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A Call to Action: The Reality Checklist

23 September 2010 Posted by No Comment

Thuvi: Isn’t it so ironic Mili- that we had a conversation of whether virginity should be a concern for young people going forward with their lives after a failed relationship or marriage and then this blows up in our face. Virginity test! How ridiculous? I’m disgusted!

Milinda: Who the hell created this whole virginity concept? Where on earth did it come from?

Thuvi: My question is, leaving aside the absurdity of such a concept, if you want to verify virginity- what is the most effective form of doing that? Checking hymen when a large percentile of women don’t even bleed during the first time they have sex?! So what, then they are not virgins? They would be social outcasts and sidelined as immoral and promiscuous, is it? Bloody nonsense, men!

I barely had a wink of sleep last night. And whatever few winks that I managed to catch during that night were disturbed and painful. I couldn’t comprehend the atrocity of the situation. How,how,how was it humanly possible to do something as immoral as send girls, who have no possible personal affiliation with you or your life, for virginity tests? What message was that man trying to send across? That he has supreme authority to investigate and exercise control over a young person’s personal life? Was he even aware of the Human Rights Convention violations, the fundamental rights violations, the IPPF violations? How he has terrorized the students who are supposed to look up to him as a mentor and guide, as a counselor and an advocate of justice?

Milinda: It’s not just you and me though. Everyone who was had a remote sense of justice within their bones has spoken out their mind. Paba created an online poster and tagged all her friends to pledge their adherence to the IPPF right to love for youth- against the VC’s love phobia, urging her facebook network to spread the word. We followed suit, didn’t we- posted the link and spread the word? We did what we could within our capacity.

Thuvi: But is it enough? What would be enough? And whatever we termed a call to action, would it actually serve as a means to an end?

Milinda: Let’s see what can be done. Let me talk to my friends from Sri Jayawardena Pura tomorrow to check the accuracy of these claims, because it’s just through an article publication that we know this happened. The reliability of the story needs to be verified. Let’s take it from there. We have to do something.

Two days later…

Thuvi: Milinda, what’s happening with the Sri Jayawardena Pura case? What are we doing? We talked about checking the accuracy of the story- what’s the feedback on the whole issue? We talked about a call to action on facebook- we were all very keen but before time runs out we need to actually implement something- so tell me, what are we doing?

Milinda: I wrote an article about it for Grassrooted- check my notebook now. It addresses the whole situation very accurately.

Thuvi: What have you said?

Milinda: Well, generally, pressing people politically has limited scope, because the general public responds very badly to actions directed towards these agendas. Hence, the best way to tap into the minds of the people is through ethical and moral issues. This way the public get distorted and move away from focus on what should be deemed as the original political issues that were of initial concern; because they are too distraught and anguished as to how to respond to constraints placed on what they deem personal- their religion, their culture, their personal train of thought.  Now do you see how it leads attention away from the real issues such as unemployment and the like? It happened in Iran, the exact same thing is happening here. See, the hungama this has created. Every young person is enraged by this. Forgotten about everything else that was in the news, and diverted to this because they don’t even know how to accurately respond. Goal achieved. They have got what they wanted- they have gained the upper hand- now they will have little less intervention to whatever immediate objective they want to achieve. Don’t you think?

Thuvi: (pause) I get it now…I never looked at it from that angle…

Milinda: Yes and the end of my article talks about how it’s not the virginity of the body but your political virginity that you have given up, by letting this whole issue get to you. Reiterating the fact that the original objective has been achieved, very well achieved!

Thuvi: Yes, but think about those students- how helpless! Some severe action needs to be taken in order to ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. Students should be able to stand up for their rights. This is ridiculous. It would have never happened back there (referring to North America). In fact, Uni of Toronto operated on student parity- all decisions made by the administrative council was in par with what the student bodies represented and appealed for, because at the end of the day- it’s their wants that need to be addressed and adhered to! Isn’t there any kind of student group in Sri Jayawardena Pura University who would address this? Petition, maybe? That’s how it worked there anyway!

Milinda: I understand your frustration Thuvi. But trust me, having been part of politics while at university in Sri Lanka and continuing to be an activist upon graduation, in no way should you mar the power of the political youth organizations- they are very progressive- barely any radicalism! It’s at the top of the pyramid where the whole issue crumbles down and doesn’t get the due response it needs.

I think for now the only thing we could do is give this enough media publication, if we could spread the word to the common man, so they are aware of the atrocities, then we have achieved a great deal.

Thuvi: Mili, how on earth could that ever be enough? We’re talking about women who have been wronged here. When a woman has been wrong, its action that could be taken that is her biggest revenge against her humiliation. They just couldn’t have done this, I mean, how could the V.C abuse his power in such a way knowing these are helpless people who depend on their academia for a future livelihood? It’s just not done.

Milinda: Ok, so tell me what you propose?

Thuvi: Ok, so why don’t we get the student body at Sri Jayawardena Pura to get petitions from the inflicted students, perhaps get anonymous testimonials and then appeal to the Ministry of Education and their Advisory Committee?

