Alas Sri Lanka, may ‘culture’ serve remedy to yet another tragedy

Alas Sri Lanka, may ‘culture’ serve remedy to yet another tragedy

22 January 2020 11:34 am


The parliament oversight committee on women and gender concluded its meeting held yesterday (21) in regard to review the implementation of controversial sex ed book known as ‘Hathe Ape Potha’ which has temporarily been suspended for distribution.

The meeting was convened at 2 pm chaired by Dr. Ashu Marasinghe, with participation of the Maha Sangha, Dr. Thusitha Wijemanna, representatives of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, consultant psychiatrists, representatives of the governing party and the opposition, civil activists and media. 

Concluded at 5 pm, the meeting declared to subject the text book to be edited and republished under the observation of the Ministry of Education, according to our correspondent.

We, LNW, earlier disclosed the full content of the Hathe Ape Potha for your reference, therefore, we do not wish to recall its pages again. We nevertheless would like to refresh your memory as to what caused the public panic on this controversial school text book in the first place with raising important facts addressed in the committee meeting thereafter. 

Weeks ago, Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera calling in a press conference said the Grade 7 textbook known as 'Hathe Ape Potha' introduced collaboratively by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education of the previous government to attach education on sexual and reproductive health into the school curriculum promotes inappropriate and obscene content sexually exploiting young children, thereby demanding prohibition. The content of this sex ed book cannot be even read consciously by adults, he said, confronting that this was an organized attempt to mar children by a ‘certain group’ in the previous government.

The Maha Sangha in the Committee meeting

Amongst the seats were participants both favouring and opposing the Hathe Ape Potha. The protagonist to the debate, Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thero, arrived in the meeting late. The conversation ran for nearly three hours. It was highly noteworthy that the Maha Sangha viewed contradictory opinions to each other in the midst of the debate, with one stating that he does not see anything wrong in this text book compared to the standard syllabus, thereby pointing out that these matters should be addressed properly in the society, while others voicing for Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thero saying that this book was maliciously introduced by a group of LGBTIQ people in the previous government to destroy children. 

Who is Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera?

Who is Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera? He is a Professor in Pali of the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, with an honorary degree in Bachelor of Arts, a masters and a PhD in Delhi. We do not question his capacity as an educated entity representing the clergy.  

In fact, Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera was a known advocate for people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. The Thera many years ago speaking to a television program said, marginalized communities based on their sexual orientation and gender shall not be discriminated and should be treated equally. You can listen to the Thera’s comments on the LGBTIQ community in the video below;

What took his radical ideology on gender and sexuality away in a drastic measure to publicly affront the LGBTIQ community we do not know. But it surely is not on self-interest. The Thera, and those voicing for him, confronted in the committee meeting that the Hathe Ape Potha can be described as a narrow-minded attempt by the previous government's 'LGBTIQ office' to influence children, and the so called sex education was motivated by the 'need' of this small group of 'victims' to come forth and normalize what happened to them.

The Thera’s attempt to mark prominent of the LGBTIQ community in this matter and label them as 'victims' is highly doubtful. Sexual and Reproductive Health is not limited to people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities or expressions, for it is a call for public health inclusive of all human beings. And yet, he views that the matter was addressed in order to fill out a ‘need’ of a group of 'victims'. What is the need may we ask? And what may we ask they have been victimized by? Where was this so called 'LGBTIQ office' located? Who were its members?

The culture of people tending to welcome HIV positive people in the Western society shall not be brought to Sri Lanka. Infected by AIDS is a fault, not heroism,” parties voicing against the text book said. “Besides, western countries say to use a condom before having sex. But our culture does not say to use a condom, we instead teach to control our feelings. Therefore, our culture does not need this text book. Because it influences children. This book speaks of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, for worse, it says that children are being abused by those who are closest to them. That is false. Such thing does not exist.” 

Participants opposed to the book also said that there are billions of people in China but only six teachers are appointed to one province and none of them teach such 'nonsense'. This book was introduced by a group of ‘distorted’ LGBTIQ people in the previous government, and it consists of disgusting content, therefore should be banned, they said. 

Joining the conversation, Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera also said the interpretation of menstruation in the text book is highly inappropriate that it ‘devalues’ girls in the mind-set of boys. 

Statistics by the committee indicate that around ten thousand women and children are being sexually assaulted annually, obtaining over fifty thousand cases reported between 2010 and 2016, long before this book even reached the attention of the authorities. Not only did the parties opposed to the text book publicly insult marginalized communities, but they also vehemently harboured patriarchy by prompting men before women.  

Professionals in the Committee meeting

Mrs. Renuka Peiris, Director of Education, stated that this book has been approved as an additional reading material for school studies by the Ministry of Education. Commenting on the book, consultant psychiatrists addressing the meeting said everything except content on masturbation on page 8 seems fine. However, Dr. Pabasiri Ginige, consultant psychiatrist, pointed out that masturbation should be addressed in sex education in order to avoid confusion in children coming of age. 

Parties representing the government also expressed positive views on the text book, whilst the group opposed to the Hathe Ape Potha strongly suggested of obscene material featured in the book. Chairman Dr. Ashu Marasinghe requested the opposing parties to pin down content in the book that promotes such obscene material, to which they did not respond, our correspondent said.  

Children are being subjected to sexual assault due to lack of knowledge, one of the judicial medical officers in the conversation pointed out, urging that the book should be attached to the school curriculum. 

The criticism that the book was published without international recommendations was easily debunked as it was revealed that the Hathe Ape Potha was designed in keeping with the criteria of the World Health Organization. 

A recent study by a youth activist in the field revealed that 52.7% of the respondents divulged that they have not been given sexuality education at schools, with in addition 26.2% of them responded that they have not been taught sexual education on later occasions either. The study also revealed that 40.5% of them at some point in their lives were either sexually abused in public transportation, unable to understand the process of menstruation, unable to clarify sexual orientation and even were subjected to rape by those who were close to them. 98% of the respondents commented that sex ed should be made available in school curriculum, it pointed out.

It is quite tragic that the oversight committee was forced to conclude the meeting allowing a Buddhist monk and his horde of stalwarts to rule their derogatory opinion adequate over science. Having the liberty to comment on the scenario, we on many occasions said that oppression in to this matter does not accomplish anything but further drive our young generations to frustration. The hypocrisy surrounding sex ed strikes on a very high magnitude in Sri Lanka. What does the culture say about sex education? Has anyone ever answered to that question? If sex ed is a 'distorted victim's need' according to Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera and those around him, may we suggest - kindly check into Google analytics in 2016.

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