.L.M.Aththaulla sparked off various controversies and arguments.  When he attended the parliamentary sittings, he was dressed in a particular type of dress called ‘Kurtha’.  However, when Samagi Jana Balavegiya members from the Opposition shouted these slogans the issue became outrageous.


The Samagi Jana Balavegya Members of Parliament demanded that Aththaulla should be expelled from parliament.  Nalin Bandara, SJB Member of Parliament, in particular expressd, ‘Dress code for entering Parliament is mentioned in the Standing Orders.  But what is the type of dress Aththaulla is wearing? This cannot be admitted.’


Further, another Opposition MP, S.M.Marickar, in harsh words said, ‘Mr. Speaker you are the Speaker of Sri Lankan Parliament.  But this member has come here as if he is going to  Parliament in Afghanistan or Pakistan. In that case we can also be without our shirts.  You act like one who has the back bone.’  Then Member of Parliament, Harin Fernando shouted ‘You are aware of the Parliamentary customs.  Is this the law?  We will remove our shirts. Ask him to go out.’


In spite of the Parliamentary Secretariat having informed the Speaker, Mahinda Yappa Abewardne that the said dress had not violated the Parliamentary regulatons, the objections were very strong in the Parliament.  Ultimately A.L.M.Aththaulla voluntarily went out of the Parliament.


In fact, various people were of the opinion that Athtaulla’s dress was not so controversial.


The Standing order of the Sri Lankan parliament mentions only about the dress code for Members to wear and does not say anything about what should not be worn. Though the Sri Lankan Constitution does not mention about the Parliamentarians’ dress, some rules are followed according to the Standing Orders, said the Secretary General of Parliamanet.


In the event of members wishing to wear any dress other than those specified in the regulations, special approval should be obtained.  For the female parliamentarians   traditional dresses in line with the Sri Lankan culture are available.  Regarding this, the Deputy Secretary of Parliament, Neil Ittawela says it is customary for the women Parliamentarians to wear sarees and ‘Osari’ (another way of wearing the saree) of the Sinhalese culture.


Whenever the women Parliamentarians fall sick, on approval from Parliament, they may wear any other traditional dress.  The male Members of Parliament should wear western dress. All the Members of Parliament are also given the option to wear dresses in line with Sri Lankan culture.  Further, the Tamil Members may wear the verty with full sleeve shirts.  In addition, opportunity is available to attend Parliament sessions dressed in trousers and full sleeved shirts.


Members have the right to compare Aththaulla’s dress with the Standing Orders and to criticise, but the way it was expressed is wrong.


Many people express their views regarding the National Dress and Cultural Dress, but no one has the right to prevent the people of different races wearing their dresses according to their cultures. Many of Members of Parliament wear Western dress. In that case, this is not the traditional dress of our country.  Really, is it necessary to comment about the dress worn by Athtaullah?  There is a manner for this.  This could have been brought to the notice of the  Speaker in Parliament. The way the Muslim members like Marikkar behaved would have created a wrong impression about the Muslims amongst the Sinhalese and Tamil people. In spite of this, the respect they have towards the members would also go down.  We strongly condemn this, says Moulavi Mubarrak Abdul Majid, Leader of Ulama  party.


The behaviour of the members of Parliament which is the higher Legislative Assembly, on that day is not acceptable. It is regrettable to note them shouting in indecent manner to expel one of their fellow members.  In addition, how could it be justified when the Speaker is threatened ‘Unless Aththaullah goes out of the Assembly we will remove our shirts’?


‘All those who have relations with an establishment of a country should follow the rules and regulations established by it.  In such situations, changing them for the personal needs of each and every one is an act of law-breaking.  Violation of formalities and laws that have been continuously maintained is not admitted.  This is wrong.  The person called Aththaulla is familiar with the procedures of Parliament.  Even after knowing them, his coming to Parliament dressed in that manner is a breach of the law,’ says Kalubowila Pathuma Thero.


These views of the members indicate the prevalence of racial and religious extremism even in the august assembly of the country.  Not only this, it raises the question whether some of the members are so immature that they fail to give due respect to the Assembly as well as to a fellow member. Bringing disgrace to one of their fellow members by the representatives of the people, those who should be an example to the people, should not be permitted.


If the dress worn by Member of Parliament Aththaullah was subject to a controversy, the Sergeant at Arms had the responsibility and authority to point this out to him and send him out.  Instead, when he remained silent without due instructions from the Speaker, is it decent for the members to shout?


When the Members dress themselves without complying with the Standing Orders, isn’t there a method to point this out to him.  The Members who should uphold the dignity of house behaving in this manner should not be admitted.

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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