Rajpal's Column

23rd January 2000

State security and the bridesmaid a contemporary debate

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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Poor little rich girl. The epithet can describe Yashodara Kumaratunga if she was rich. Just one wedding in which she was bridesmaid raises a furore, and hits the front pages.

The story so far is that Yashodhara Kumaratunga was asked to be the bridesmaid at her best friend's wedding. The Presidential Security apparatus panicked at the thought, but with a good deal of justification in the backdrop of assassination attempts which are becoming the daily staple.

The wedding took place, away from the public eye, but the Reverend Father of the Parish concerned, when asked to comment, spoke to the press. He talked of the anguished complaints of the guests . Some apparently had their hairdos searched and their arrivals delayed.

Prabhakaran who had invaded home and hearth had spoiled an innocent party's wedding by proxy.

There was a bit of the absurd and a great deal of the poignant in the whole scenario. It was a private problem, in essence.

But, it was catapulted into the public realm with a loud report. A Korean detective film maker who went on raids with real life cops said recently that life is full of coincidences and happenstance, and that TV plots never took these possibilities into account.

Nobody writing fiction could have placed this wedding of the President's daughter's pal at a more apt intersection in the plot. Here was a President appearing on television blaming the private media for inconsiderate reporting regarding herself . And a media frothing over the tone and the susbstance of the attack.

Then comes the wedding, and the priest who is hopping mad. The plot may have been made in hell, but it was a quick reality check for all the players in the amphitheatre.

Isn't the President's daughter entitled to be a bridesmaid at her friend's wedding? By any yardstick she should be. And was the security so tight that it was,in sum, an invasion of the rights of the Parish Priest and the guests?

These wedding guests, presumably from Colombo and the outskirts and not from Alpha Centauri or Madagaskar or Kiribati were probably used to the security imperatives of this near-garrison city . So, despite their wedding regalia, a quick frisk and an automobile check would have been nothing revolutionary in their scheme of things.

The security men may have gone overboard, and there is news that hairdos went askew, and that men frisked women in the rush. If that happened, something went somewhat wrong in the security apparatus, and things have to be looked after in that department.

In other words, all this is not the first daughter's fault and cannot be laid at her door. But the Parish Priest in his curious wisdom says that the parents and others concerned should keep VIP politicians out of weddings or something to that effect . The obvious inference in this case is that someone else should have been invited to be bridesmaid instead.

That's another way of saying that Prabhakaran should have made the guests list. It's also the type of statement that seems to regularly get President Kuamaratunga's goat, resulting in her going for the jugular of persons not just offending her but also everybody within a yards distance.

In the idiom of the fire-side chat, with which our President is incidentally so familiar, these are things that can be solved between a mother, her daughter, her daughter's friend and a couple of wedding guests who apart from the tangential involvement of the Parish Priest, are the only real protagonists in this family tableau. But the Parish Priest sounds as if he wants to file a fundamental rights case, and of course he may have been a little rattled by security men trying to run the till upside down, and asking for his ID card before letting him into his own church. But, all this is small stress compared to the possibility of having a suicide bomber running amok in a church.

But, about banning Yashodhara from brisdesmaidship, now that's another story of human rights violations altogether. What's with a country that cannot grant a normal life to a President's daughter, let alone a President?

The Parish Priest and all his tribe of fundamental rights lawyers may argue that a President or any potentate in power should sacrifice some liberty for the common public good. That's not incorrect.

But courtroom jargon had invented something called "the test of reasonableness.'' The question that the Parish Priest or anybody who feels outraged by this nuptial brouhaha, should ask themselves, is whether it is reasonable to deprive a normal civilian of her choice of bridesmaid, and whether its reasonable to ask the chosen bridesmaid to step aside Cinderella - like because guests at a Colombo wedding are inconvenienced for a couple of hours at most? (That's what it amounted to in reality, and not cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment jsuticiable under Article 11 of the constitution for instance.)

Is it also reasonable to inflict this ultimate insult on the country's security apparatus and accept that it is so emasculated that (a) it can't help but have the President's daughter be banned from bridesmaidhood? (b) it is so weak that Prabhakaran has to determine the bridal group and guest list at weddings these days?

Perhaps the Parish Priest has missed his Pulpit (I didn't say vocation) and maybe he should keep away from the bullring where a President has locked horns with a vibrant press. If the President can be held accountable for her real acts of un-stateswoman - like conduct , and not for trifles, that will help all concerned, especially the press. For one, the press will have to face a real President, and not a mother who is livid that her kids have been brought into this whole sizzling mess.

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