Let me first congratulate you on your many achievements in academic and non-academic endeavours. I’m told that you hold a prominent position among the Sri Lankan community that engage in political/social commentary on social media and other electronic media platforms. While I have not had the fortune of reading your previous work, I did however have the misfortune of reading your latest article. I’m writing this to kindly bring a few matters to your attention, that you appear to have purposely or mistakenly overlooked. May be you’ve heard some or all of this already and going by your response to criticism, I expect nothing in return from you. Who knows, to quote your own words, “may be your denial is the first of many steps in the path to change”. Nevertheless, here goes – an attempt, not to elicit a response from you, but to get those who follow you to think twice before accepting prejudice as an acceptable norm.
First things first, I absolutely agree with you that Sri Lanka is a patriarchal and misogynistic society. We should all draw more attention to this deficit and constructively contribute to this discourse in order to find suitable solutions. But somewhere down the line, in your article, you’ve absolutely lost the plot and make it a jeer of the childishness and supposed lack of education among the big match crowd based on personal prejudice and broad generalisations. Your article is as constructive to addressing patriarchy and misogyny in Sri Lanka as Misandry (hatred of men) is to Feminism (advocacy of equality among the genders) – not much at all. So, with all due respect, let me break this down according to your chronology of arguments.
#1. Fraternity with schools and not universities
a) The article goes on to state that rather than fraternise at the school level, one should aspire to fraternise at the university level. In your most eloquent words,
“It’s somewhat easier to understand why a culture of fraternity may prevail among these university students; elite universities are extremely competitive, exclusive and promote a certain culture of academic thought that they collectively take pride in.”
The Harvard-Yale rivalry was initiated since they were some of the earliest universities that existed in the United States, similar to that of Royal-St. Thomas’ and Ananda-Nalanda. If, for example, Bennington College had been established around the same time as Harvard or Yale (1600s), the rivalry would have been between Bennington-Harvard/Yale, not based on their Ivy League and Liberal Arts College tags, but based on history. Similarly, the school rivalries in Sri Lanka were established considerably earlier (mid/late 1800s) than the first university was opened in 1921 (Ceylon University College). So to expect university rivalries to gain the same prominence within such a short span of time is fallacious.
b) The article also refers to a “social culture that binds them” based on their academic thought and competitiveness. Rather than belittle fraternity at the school level, how is it that you do not discuss the reasons behind an absence of fraternity at the university level in Sri Lanka. How would you expect anyone to develop a binding social culture in university when the first experience you have is of seniors “ragging” the juniors? This is partly why Sri Lankans relate more with their schools rather than the university, since at the school level a certain brotherhood/sisterhood is developed based on the school. If you don’t believe me, ask your schoolmates who participated in a “St. Bridget’s Past Pupils Association Sports Meet” just last week. In case you missed out on being part of that sisterhood, I sympathize with you.
c) I was quite blessed to attend a so-called “elite university” (your words, not mine) and some of the traditions associated with the “Homecoming Game” are not necessarily those that we should be aspiring to. May be your admiration for the “elite universities” have tainted your perspective, but before you prescribe something for us to follow, make sure you are well versed in the subject. In fact, many aspects of the fraternity of universities you so aspire to run counter to your attempt to address misogyny or patriarchy.
d) All of the above issues are just minor compared to the one I’m about to address – your complete disregard and snobbery of students within the Sri Lankan school system. You say that,
“Less than 10% of their annual graduates receive entrance into distinguished universities. Is the reason for their return to school annually, to behave as they would have when they were children, an implication that school is as far as most of our population get in life?”
It’s extremely unfortunate that someone who claims to have been researching the education system of Sri Lanka attributes the low level of university graduates (6% according to you) to the low standards of schools and absence of qualified students. May be certain people should check their privilege at the keyboard and realize that the low rate of university entrants in Sri Lanka is due to the dearth of opportunities that exist. While those who miss out on the limited spots but can afford end up at “low quality mid-way alternative higher education programs” (I assume you’re quite condescendingly referring to places like RI and CFPS); thousands of those who are definitely qualified enough to get into “elite universities” can’t do so because they lost the “birth lottery”. So no, an absence of a university degree does not imply that an individual is “socially and intellectually backward”. It, however, demonstrates that those who judge the worth of an individual based on their degree is socially and intellectually backward.
