In our part of the world certain events are spectacularly entertaining. This past week has been remarkable in that sense, with many newsmakers, both trivial and serious.
The news of police in Anuradhapura rounding up adolescent girls and boys ranging between the ages of 16-19 evoked many reactions. Sounds hilarious as one reminisces being in love at such a young age with the rush of hormones that drives emotions into freefalling mode. The young couples rounded up were engaged in improper behaviour, claimed the police, but what that behaviour was is open to one’s imagination. Attraction between the sexes is natural and relationships are inevitable, and the presence of loved up couples in public spaces has been a perennial sight. Right. But, law enforcement officers suddenly swooping down on unsuspecting couples is not the norm though, not like them busting a drug ring or a brothel.
From a rights perspective, the action seems to be a clear violation, but, in the realm of Sri Lanka’s concocted conservativeness, such behaviour among young couples in the public space is frowned upon as a denigration of morals. Again to the rationalist’s mind, the celebration of sanctimonious ideals of modest behaviour is so crassly duplicitous that it’s easy to say “to hell with it”. After all, we humans are sexual beings and young people are a representation of a budding sexuality waiting to be explored.
But, I repeat, but, we cannot ignore the fact that things ‘can’ go wrong. Last week the editorial spoke about the downside of the pandemic induced social circumstances that has affected children in school, many children from financially challenged households becoming complacent and elsewhere being forced into child marriage. So, it’s easy for young people to lose focus and eventually get lost in the myriad of distractions, only to be added as another number in a statistic. Which begs for adult care and guidance, so that young people still, albeit the occasional distraction, navigate their future path successfully.
Defending the roundup was the threat of abuse in these relationships owing to the young age of the people, said the police. Some of the young people rounded up were young as 16. The norm is to consider an individual below 18 years a child. Any physical contact with a minor, that is, an individual below the age of 16 is statutory rape. However, consensual physical contact among individuals between the ages of 16-18 is not considered statutory rape. While this remains controversial and complicated, adults have to be cognizant of what can go wrong when young people get into relationships; the possibility of education getting derailed must create a real fear among parents who spend money sending children for extra coaching.
However, shaming young people in public while riding on the moral bandwagon can have serious repercussions. Young people are sensitive and can be irrational as well, hence such public shaming can lead to impulsive decisions, which makes it critical to deal with concerns carefully.
While the law enforcement officers were drilling morality into young couples, Sri Lankans were gripped with the sight of a convicted killer (now appealing his conviction) being sworn in as a member of parliament, amidst a hail of protests inside the hallowed precincts and outside, from local and international media. Social media platforms had a field day roasting the government. Meanwhile, on display was the parochial virtuosity of the ‘god men’ in power, who announced plans to ban cattle slaughter in the country. None of us enjoy the sight of an animal in the throes of slaughter and would only want it to stop. Only if it is that simple. For politicians who rule the roost, and made good windfall from their offices, a meritorious deed in their twilight years may seem like complete absolution of their past. The point is, with politicians the right thing is often for the wrong reasons, and so it is with this. This may be another move to resonate the Sri Lankan identity as deeply religious, which is also shamelessly hypocritical and distorted in practice. Or else a well-scripted intervention to make a fortune.
Anyway, human civilisation was built on the primacy of the human species, who subjugated the immediate environment and all other living creatures in order to survive. Meat eating was not an epicurean fanfare, it was a necessity for survival. Today, the animal industry is an extensive high-net-worth business, which has a range of stakeholders depending on the industry as suppliers. Thousands of livelihoods are built around industrial livestock production. At the grassroots, raising cattle is a livelihood for families that sell milk to commercial establishments. They also earn from selling an aged animal to the abattoir. Allowing cattle to roam freely may result in them foraging on vegetation and being harassed by farmers for destroying crops. It’s obvious that the people’s realities on the ground are very different to those in the august assembly making proclamations. Political manoeuvring should not be at the expense of human existence.
In 2015 a man lost his life while decorating the meeting venue of a political contender he likely supported. He was shot by a politician from an opposing party. Today, both the perpetrator and the politician that the man died for are on the same side. Call it irony or what? Probably political expediency.