Release Comedian Nathasha Edirisuriya!

Crush the Hands Suppressing the Freedom of Art and Expression!!

Statement of the Colombo Action Committee  for People’s Struggles

Nathasha Ediri

Popular comedian Jayani Nathasha Edirisooriya was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Sri Lanka Police at the Katunayake Airport last May 28 at midnight, following a complaint by the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs, for one of her artworks. On the same day, she was brought before the Colombo Fort Magistrate and was imprisoned until June 7. Her imprisonment is part of an intensified program to set up state repression mechanisms against the class struggle, to suppress the freedom of artistic creation, imprison the working and oppressed masses in reaction, and reverse the driving forces against the old world.

A standup comedy artist, Nahtasha, is a young woman from Mount Lavinia, in Colombo. She has stayed in Australia for some time and worked as a nurse. Her creations bear witness to the fact that Nathasha has brought those life experiences into her art. In addition, she has engaged in educational programs against violence against women.

One part of a series of comedy skits by her titled “Modabhimana (Fool’s Pride)” was staged on April 1 at the auditorium of Bishop’s College, Colombo, the video of which was later circulated on YouTube. It is this creation that has drawn the ire of established Buddhist racists. One of the topics she brings up for discussion is the discrimination and cultural pressure women are facing in a patriarchal and de facto feudal society. The other aim of this creation is to show and protest against the enormous pressure women bring on children by comparing and condemning them to make their children competitive with other children. At one point in the comedy, she portraits the crisis of women and children who are victims of the ‘competition’ of today’s society as an artistic concept on stage with the following words:

“During the time of Buddha, in time of Prince Siddhartha, when Prince Siddhartha was a baby, there must have been a lot of pressure on children of his age (audience laughs). ‘See that Child of Suddhodana [Prince Siddhartha’s father]. He walked the very day he was born. For these guys, they can’t even keep their necks straight. That Suddhodana’s kid sang a poem on the very day he was born. Suddhodana’s lad has already decided what he is going to do when he grows up… And, our children? They are waiting for us to do everything for them. That child has lost his mother too! Our ones have both their parents. They have everything. They have all the luxuries. … That Devadatta [evil personality in Buddhist literature] must be the one who had been scolded most of the time… That’s why he overturned a stone (on Buddha) …”

Projecting contemporary parenting practices into the past, she poignantly and satirically outlines a social reality that this collision of current parents and children leads to the creation of Devadattas.

Nathasha also ridiculed the backward unscientific concept of ‘virginity’:

“Buddhist girls’ schools are the pinnacle of pan-religious harmony. Girls’ schools are virgin factories. Producing virgins is our biggest goal! The biggest task is to keep the children as virgins for most of their lives. Now those Muslim terrorists, when those guys explode and kill themselves, they say they get 72 virgins. A higher quota of which is supplied by the Buddhist girls’ schools…”

With her creations like the above, the audience laughs. They finally realize that they laughed at themselves. It is sensible art. Regardless of her politics, her art always highlights some aspect of social inequality and backwardness. Accordingly, in her creations, she has highlighted her understanding and acceptance that the gender has become a factor for treating women differently, and that separating children into male and female for the sake of “discipline and morality” is an anti-scientific and regressive idea.

In the video titled “Sulang Kapolle” released to express her personal opinion regarding the issues mentioned here, Nathasha stated that she believes that the ‘a great separation shouldn’t be maintained between men and women’. Suggesting that the man, being a man, should take care of the woman is “emotional blackmail,” she says. “Does a woman need to depend on another person to build human relationships? Sacrificing one’s (a male’s) own happiness and taking care of someone else … Is it happiness? Is it Love?” Nathasha questions. She further asks: “Is the male a kind of a rehabilitation program to protect the helpless female?”

She also challenges the common Sinhala term “දූෂනය” to refer raping, [the general meaning of this Sinhala word is ‘pollution’]. Through her art, our protagonist asks, ‘How can it be said that a woman is ‘polluted’ because a man has harassed her?’ What is really dirty?,  she evokes reality.

Should art be politically correct? Can you do it just for fun? Or, can’t you? Is it okay if it is only politically correct?” This is how her arguments are constructed. These are free ideas.

Following the complaints of the religious extremists led by the Buddhist Commissioner, she has been hunted, because holding free opinions, appearing for them and socializing them through artistic creations are challenging the existing social hegemony. Accusations of insulting Buddhism, destroying religious harmony and insulting girls’ colleges have been raised against her. Its aim is not only to trample on the freedom of art creation, speech and expression, but also to crush in the bud the feelings of equality that are generally burning in the oppressed people and the emancipatory feelings that arise from women themselves against the capitalist pressure placed on women.

