Social Justice Amidst Ignorance: HIV Positive

16-014-e1361641358540The latest on the extremely unacceptable and disheartening affair to do with young Rahal – or, as media idiocy has since re-baptized him: the “boy from Kuliyapitiya” – is a photo of Trinity College administration led by their Principal AJ Fowler-Watt, signing an MOU with Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, confirming the interest Trinity had earlier shown in admitting the young child to their illustrious institute.

If this young child enters Trinity, Kandy, it is surely an admission into a big old tie school, owing to the ignorance, idiocy and intolerance of his Kuliyapitiya Sambodhi Primary School’s PTA – and thereby, one might even argue, a blessing in disguise of sorts – but, this in no way addresses the more serious issue of justice the young Rahal faced when his right to education in the school of his choice was blocked at that tender age of six; that too, entirely owing to external forces such as social prejudice. While Trinity has thrown a lifeline to give this child a home, the issue that the authorities have grossly mishandled is Rahal’s right to education in the legit school of his choice.

3f574526178cf27e0034cfb3dbd66947_lFrom beginning to end, the young boy’s case was highlighted for the wrong reasons and was made a topic in public forums leaving enough space for a backward society’s perverse interest in the “uncanny” and “uncouth” to emerge. When the media first brought the issue to light, the emphasis was on the young boy’s deceased father, a victim of HIV. What was being excited was the curiosity and abhor of HIV/AIDS , of which Lankan society has scant education of; but, which they are culturally-tuned to reject, as abominable. HIV, to the average Sri Lanka, also has connotations of immorality and sexual inappropriateness. The media thrived on these variables, playing mindgames with its ignorant and idiotic audience.

However, as the immediate practical issue, the boy’s education came to the fore, and footage was shared of angry parents protesting against the child’s admission to Sambodhi Primary school. One of their moves was to boycott school by holding their children back, from attending session. Officers and authorities that came to explain the nitty-gritty of HIV were told to back down by the same PTA agents. In fact, this is where – as reported – Zahira, Kurunegala and Trinity, Kandy, came with their offers to absorb the school-less boy. To liberal-minded cyber travelers, this was a benevolent move which put the extinguisher on their collective outrage. But, very soon, we saw for some alumni (and fans) of the would-be-foster school, the offer made by their college became a chest-thumping extravaganza: a small spotlight of sorts to brag and huzzah after their own, while the act of compassion now became a Facebook-act of comparison.

ranjan_ramanayakaAmidst the growing hype and popular interest, Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake, visits the boy at his home and even gets the mother of the child to speak to the President – on speakerphone and with a camera crew making a close documentation of it. A Facebook post – as these posts often do – then drew out the religious belly of the whole issue: that there were a “Muslim” and “Catholic” (Anglican, really) school vying for adoption, but that the FB-poster was saddened that there was no “Sinhala Buddhist” school making the same offer. Almost around the same time, a second post was circulated that “Catholic” Trinity should be “banned” as it was trying to bring HIV to the “pure city of the Buddhists” – Kandy. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe entered the already muddied bull ring relatively late, expressing that the young Rahal should be facilitated at either Ananda, Colombo, or Kingswood, Kandy. His was a cameo later entrant’s line, in a farce that had already seen too much spectacle.

So, most likely, Rahal will enter Trinity College and resume his education in the coming days. He, born to the Kurunegala district, who gained rightful legit admission to a school of his choice, will be thus relocated to a school – a bigger, hypothetically better school nonetheless – in a different district, four hours away. From an ignorant standpoint, what more can a village boy ask for, where all for him seems to have ended well? Had Lanka been a more educated, considerate and reasonable society, the first act of discretion would have been to manage better the way the incident was transmitted through media. It takes no rocket scientist to highlight the sensitivity of this young child’s issue. At a pure personal level, being dragged in the uncanny limelight as being an “HIV threat”, or your father being condemned (as implied) as being immoral or questionable can irrevocably break the spirit of a six year old. Even if not, there are basic ethics and protocols that should make good journalism a responsible trade. In Lanka, today, none of these exist for the paparazzi type gossip mongering that is given the thin cover of “journalism”.

bf02142b75a6411469557e285a700ee5_XLSecondly, what Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and the other relevant authorities have done is treat the foot by injecting the shoulder: they have failed in addressing the root issue of the crisis. Rahal being admitted to Trinity, for the impoverished masses who can only curse the kid’s luck and who know very well that they cannot in a lifetime have their own child at Trinity, is “divine justice” in a narrow Greek-tragedy sense. Pragmatically, the superstition and stubbornness of a parent body carried the day by successfully barring the schooling of a child, whose right to education is the purview of the ministry and minister concerned. Their policy and practical implementations, on the other hand, cannot look back over the shoulder to see whether there’s a Trinity or a Zahira ready to dispatch a rescue crew. Their policy should safeguard the basic premise and dignity of all children of all schools, against all external and internal pressure. The education ministry and minister, in other words, cannot hail demagoguery and thug culture of parental mobs.

When the next actress who “leaks” her half nude photos hit Facebook and Youtube next week, and when the next monk who finds an elephant in his temple’s backyard is produced before a magistrate, the cyber-monger will most likely move on in her/his social media interests; and Rahal, most likely, will be relegated off the spotlight and the issue the young boy faced, as far as the hawkish spirits of the media/society is concerned, will thus “cease to exist”. But, cases like Rahal’s is enough to make one wonder as to where we, in 2016, are heading as a society, and as to where our civil participation is as a responsible and sensible corps. More importantly, it is a bitter eyeopener as to how narrow and ignorant we are in our knee-deep churning of superstition and idiocy, starting from Kuliyapitiya parent to minister of education. Enough to make one do an abhinishkramanaya, for clearly, a “Rahula” has been born in our society’s inability to be open and inclusive in an age of technology and advance. Rather, the very technology and instruments that make accessibility more regular seem to have narrowed us further and further into a widening abyss.

 

 

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