You, my friend, are doing exactly what the patriarchy has been doing to women – “victim blaming”!
#2. The trucking culture
a) To somewhat equate boys breaking into schools and vandalizing property even broadly to rape is to undermining ‘rape’ itself and to desensitize people to the concept of rape in its entirety. To be clear, I do not in any form or manner condone vandalism or trespass and strict action is and should be taken against those who vandalize schools. But as you seem to do quite frequently in this article, you are conflating several issues without much regard to nuance.
b) If you feel that “trucking” is trespass, encourage your school administrators to report it to the police. In fact, in several cases, school administrators of girls’ schools have invited the boys into school, albeit informally. Prosecute those engaging in the crime without making accusations by linkage. It goes for the assaults that you mention too. Sexual or physical assault has no place in society, be it in a school or elsewhere, and rather than use it as a tool to prove a point, treat it with the seriousness it deserves. Also, I hope you reported the said instances you observed to the relevant law enforcement authorities, at the time. Because if not, that’s quite negligent on your part!
#3. Big match parades and trans-phobia
I somewhat agree with you on this one. I can’t speak for the intentions of those that engage in the practice, so while some may use cross-dressing as a tool for humour; it may underline certain prejudices that exist within our society. That said, you mistake the parades of one very particular big match to those of all big matches. I kindly request you to provide any evidence of cross-dressing at a parade associated with the “Battle of the Maroons” or in a wider spectrum of big match parades. If you’re commenting on the “big match culture” please do not cherry-pick examples, for your convenience. That’s just bad form.
#4. Racism and the “Battle of the Maroons”
a) I recognise that I’ll be accused of bias in commenting on this issue. But, you ask,
“Someone (to) go to the “Battle of the Maroons” to see how blissfully ignorant and backward a majority of boys in these schools are. The racism is a whole other level. It’s like someone did a mass infomercial for ‘Sinha-le’.”
You’re essentially calling a majority of Anandians and Nalandians racist because they go to a “Sinhala-Buddhist” school. For someone who has won and been nominated for so many literary prizes, I assume that you used your words quite carefully and in doing so, “majority” was used with purpose. Please, oh please, give me evidence to substantiate this fact. If this is about Sri Lankan schools identifying themselves through a certain religious lens and that directly inculcating extremism, are you also suggesting that Zahira College is creating a majority of “ISIS supporters” or that Christian Schools such as St. Joseph’s and St. Peter’s mould a majority of its students to be “supporters for the Ku Klux Klan”? If not, what’s the unique nature of “Sinhala-Buddhist” schools in creating a majority of racists through their institutions? Where’s the causal effect?
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there are a few individuals with racist tendencies that roam the halls of “Sinhala-Buddhist schools”, similar to other institutions as well. But these few do not represent an institution and most certainly do not represent a majority of students. If you wish to clarify this claim, you’re most welcome to do so, but if you cannot, I insist that you issue an apology to the two institutions involved in the “Battle of the Maroons”. An inability to justify your claims simply proves that you are as prejudicial as those you accuse of prejudice.
b) On a separate note, I attended the “Battle of the Maroons” on both days this year. I did not hear a single chant or comment that was racist or in favour of the BBS/Sinha-Le. So, may be I unknowingly got tickets to the “non-racist stand” at the match, since apparently a majority of my peers are inclined towards racism.
On a lighter note, please let me also take this opportunity to extend an invitation to you and any one guest you wish to bring to the next “Battle of the Maroons”, on my dime.
I am most certain that you had good intentions when you decided to write this article. May be a commentary on the “big match culture” was a convenient theme to base your ideas on since it is such a widely discussed topic this time of the year. As I have noted above, there is an element of misogyny and patriarchy in Sri Lanka that requires urgent attention. However making prejudicial, biased, and false claims as a supposed response to underlying social issues does not help solve the problems you so valiantly wish to solve. It’s quite ironic that as we have this discussion, Donald Trump is engaging in exactly that – making prejudicial, biased, and false claims under the guise of addressing social issues. To quote a friend: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And most of us get drunk off the temporary power that our written opinions bring. Generalizations are offensive; half-baked assumptions even more so.”
If I were to use your own measure of judgement, I would end this post with..
What Your School Didn’t Teach You: To refrain from generalisations and prejudice
But I’ve learnt better!*