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Buddha wept as we beat our women


54% of adolescent girls in Sri Lanka feel that a husband is justified in beating his wife. The UNICEF Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012 however is not available yet to try and unpack this further. What do they mean?
 Surely, they cannot be suggesting that the arbitrary violence that some wives are subject to in Sri Lanka is acceptable; burned rice that results in cut lips and black eyes? It must be wives that were somehow overly flirtatious with another man. Wives that have behaved, or even worse, dressed, inappropriately. Wives that have proved to be whores!

What about those husbands that use wives like dogs? Psychologists call it displaced aggression, commonly known as kick-the-dog syndrome. Surely the adolescent girls can’t mean these husbands? Their wives did nothing more than open the door and welcome them home.

What about the husbands that come home inebriated and then proceed to beat their wives to a pulp for looking at them the wrong way? Do the 54% think this is justified?

Our friends at the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) have a theory that the alcohol socialization process in Sri Lanka begins with the mother at the fence discussing with her neighbour her husband’s need to consume alcohol due to the various problems he faces. ADIC says this results in young people (who accompany their mother to the fence as kids) turning to alcohol to solve their problems – meka bonna ona prashnayak!

Do you think the mothers at the fences talk about how beleaguered their husbands are to rationalize their still bloody noses, or visible grab marks on arms? Perhaps the 54% have stood by holding on to maternal hems listening to why this is ok, understandable even, that’s it, understandable.

Do you think that this level of acceptance among young adolescent girls mirrors our own as Sri Lankans?

Violence is under reported here.  As a Nation, we’re also on record refuting allegations that we in anyway mistreat women. Apparently we revere them, and have placed them in the highest offices of the land as a symbol of our respect and adoration. This ridiculous response however was not pilloried by our free and easy going mainstream press. We seem to accept that this is just the way things are in Sri Lanka…

Is it a really surprise then that 54% of young adolescent girls think that wife beating is acceptable?

We did a series of workshops for the Rotaract Club in 2010 and also 2011 that included a discussion on violence in relationships. Over two thirds of the participants, predominantly from Colombo, affluent, English speaking, agreed that a man can in fact hit a woman, if the woman has done something to deserve it… defining what deserved a violent response in relationships ran the gamut from overcooking rice to being unfaithful. We were surprised at the levels of acceptance that first year, and then, as we did more workshops and listened to what were rational and well thought out justifications for intimate partner violence, our surprise soon gave way to disbelief and finally almost resignation.

This is the way we are. Simple, really. It’s not even about insidious forms of patriarchy. There’s nothing insidious about our acceptance of intimate partner violence… or at least, it’s no more insidious than us using the term intimate partner violence in a bid to be inclusive of men and women who face emotional and physical violence in their relationships, regardless of marital status and sexuality. No, in Sri Lanka, we’re honest, open, even proud of our patriarchal weltanschauung. A man is a man, with man responsibilities and commitments, and similarly, a woman is a woman, with woman obligations and duties. Those who fall between and into the cracks… well, tough, this is Sri Lanka.

Recently we have wondered if Sri Lanka’s patriarchy has its roots in Buddhism. You might think this an unnecessarily reductive approach to what has long be acknowledged as an amalgam of anthropology, religion (especially the people of the book) and their resultant socio-cultural influences. But still, we have to examine our contemporary expressions of Buddhism, which must surely be derived from the various influences just outlined, including the Judeo-Christian God of those who colonized us for nearly 450 years.

Religion’s role in patriarchy is well documented. It is steeped in power. Just read the Ten Commandments. They were written for men who owned slaves, donkeys and women. Nietzsche, before syphilitic insanity claimed him – a judgment from God, of course – spoke at length of how faith and belief was used to manipulate the masses. The herd. The priests didn’t believe in the lie of God, and most crucially heaven and hell. They merely perpetuated it.

Have we men similarly perpetuated a lie that it is in fact normal i.e. the norm, to slap our women about, especially when they deserve it?

Do we believe this, or do we find it convenient? Are we afraid that our women may wake up to the fact that we’re bullies and cheats and, in general, loathsome? Surely this is unnecessary Feminist vitriol? Next thing you know, I’d be advocating that all women become lesbians? That’s what feminists do apparently, even the men.

This last week, we’ve been forced to engage with our Buddhist ways in Sri Lanka.

When we heard of what happened in Dambulla, did we collectively shudder, or did we bang our hairy Sinhala chests in exultation? Nietzsche’s ascetic priest that believes not what he preaches was alive and well. Power was on display. Policemen and the armed forces were mocked and chided.

Is there a connection between Dambulla and the 54% of young adolescent girls who have beatings and marital rape to look forward to? Are they not both a reflection of what we have become… or even worse, who we’ve always been?

There are answers out there, but we mustn’t be afraid to ask the questions.

How do we recover? How do we help the 54% and the rest of our young girls feel self worth and value that will not perpetuate our peculiar patriarchy?

We’re as far from comprehensive sex education – any well structured programme addresses gender and patriarchy – in schools as we’re from freedom of speech. But how far is that really? What is the distance? How many miles to go before we sleep?

The shortest verse in the Bible is John’s Gospel Chapter 11, verse 35: Jesus wept.

This last week, as I watched and read of the ugly militant Buddhism that has raised its head and stripped itself of robes to jump up and down naked and unabashed, all I could see were tears in Buddha’s eyes. Today, reading of the 54%, Buddha’s tears continued to flow.

Buddha wept, and we, if we don’t laugh, we’ll cry too.

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