Let them be

Colombo is never short of open public spaces for people to come, chill, catch up with friends, speak their hearts out to their lovers, and even to have some alone time.

Sometimes, seated under a tree, staring into the world with fresh air fanning your face is better than being in a closed, air-conditioned room with many people around.

But are these open spaces really ‘open’ to the public in its true sense.

Last week, the Nation came across instances where couples were chased out of the Viharamahadevi Park. They were chased by Civil Defence personnel who were patrolling the premises.

What does this mean? Are not couples free to be themselves in a public area? Is holding hands or having an arm around a shoulder bad ? Should closeness between people be regulated and kept under surveillance.

There are many reasons why people choose to come to parks. There are several who come there to have one-to-one talks, which they cannot have in their homes, or workplaces.

There have been occasions where couples have been caught being really intimate to the point that parents have to take their kids to another section of the premises.

However, the majority of those who come there just want to spend some time with their loved ones, even if it just by being silent.

How can they be themselves when they know that every movement of theirs is being watched? Hugging a person is not equivalent to copulating. It does not even come close.
One cannot generalize all youngsters. You cannot judge the entire generation just because of a handful of them. Holding the hands and seated under a tree should not be the reason for them to be asked to go out.

In case, if the intention of the couple to do more than just talking, then they would have chosen a secluded environment. They would have even opted to rent a room. They would not be roaming around in a park, which is open from all sides.

If the intention was to meet secretly, without the knowledge of family or relatives, the park is still not a good place. It is public, and they could bump into someone they know.
On the other hand, another question which arises from this is that how could a uniformed man be the arbiter on morality and decency?

The Sri Lankan Constitution recognizes the freedom of  association and the freedom of movement.

However, the fact is that we now live in a world where it is hard to have personal space, thanks to smart phones, social media and cheaply available data networks.

There have been many occasions where matters discussed behind closed doors had become viral within minutes.

Our Facebook walls are often filled with videos of unsuspecting people caught on camera while making a fool of themselves.

Today’s era of smart phones and social media has nothing personal about it.
The bitter truth is that each and every individual, knowingly or unknowingly is being monitored. No one likes being monitored or watched.

In 2001, the Americans protested against the Patriot Act through which the people had to provide personal information, including details pertaining to the usage of credit cards.

This was soon after the 9/11 attack. But the people did not want the government to have their information because they did not like to be monitored and watched.

This was way before Facebook and Twitter took the internet by storm. Today over one billion people are on Facebook and more than 100 million people use Instagram every month.

According to statistics, the world population is approximately 7.5 billion, which means one out of seven people are active on a social media site.

Many of them share their locations and places where they have checked in on their Facebook statuses.

What they do not realize is that these facilities on their social media sites allow them to be monitored without their knowledge, or consent.

Thanks to Facebook, people keep a track of where you are and what you are doing. While you may share these information for the fun of it, on the flipside, it allows you to be monitored.

Therefore, inadvertently, you allow yourself to be monitored.

Coming back to the Viharamahadevi Park, yes, it is necessary for security officials to be on the alert. But should they be alert for issues concerning lovers?

Should they intrude when two innocent couples are sharing an intimate moment? This is clearly invasion of privacy. After all, growing up years in one’s life are some of the most memorable, in their diverse manifestations in music, drama, friendships, love affairs, and activism. No one has the right to rob youth of these experiences, least of all, self-proclaimed uniformed minions guarding a do it yourself code of morals.

Today’s youngsters are innovative and smart. Indeed, there are the blacksheeps. But blacksheeps don’t represent a generation.

Let them be free. Everyone has a right to love, and love is what binds us together.
Allow them to enjoy the fresh air under the tree while gazing at each other, lost in each other’s world.

The Nation editorial on February 12, 2017


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