In an earlier time in the history of our cherished country when politics was clean and fresh as the morning dew and so were politicians, there was a ditty that was invariably sung whenever the somewhat inebriated gathered round a piano and the more inebriated round the bottles. Unlike today when one law is for [...]


If you want to marry me darling…


In an earlier time in the history of our cherished country when politics was clean and fresh as the morning dew and so were politicians, there was a ditty that was invariably sung whenever the somewhat inebriated gathered round a piano and the more inebriated round the bottles.

Unlike today when one law is for the many and no law for a few, that was a time when any excuse was good enough for a party and no excuse is even better for a celebration.

That ditty even ended up being sung at the school boy enclosures at “Big Matches” when all the lyrics bordering on the bawdy had completed their raucous rounds.

As students we stood by at parties for elders watching with trepidation some untutored relative of our much respected politician — host thumping away at the piano keys with the gusto of a policeman stomping on the body of a fallen protestor.

Closeby, voices singing that favourite ditty rose higher in the decibel count in inverse proportion, so to say, to the fast emptying bottles lying around. That ditty began something like this:

“Peeping through the window darling, what will people say?

“If you want to marry me darling come the proper way.”

Last week an already battered nation heard of the Defence Ministry’s Grand Plan to turn marriage into an essential prong of a security strategy as impregnable as the French falsely thought as the Maginot Line.

Never mind if it trampled on individual rights — the personal marriage arrangements of an individual to marry a foreign partner of his or her choice which, from yesterday, require the imprimatur of the Defence Ministry, spoiling a New Year already besmirched even before it dawned.

Apparently, the master mind who conceived this grand scheme of things is expecting to save Sri Lanka’s innocent citizens from foreign Machiavellies intent on laundering their ill- gotten money or involved in the illegal drug trade as though this Resplendent Isle needs tuition by foreigners in either of these arts or is it sciences

Already laughed at, scorned and derided both at home and abroad judging by reports, it will not be long before that decades-old ditty which livened many a party, is transformed into a more modern version with more appropriate lyrics and an even more lively rhythm to capture the comic intervention in private marriages by the jackbooted gentry.

After all these years, I cannot recall a time when so many songs, satirical poems, verses, comic sketches and cartoons have been sung, pictured and portrayed of this two-year old government than any other time.

Much of the ridicule, scorn and laughter that have accompanied this government are of its own making.

The brunt of public chiding has been directed at the president for the failings of ministers, administrators and those around him who consider themselves a modern-day circle of Socratic wisdom. That has only exposed their common frailties and dim-wittedness and left President Rajapaksa to carry the can.

A classic example of the policy-making inanities and the immaturity in governance was the gigantic mess made of the agriculture policy, chiefly the ban on chemical fertiliser. President Gotabaya’s election manifesto promised to convert the country to organic agriculture and, quite rightly, over a 10-year period.

But some half-baked policy adviser/s sold the president a dummy and had chemical fertiliser banned overnight, the resulting chaos already seen in market prices and farmers protesting on the streets while agricultural experts fear the worst is still to come.

Now comes another utterly unnecessary piece of law by circular that requires Sri Lankans marrying foreigners to seek clearance from the Defence Ministry as though therein reside kendara karayas, marriage brokers and assorted others who will decide whether some foreigner from Iceland or Tonga is worthy enough of the hand of a local damsel.

Besides insulting Sri Lankan women by insinuating that they could be easily duped by unscrupulous foreigners preparing to send their dirty money to the cleaners and high octane drugs labelled as harmless aspirin, one wonders where these great sleuths were when foreign intelligence sources tipped us off on impending terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday two years ago. They were not foreigners, were they?

Would upticking marriages between foreigners and their hopeful Sri Lankan partners have saved the 270 lives lost on that tragic day? Or is this another time consuming bureaucratic exercise in the name of national security?

There are so many loopholes and shortcomings in this new game of “spot the launderer, catch the drug dealer” that had one space enough and time one have detailed more.

The Sunday Times that broke the story last week quoted Registrar-General W.M.M.B. Weerasekera’s revealing words about the genesis of this idea.

“We have seen,” said the Registrar General (RG) with magisterial portentousness, “some foreigners waiting to marry Sri Lankans here with ulterior motives like engaging in drug trafficking and money laundering.”

Mr Weerasekera’ words might have had an iota of conviction if he had named some of them, where they were waiting and how the authorities came to have “seen” (read perhaps?) the “ulterior motives” of these foreigners. Does the RG have mind-readers on his staff or have they been injected with extra doses of clairvoyance along with the booster jab?

This administration’s concern about the source of money entering this country seems rather comical when a cash-strapped government declared an amnesty urging Sri Lankans with undeclared money abroad to bring their loot home, no questions asked. It could always have appealed to foreigners with “ulterior motives” queuing up to marry Sri Lankans who the RG appears to have seen, to fill government coffers.

How many foreigners with ulterior motives detected by the Defence Ministry’s extra sensory perception were seen last year? Was it 100, 200 or even more standing in long queues like harassed citizens waiting for non-explodable cooking gas cyclinders or a packet of powdered milk? Or is this all a concoction like that Covid ‘paniya’ that hoodwinked the gullible?

Who knows, it may not be long before Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera, the master craftsman of “One Law” declares that Sinhala Buddhists should be prohibited from marrying foreigners lest they taint further the purity of race and religion.

Not to be left out of this drama, Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal could provide his own sub plot so that every prospective foreign partner be compelled to deposit a dowry of a specified amount with the Central Bank to replenish our depleted reserves — never mind where the money comes from. Greek bonds accepted.

To sanctify even more the marriage arrangements with official blessings, the Defence Ministry could provide two witnesses to attest for both parties like those who purportedly signed the agreement with New Fortress Energy deal.

Some say that marriages are made in heaven. From now on some need security clearance from earth. .

(Neville de Silva is a veteran
Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)


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