The recent murder of a seven-year-old little girl in the Kirulapone area shocked and shook up our little world. The brutality of this act is inconceivable to many, especially since it was a close relative who had been the main perpetrator.
I see Facebook messages condemning child abuse with big slogans, “Say no to child abuse and rape”; we are wringing our hands and asking the question, “What do we do?” All sorts of capital punishments are being suggested, from the death sentence to cutting off of their fingers etc., etc. But after all these oohs and aahs, in a matter of days we will all be back to our busy lives until we are hit with the next shock.
Just to get to the bottom of what really was, the sentiments of those in the area where this happened, I went along and spoke to some of the residents. I noticed there wasn’t any kind of protest going on in the area; there was no wide agitation about what happened. I could not help wondering whether they had all gone numb or were they just indifferent?
In my quest to find out ‘why’ this happened, I asked a resident of the area for his take on the situation. When I repeatedly asked him why, he repeatedly gave me the same answer - that it was an uncle of this child who had committed the murder. I was almost prompting him to say that the cause was drugs or some intoxication. But I did not get anywhere.
The word uncle is loosely translated in English; the word the resident used was ‘mama’. A ‘mama’ in some local cultures is a person a girl is betrothed to. It can be the girl’s mother’s brother or mother’s brother’s son. In the Tamil culture the definition is ‘mora mama’ or ‘mora mapala’. So was I imagining it or was this situation being explained from another dimension to me?
It was not that he was trying to condone this brutal act, but was he trying to say that the relationship between this man who was the cousin and this child of seven was acceptable?
I did not want the conversation to go further as it would have completely destabilized my cultural sensibilities and comfort zone.
At the risk of sounding very simplistic, the fact is that at the root of all these problems that are presenting themselves at our own doorstep (three international schools are situated down the road the incident is alleged to have taken place, surrounded by this large populace of a marginalized section of our society, resident in the area) is more than just not having proper laws or severe ways of punishing people for their crimes. The issue goes much deeper.
Since I’m writing this column in the business pages of Daily Mirror, I would dare to ask the question - ‘what does it mean to be socially responsible in this day and age?’ We speak so much of corporate social responsibility, but the question is whether we think of a sustainable formula to manage the communities who are living adjacent to us. It’s not just the case of this little child, almost daily, the newspapers report of crime heading from this segment of our society. We read on, feeling rather helpless and thinking all the time if our children would be the next victims? What will happen if we get late to do the school pick up?
We speak so much about breaking up of our society, the role changes in the modern day family, the breaking of the glass ceiling and feminism. Instead of concentrating on these, we need to think of this a far more dangerous issue that can ruin the very core of our stability.
This situation is like sitting on a ticking bomb, because we have a segment of society who are not socially or economically our equal yet are living in close proximity to us. They have a value system, which is completely alien and yet they form the backbone of our system for e.g. our peons, our drivers, office cleaners, domestic servants, might come from these marginalized societies – slums that are casually referred to as ‘Koreawas’.
It is not my intention to sound over dramatic, but if I had to describe the times we live in, the best that comes to mind is a book written by Charles Dickens titled the ‘Tale of Two Cities’. The first paragraph of the first chapter goes like this.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
What are we talking about when we refer to being a good corporate citizen? What CSR projects do we run that are sustainable for the society we live in? We talk about being environmentally conscious, reducing our carbon footprint which we like to call the ticking bomb of the future; but here in Sri Lanka, we have much more urgent issues to settle, within the society we live in.
There is the clear and present need to understand and find solutions for this part of our society who does not fall into the decision-making process in our cities but yet can create a far reaching impact. Will our reactions to these problems be limited to social media updates or are we going to wake up and do something about this before it destroys what’s closest to our hearts?
(The writer can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org)