How the Mrs. Sri Lanka Incident Stirred the Pageant Pot

The uncrowning and recrowning of Pushpika De Silva is causing many to question why one’s marital status — and beauty pageants — matter in the first place.

Poulomi Das

April 16, 2021

How the Mrs. Sri Lanka Incident Stirred the Pageant Pot
Caroline Jurie removes the crown of 2021 winner Pushpika de Silva, as she is disqualified over the accusation of being divorced, at a beauty pageant for married women in Colombo (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

“I am a Sri Lankan, I am deeply ashamed of what had happened recently,” read Muhammed Atif’s YouTube comment under a news video that summarized the recent “pageant-gate.”

Atif is referring to a beauty pageant’s perplexing public crowning, uncrowning, and recrowning — a fracas that has been catapulted to international frenzy over the last two weeks. On April 4, Pushpika De Silva, 31, was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka World in Colombo in a ceremony broadcast on national TV. After being sashed and crowned, she walked victoriously across the stage, savoring the moment as she joined the ranks of Mrs. Sri Lanka history. That was, until Caroline Jurie, the 2019 Mrs. Sri Lanka winner, took the stage to mete out her own brand of justice, announcing: “there is a rule that you have to be married and not divorced. So, I’m taking my first step, saying that the crown goes to the first runner-up.” Jurie, 28, who is also the reigning Mrs. World, forcefully removed the crown from De Silva’s head, after an awkwardly long struggle with De Silva’s hair, before placing it on the runner-up’s head. 

Beyond the satisfaction of voyeurism that pageant-gate provided to enraged viewers across the world, it also once again demonstrated the enduring demand for beauty pageants. South Asia has a history of beauty pageant winners going on to careers in film, politics, business, and activism. In Sri Lanka, Colombo’s mayor is Rosy Senanayake, the 1985 Mrs. World. Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan snagged Miss Universe and Miss World, respectively, in 1994 — boosting India’s image globally. In 2014, Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America, becoming the first Indian American winner and effectively starting a debate about race in beauty pageants, and colorism in the South Asian diaspora. And while the ethics of ranking women primarily based on their physical attributes and objectifying them in swimsuit rounds have been a hot-button issue, many contestants view beauty pageants as a form of power, and in some cases, global diplomacy. If the “Mrs.” pageant was formed to subvert the narrative that married women are less desirable and to be more inclusive, the recent incident showed that this pageant, too, is a mere illusion.