Disrespectful to Parliament, discomforting for women: Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena

  • Speaker condemns Kuttiarachchi’s statement
  • Kuttiarachchi attacks ‘vulgar minded’ critics
  • Parliamentary Women’s Caucus Chair Dr. Sudarshini condemns ‘harassment’

BY Pamodi Waravita

Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday (23) condemned as “disrespectful” and “causing discomfort”, the statements which were made by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Parliamentarian Thissa Kuttiarachchi on Saturday (20), referencing Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegeya (SJB) MP Rohini Kumari Wijerathna Kavirathna and Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa’s wife.

“Kuttiarachchi acted in a manner disrespectful to the House, and caused discomfort to the women. The Women’s Caucus had a meeting regarding the matter on 22 November and informed me that Kavirathna’s parliamentary privileges were affected by his statements. I express my disappointment about the statement and request him to avoid making such abusive statements in the future. Organisers from both parties should advise their MPs about this. If such behaviour continues, we will have to take action,” said Abeywardena.

On 20 November, Kuttiarachchi made the following statements in Parliament, in Sinhalese, about Kavirathna as well as Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa’s wife: “On 19 November, Kavirathna shamelessly asked us whether we went to the market recently and how much brinjals, elephant-ear tree (habarala), and green leaves cost. She is asking us if we bought brinjals, habarala, and green leaves? Go and ask that from Sajith Premadasa’s wife. Why are you asking us that?,” stated Kuttiarachchi.

The words and tone Kuttiarachchi used and the innuendo and subtext of the statements have come in for heavy criticism over the past few days, both from the parliamentary Opposition and beyond.

However, following the speaker’s condemnation, Kuttiarachchi defended himself, stating that he had not made any abusive statements, and that “the women had harassed themselves” as they had “vulgar minds”.

“I don’t understand what abusive word I used. I think that I should only apologise if I actually harassed anyone. I said what I said with good intentions. I am not vulgar. If the listener is vulgar, I am not responsible for it. It is the women who harass themselves. I only spoke about vegetables. I did not harass women. Tell me clearly which part of my statement made you uncomfortable?,” queried Kuttiarachchi.

Responding in Parliament, Parliamentary Women’s Caucus Chairperson Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said that even indirect harassment must be condemned, regardless of the political party of the member.

“There are only 12 women MPs in Parliament and it is already difficult to bring women into politics. We must be respectful of what this Parliament stands for,” she said.

Furthermore, Kavirathna accused Kuttiarachchi of once again violating her privileges by asking her to repeat the statement he had made on 20 November.

The Samagi Vanitha Balawegaya, the Women’s Wing of the SJB, last Sunday (21), demanded an apology from Kuttiarachchi.

The Progressive Women’s Collective (PWC), on Monday (22), also condemned the incident and noted that this is not the first time abusive and sexist language has been used in Parliament.

“At a time when Sri Lanka’s woeful lack of female representation in political spaces is drawing international attention, such scenes in the Parliament do us no favours. This type of behaviour only reinforces the negative public perception of the Parliament,” said the PWC.

The March 12 Movement for Clean Politics in a statement issued yesterday demanded that Kuttiarachchi immediately withdraw his statement and that the SLPP immediately conduct an inquiry into the incident and take disciplinary action against the said MP.

Earlier this year, Kavirathna alleged that prominent ministers sang a “degrading song” against SJB MP Thalatha Athukorale, during a parliamentary debate. Prior to the Parliamentary Election in August 2020, widespread outrage was sparked over what was deemed an allegedly “insulting and offensive comment” made by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at a political rally against Sajith Premadasa and his wife.