Much ado about bottoms | Sunday Observer

Much ado about bottoms

Indecent exposures on the Pidurangala mountain by a group of post-A/L hikers sparked an outcry last week leading to the arrest of five suspects, but lawyers and Buddhist monks say the boys should have got off with a warning and express concerns about law enforcement overreach

Post A/L high jinx by a group of young boys turned sour last week, after their ‘cheeky’ adventure on top of a mountain in Dambulla made national headlines, and religious leaders were outraged by the exposure.

In an attempt to recreate the local version of ‘Cheeky Exploits’ - an instagram page that encourages travellers to ‘moon’ the cameras in picturesque or famous destinations around the world, the hikers posted pictures of themselves revealing their bottoms at the summit of the Pidurangala rock on their personal Facebook profiles. When the pictures got broad coverage in the mainstream media, the exposure was found to be illegal by law enforcement and denounced as being disrespectful of culture and religion by the country’s Buddhist clergy.

Police received complaints on Tuesday (25) about the ‘indecent exposure’ at Pidurangala, the mountain that faces the famous Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Pidurangala is the site of an ancient Buddhist temple, a factor that sparked outrage over the hikers’ pictures.

Three boys were arrested on suspicion on Wednesday (26) and produced before the Dambulla Magistrate’s Court on Thursday (27), in a stunning display of law enforcement efficiency in the face of what is essentially a victimless crime, even though religious sensibilities may have been wounded by the exposures.

Social media users were quick to point out the gross delays in meting out justice to victims of grave human rights abusers and perpetrators of large-scale corruption. The three boys were remanded till October 3. “A member of the temple trustees and an officer from the Archaeological Department lodged the complaint at Sigiriya police. We arrested these youths under the accusation of releasing indecent photographs to the media and we charged them under Section 31B of the Archaeological Ordinance,” said R K C T Rathnayake OIC PS Sigiriya Police. Police had arrested two more boys following the initial arrest.

Five youths climbed the rock and two had told the police that they strictly advised the others not to take such indecent photographs, despite which they had gone ahead. After recording statements, the two were released after they agreed to be witnesses to the case.

In the inquiry, the boys informed the police that they were responding to a challenge posed by a foreign lady who had taken similar photographs in the same location through a social media site. This had prompted them to moon the cameras for a picture to post on social media.

Three of the boys had just completed their G.C.E. A/L Examinations last month. Rather than release them with a stern warning (and perhaps a few mandatory lessons on appropriate cultural behaviour near a religious site, by the local priest) the boys were remanded. Attorney-at-Law Thishya Weragoda pointed out that hurting a person’s religious sensibilities was a relative matter. He explained, the youth did not directly disrespect the Pidurangala temple because the pictures had not been taken in the vicinity of the Vihara.

“These pictures were taken facing Sigiriya and the case has been filed under the Archaeological Ordinance in a way they cannot get bail. In order to get bail, the youths would have to make a request to the High Court,” he explained, detailing the seriousness of the offence under which the boys have been charged.

The offence is punishable by a fine of up to Rs 250,000 and rigorous imprisonment of more than two years.

“If this case goes through, their civic rights will be eliminated. It seems like the law has been implemented in order to set an example. This is a case of the police misusing their powers. It could also become a moment where we can take legal action against the police,” Weragoda explained.

However, Police said, the arrest was based on the accusation on indecent publications. Weragoda disagrees. He says, even the loincloth worn by farmers in many agricultural parts of the country could be interpreted as indecent exposure. Furthermore, the law pertaining to indecent publication does not extend to publishing photographs on social media, the lawyer added.

“A social media site such as Facebook is a private matter and does not fall under indecent publication. So, the responsibility should be directed at newspapers and TV channels that republished these photographs,” he warned.

It was a shame that such youthful high-jinx were being turned into national-level concerns, Weragoda complained. “Sri Lanka faces so many issues - taking semi-nude photographs for a laugh is the least of them,” he added.

It was a pity the police failed to show these levels of efficiency and enthusiasm when going after high profile criminals wanted for heinous crimes, said Joseph Stalin of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union.

“If there were ethical issues with regard to their behaviour, they should have been advised. Arresting and remanding them is just wrong,” he added. Stalin said, while Sri Lankan society was showing signs of moving towards narrow-minded conservatism, it was wrong for the Government to become an active participant in this trend.

“All this happened with their knowledge. We condemn this action over such a minor incident,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ven. Dr. Daniyagama Ananda, the Chief Incumbent of Sigiriya Pidurangala Raja Maha Viharaya, is urging the authorities to give the boys a reprieve.

“They could not have known their behaviour would cause such a national outcry,” the Chief Incumbent told the BBC Sinhala Service last Friday (28). The Chief Priest said society should not look on these young boys in a vengeful way, thereby making it impossible for them to face the world.

“This incident should not darken their lives forever. If this happens because they are looked upon with vengeance and hate, that is a greater crime than their indecent exposure,” the temple monk said.

Moderate Buddhist monk, Ven. Galkande Dhammananda also told the Sunday Observer that this was a victimless crime. “We should forget about this incident. No one was harmed by this event.

It was something done for entertainment by these young people and there is no need to overreact. It’s one thing to speak about this in terms of a cultural debate, but the police have no involvement here. This sort of thing should not be reacted to so violently,” Ven. Dhammananda Thera explained.

The London-based woman behind the ‘cheeky bum’ photo craze which has been sweeping Instagram, has revealed that she started the trend as a joke with her husband.