Milinda: Are you aware how the Vice Chancellors of Sri Lankan universities are appointed, Thuvi?

Thuvi: Enlighten me.

Milinda: The Vice Chancellor is usually someone who has a very strong personal liaison with the Minister of Education. To send the Minister a petition against the V.C would be like someone sending me a letter against you and both of us sitting together and laughing about it. He would never be stirred by it. And I am not saying this on bias, it has happened over and over again in SL. The system is such.

Thuvi: Hmm…

Milinda: And as to wanting to get petitions from the inflicted students- you think anyone of them would come forth and say yes, we were the ones who were sent for a virginity test? They are probably girls who have moved to Colombo from more rural regions and are scared to death that their academic careers would be jeopardized as a result of this…and of course, the personal stigma attached to it and the reputations that they inflict upon their families- it’s a huge vicious cycle. How often is it that a woman would come out in the open and talk about how she was scorned and put under a virginity test because she was talking with her boyfriend outside the campus? She would never do that- her whole reputation would be at stake!

Thuvi: That’s so sad though, I wouldn’t think twice about it if I were in that place, but yes, I do understand the situational context is very different, especially when you have to succumb to social conformity and family pressure.

Milinda: So what the guy wanted to do was pretty much warn all couples around the campus- that if you are in a relationship, don’t be seen around talking or hanging out together, because this could happen to you so they would not “behave” in such a way and then they are at risk of getting thrown out of the institution- basically all the dreams they dreamed of a future, economically and perhaps together, will all come to a very bitter halt.So they will just exercise caution.

See, Thuvi, how it works in Sri Lanka is, even the students who are part of the council wouldn’t want to come out with a petition because they are well aware of the repercussions. They will be segregated and be at the target of utter torture by the Administrative Council because at the end of the day they are speaking against the services endorsed and sponsored by the government and have very, very limited rights. Those who do decide to take the call would be penalized in terms of perhaps a “fail” on their midterms or finals. Worse yet, they may even face suspension or expulsion as a result of going against authority. It’s just “not done” in Sri Lanka. So even if they are well aware of the injustice, they just wouldn’t come forward with it, because this is a very miniscule thing in the grand scheme of things- their future and what a reputation does to a future in this country.

Thuvi: So then what about what we could do as part of youth organizations? Couldn’t we act as advocates? Wouldn’t other youth organizations like us be in support of eliminating such kind of violations and abuse of power when it comes to empowering youth? Couldn’t they be our lobby? Or at least help spearhead the process?

Milinda: many youth organization are restricted, there is not much of a gateway to get such issues showcased and appropriate action taken. Our sense of youth and the rights- based approach we try to employ it’s not always well received.

Thuvi: So all our mediums are exhausted? No loopholes we could seep through, whatsoever?

Milinda: Well, like I said spreading the message to the common man, so they know what their rights are and that they are aware of such demeaning practices is important. We’re trying to do that through a publication in a Sinhalese paper tomorrow. Paba and I are both submitting articles. We have addressed both our concerns about the violation of youth rights as well as political agenda behind the whole issue. We’ll see what response we get. At least if the intellectuals read what we feel, I think that is a good first step. At the same time, my friend who works for the paper is going to check the validity of these claims in the university itself. They wanted me to be part of it, but understanding the whole male-female sensitivity dynamic with the issue, I told her herself to go ahead and talk to the students there. Of course, they are well experienced journalists so they will make sure that it stays anonymous and confidential and we only tap out what is absolutely necessary to spread awareness.

Thuvi: Yeah, Mili- something needs to be done so that this doesn’t happen in future. Even if the Ministry of Education doesn’t care, at least there should be a knock strong enough on the door so he understands that the youth will take such kind of behavior in their stride, so that this doesn’t recur in future. That’s what I think needs to be done. Enough has happened already. And doesn’t the Vice Chancellor care about the standards and reputation of the institution in itself- this is terrible publicity! How shameful!

Milinda: Thuvi, has Sri Lanka ever given itself enough credit for its academic institutions? Even if we have expertise in certain fields, the devil is never given its due. It’s been like that for years.

And talking about shame? It’s like asking someone who has been naked for 30 years and lived comfortably being naked, why they are not wearing clothes? So how on earth do you think the VC would feel ashamed of his actions?

Thuvi: So then what would be the call to action to make sure that there is some light at the end of the tunnel- that the youth will not let their personal rights be violated? We’ve looked and analyzed all our options so far…Plus we are running out of time- before another serious issue jumps us in the face, this needs to be addressed!

So tell us, readers, we implore you. The calamity behind this situation does not deserve to be left unheard. Those girls who had to suffer the humiliation of their personal choice questioned by an authority that never had the right to such intervention need our support. Their silent tears and outcry cannot be ignored. We need your support on this to advocate the rights of the youth. The right to freedom of expression and feelings. What would be the best call to action? The answer should not be left blowing in the wind…

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