The conversation was between the Last Queen of Kandy and Java, when The Queen visited us at Flowerbook a few days ago. The subjects that cropped up were varied and the humour was delightful, as The Queen was in top form and eventually the stream of conversation drifted from the role society plays in determining social values, to what is considered to be sexual impropriety by the liberal folk in this country. And, as the discussion flowed from what they considered to be the sexually-sublime to the ultimate-kinky, ‘incest’ reared its head. Now considering that both Java and The Queen are just about the most liberal, anything-goes kinda folk, it came as no surprise to hear their takes on the subject. My views on this and other sexual practices may well be known to some of the readers of this blog, as we blogged about the morality-quotient quiz and also did a follow-up to it, so that those who checked us out would know that we are like at one extreme of the chart.

Anyway, The Last Queen was of the view that incest was pretty much a common occurrence in ancient Sri Lanka and that it was the bogus ‘Victorian’ morality of the colonizers that made the difference in our society. He spouted all sorts of accepted cultural practices where inter-marrying within families from generation through generation kept the wealth in the families and ensured the purity of caste. It was a similar to the practices in ancient Egypt, Europe and in Asian countries as well, he said, and then, in order to confirm his statements he got Wikipedia on line and came up with the following:

In Sri Lankan folklore, there are at least three significant instances where incest is mentioned. The forefather of the Sinhala race, “Sinhabahu”, is a king who married his own sister “Sinhaseevali”. Incest is again mentioned when King Vijaya’s son and daughter fled to the jungle together in protest of their father’s second marriage. Also, the brother “Dantha” and the sister “Hemamalini” who brought the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha to the island, seemed to also have a married relationship. Despite the liberal mentioning of incest in folklore, Sri Lankan culture regards incest as a taboo. Then again, contemporary Sri Lankan culture is heavily influenced by the cultures of former colonial rulers, during the last couple of centuries.

Java wasn’t really concerned about the folklore part of it, as for him, mythology is to be taken with a whole load of salt and he just shines most of it on. And even though he considered incest between consenting partners to be cool, what he was concerned about, he said, was the number of children, particularly girls that were reported to being sexually abused by members of their families – invariably their fathers. A little more Googling got us more information on this phenomenon that has got a lot more press and publicity in the relatively recent past than it ever has.

A report datelined January 2004, indicates that a study conducted by the ‘Center for Women’s Research’ (CENWOR) revealed that “…each year a staggering 10,000 girls face sexual abuse by their relatives in families where the mother has taken up overseas employment, with more than half the rapes committed by fathers.” It goes on to state that “..during the past five years, 512 cases of incest were reported – 54.5 percent of them committed by fathers”. In the same report the Chairperson of ‘Protecting the Environment and Children Everywhere’ (PEACE) is quoted as saying “..the worst sufferers are girls in the age group of 10 to 14”. The report concludes that the primary reason for the sudden upsurge in incest among fathers and daughters is due to many mothers leaving for employment in other countries, which result in the eldest girl taking over the household chores, often the money being sent back is used for alcohol consumption and many drunken fathers have been convicted of raping their daughters. The country’s Social Service apparatus is not equipped to deal with the victims of this abuse, so except for a few NGO’s like Sarvodaya and PEACE, who run facilities for the young girls, most of them have no one to turn to. All in all a pretty sad state of affairs.

All this information unearthed in a relatively short space of time put an effective halt to the discussion between The Last Queen and Java. We were all pretty much aghast at the situation – and even though we are all about the most liberal folk around, rape, and abuse of children are major no-no’s. It’s one of the sad realities that is out there and that must be dealt with through social programmes and appropriate legislation, but whether this is at all possible in the environment we are, is a whole other question.

Meanwhile, back in the halls of governance the powers that be are mostly in c’est la vie mode.