The war against lovers
by Sasanka Perera
Similarly, a month ago a young male undergraduate had gone to the Viharamaha Devi Park in Colombo at about 3.30 in the evening to relax with two female friends before catching a bus to go home. But they could not relax because a number of baton-wielding security officers blowing whistles descended upon them and chased them away claiming that couples were not allowed in the park after 3.30. When inquired later on, the security guards said that their instructions are to chase away lovers (or couples as they are generally referred to) in the evenings so that the park can be open to families. One wonders if the lovers thus chased away are not members of families. It seems that the Colombo Municipality that administers the park has taken over an additional responsibility other than collecting garbage and collecting taxes. They seem to have become a kind of moral police force as well.
Why have our elders, officials of state agencies, teachers and other such individuals taken such a moralist and puritanical positions against our youth. Do they have nothing better to do? What are they afraid of? The answers to these kinds of questions would reveal a great deal of the problems and limitations of our collective personality as a society that routinely tend to get our priorities mixed up.
Often, when you ask some of the mothers, fathers and teachers as well as police officers why they are taking a moral high ground with regard to the youthful activities of love and intimacy of their children, one tends to get a series of common and predictable answers. One of the most common of these answers is that public expression of intimacy as well as the very notion of love is not one of our traditions. Of course these are individuals who know nothing about the ideas of love or the ways in which we as a society expressed these feelings at different moments in our history such as in the pre-colonial period to which we often turn when looking for origins of traditions.
But it is obvious that when it comes to issues such as intimacy and love, we merely go back to the British colonial period when the puritanical Victorian ideas that now prevail in our society were first introduced and later entrenched. But if we go beyond that period and read closely some of our literature such as Sandesa Poetry, most of which were written in the Kotte Period and what remain of folk verses the images we see are quite different. It is very clear that in these sources notions of sensuousness were freely and creatively expressed as were ideas and expectations of love and intimacy. In the folk tradition, some of these ideas were not always expressed in a subtle fashion. But by now, some of this literary evidence has been purged. So for instance, the folk poetry that gets published as anthologies are devoid of verses with such references and would only include the kind of ideas that will not contradict the post Victorian moral code.
On the other hand, many of our parents and elders still cling to very archaic beliefs that everything from who ones children should love and marry should be decided by parents and elder kin. Despite the fact that many of these notions have undergone serious change in recent times, the enormous authority elders exercise in these spheres still remain quite intact in a visible manner allowing them to control the lives of youth in ways that are not necessary. Another worry emanating from the elders is that if their children are not properly protected they would get into trouble. This is mostly articulated with reference to young women. If this is the case, we have to see why perfectly normal and educated youth would get into such situations. It is clear that at the level of the family or at school we do not address or deal with issues such as love, intimacy, sex, reproduction or other such issues. These themes are culturally taboo. So if parents, family and schools do not teach the youth how to get about with life, fall in love, show intimacy and not get into trouble, the primary failure is not with the youth but with the formal education system and society in general that does not prepare them to be fully fledged and responsible adults.
In a situation where there is such a clear systemic failure it is unreasonable to let lose a series of moral structures and limitations on the youth who are only trying to express themselves. On the other hand, in a society that has got increasingly violent and brutal over the last two decades or so, personal intimacy is perhaps one area that has not yet been completely overtaken by the repercussions of the violent society around us. Even then, the increase in rape, sexual harassment as well as domestic violence and violence within marriage would indicate that relatively intimate and private spheres in life has also been exposed to the consequences of a brutalized society. In such a situation, problematic restrictions on expressions of intimacy could have more dangerous repercussions.
One could argue that if the controls exerted on our youth are relaxed it would lead to the creation of a dysfunctional society. But what is needed is not the creation of dysfunctional society but rather the opposite. A society would not be normal if a large proportion of its population, the youth are not allowed to express their feelings of intimacy and if they are not taught how to do it right. Clearly, what is needed is not the creation of a society where unrestricted and free sexual practices would lead to the emergence of new set of social problems and epidemiological nightmares. Instead, what we have to achieve is to create a society where instead of robots and zombies we would be able to produce innovative and caring individuals. It cannot be achieved by regularly and consistently restricting the capacities of our youth to feel tenderness, understand what caring means and express intimacy beyond the supervision of adults. To do that, many of our elders will have to think beyond the Victorian value system that they hold dear and allow themselves to grow up a little bit more before they try to teach their own daughters and sons how to be ideal citizens.
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