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Sri Lanka bans ‘pottu’ in passport photographs

The Sri Lankan government announced a controversial new law prohibiting women from wearing a ‘pottu’ - a coloured dot worn by many Tamil women on the centre of the forehead - from all official passport photographs.

According to the Department of Immigration and Emigration, the ban has been implemented to abide by the international practices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) where photos must match an individual’s natural look.

Many Tamil women across South Asia, as well as many diaspora Tamil, have been wearing a ‘pottu’ on their forehead as per their religious and cultural practises for centuries.  

There are a number of requirements when taking Passport photographs, in compliance with ICAO, most of which are to ensure that photographs are taken in a manner that doesn’t betray an individual’s normal appearance. 

ICAO is a body that caters to many different ethnicities and religions with a liberal guideline whereby the main requirements are that the face or eyes are not covered, and even allowing for hair to be covered if for “religious or medical reasons”.

Britain, for example, provides similar guidelines for its citizens of many different ethnicities and religions through which women are allowed to wear a pottu, headscarves and other religious or cultural markings and clothing.

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