Nathasha has been accused under the infamous International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act of 2007, depriving her bail from the lower court. She faces up to ten years in prison if convicted of the charges under this law.

The police reported to the court that 21,000 people had already watched it from the YouTube channel called SL VLOG. Alleging that it was an anti-religious hate speech and claiming that it could cause public unrest, they demanded that she be remanded in prison. The police further said that this is the first time that the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs has submitted a complaint as this, and that she will be investigated with special care as she has been involved in the ‘Aragalaya’ [mass struggles of April-July 2022]. The magistrate rejected Natasha’s plea for bail. The following day, daily newspaper ‘Lankadeepa’ reported that the magistrate had asked, “is it correct to issue statements on religious matters in jest?”. According to this report, does it not imply that the magistrate has already decided without hearing the case that religious matters were used for fun?

The audience who experienced her live performance did not find in it any ‘anti-religious’ or other kind of ‘antisocial’ element. After two months of the performance, amongst the 21,000 people who watched the video within two days of publishing it, who got hurt? Those who got really hurt are the President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who the very next day ordered the establishment of a special police unit to investigate and act upon the groups that ‘disturb religious harmony’, his Commissioner for Buddhist Affairs, racist and fascist gangs including Buddhist fundamentalists and the other representatives of the ruling class. 

Now they are the fanatics who are trying to incite a religious and social upheaval. A notorious enemy of the working people, Dilith Jayaweera’s Derana TV reported that, “During a comedy program held at a leading school yesterday, one Natasha Edirisuriya has made several insulting statements against Buddha and Buddhist culture.” It added that, “the statement contained not only insults but also obscene language, in which she also seriously criticized Buddhist women’s schools in public.” Jayaweera has not been able to differentiate the auditorium, which is reserved for public performances by paying money, from a school! References to ‘obscenity’ is a creation of conspirators. Not only that, Jayaweera’s channel, which often usurps the power to hear cases and judge suspects, convicts Natasha from the beginning, depriving her of the presumption of innocence.

During the same News telecast, ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP Jagath Kumara said, “There is no point in hearing a case about ‘this foolish woman’. She should be punished according to the laws of ancient kings and be impaled….” The news telecast spent a lot of time asserting that the April-July mass struggles of last year were not motivated by economic and political interests, but rather by anti-Buddhist tendencies. Former and current SLPP ministers, well known racists Channa Jayasumana, Namal Rajapaksa, Admiral Sarath Wijesekera, were presented as witnesses to assert this claim. Weerasekera called on the fascist gangs to be prepared, by saying that, in the event the law is not enforced and severe punishment is not imposed, “the public will take matters into their own hands”. Kavinda Jayawardene, a member of the main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegya (SJB), declared that “these are organized crimes” and that Nathasha is the face of “bullies against the country”, showing their alignment with the government.

Now, where does the pseudo-left stand? FrontLine Socialist Party (FSP) Education Secretary Pubudu Jayagoda, while formulating his party’s opinion, said, “Buddhists have been hurt by this statement.” To the question raised by the establishment, “does an artist have no right to question whether a child walked at birth?”, he replied, “yes, there is a problem.” He denounced Nathasha’s creation because, “by questioning how a child was born to a virgin… created an unnecessary social problem and created a division between the forces,… creating a work-space for the crooks and the goons to work again.” Accordingly, the FSP claims that Nathasha is guilty not only of the government’s allegation of insulting religion, but also of opening up opportunities for crooks to work. When he talked about the ‘division between forces’, he was not referring to the two main classes standing against each other. It is precisely because of that fact that Jayagoda and the likes do not face reality and have to imagine a better shape of bankrupt capitalism.

But the roots of the problem lie at the very bottom of the crisis of world capitalism. That is why the governments of all countries have plunged into the path of counter-revolution and war to crush the democratic rights of the people. The United States calling for Assange’s blood, and Sri Lanka’s crisis-ridden governments imprisoning artists and social activists like Shaktika Satkumara, Ramsi Razeek, Ahnaf Jazeem, and others, have demonstrated the extreme hatred of these governments against freedom of expression. The Wickramasinghe government is taking it forward. Capitalist parliamentarism has no path but to crush the current popular awakening, which is a sharp challenge to class rule and ultimately to capitalist property relations. Now, the struggle for freedom must be directed at every step towards the abolition of this outdated class rule.

All artists must join the working class ranks in continuing a forceful campaign unto victory, for the immediate release of Nathasha and the withdrawal of the false charges against her.

Workers, rally the farmers, the oppressed and the youth and take the front of the fight! Crush the oppressing arm on art and freedom of expression! Put an end to the capitalist class pressure on women forever! Establish genuine democracy!

[This statement was originally published in Sinhalese on June 01, 2023]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top