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Yes, she was innocent, like a flower

In the year 1996 or thereabouts, the third year students of the Sociology Department, University of Peradeniya were taken on a field trip to Thanamalwila. They were divided into groups and asked to study various aspects of the social, political and economic environment.

One group had to investigate the unusually high suicide rate in the area.

One of the students told me about their findings. Some of those who died were in their early teens and one survivor was just 11, if memory serves me right. The boy offered a reason that made me want to cry: ‘my friend drank poison and died; he had a grand funeral. I wanted one too.’ He wanted in death that which life refused to give him; recognition, presence, centre of attention, grandeur.

When I was an A/L student, a boy in Grade 9 drank poison. He had been caught cheating at a term test. His mother, a teacher in the same school, was shamed by the act. She had blasted the boy. That was enough.

We hear of young people committing suicide. Each time I read about such incidents, I tremble with fear because I know that I am imperfect, unable to predict and am absolutely incapable of knowing if a particular way of responding to a given situation is the best. I am a father, by the way. ‘What if that was my girl?’ I ask myself. ‘How would I have reacted to such and such a situation?’ I wonder. Would I have said or done something that might have persuaded her to consider suicide as an option?

There’s no way of knowing, but then there are things that are clearly to be avoided. This I realized when I read a note written by a father on the first death anniversary of his daughter. Athula Jayawardena titled his letter to the editor (Daily Mirror, Friday July 23, 2010) ‘You filled our world with your love’. I had not forgotten the name.

Anuththara Kavindie Jayawardena. I know that writing about her or even just mentioning her name would not help her grieving parents, except that Athula’s letter convinced me that it is his wish that no child should succumb to the fate that befell his child.

Anuththara Kavindie Jayawardena made headlines for the wrong reasons. It was not her time, no it was not. She was a child, a Grade 9 student, just like that boy who died in the early 1980s. The circumstances have been written and re-written. There was nothing that the child did that warranted the kind of censure that made her do what she did. Nothing. And ‘nothing’ is what has happened since.

Athula is not asking for a pound of flesh. He can’t. Nothing can replace his beloved child.  Nothing can compensate for the void she left. It is not hard to understand this. He won’t ask for a pound of flesh. Instead he has, along with his wife, has formed a foundation in her name in order to create awareness among the general public about what could happen to innocent children on account of thoughtlessness and indeed downright neglect and callousness of adults. They want to help needy children with basic requirements so they can lead happy lives, he has written.

‘My daughter you are innocent, as innocent as a flower’. I read this line many times this morning. Yes, an image is stuck between my eyelids and it is not of a lover as a poet might say. It is a little child. I will not ask her to leave. I can’t, because her name is stuck in my throat.

Those who do not understand a child’s heart and mind should not teach. Those who are ill-equipped to handle delicate situations should not be put in positions where such situations could arise.

A child is safest at home. Children need education. We send them to school. We put the lives of our children in the hands of their teachers. This is why we have a term called guru-deguru. The inverse is as valid. Our teachers consider themselves temporary parents/guardians of the children in their classes. Or are supposed to. My teachers were like parents. I was fortunate.

For some reason there wasn’t anyone who could be a mother to a little girl on an unfortunate morning in July 2009. Children are not perfect. A Grade 9 student, whether a boy or girl, is at a difficult age and goes through a time when he/she is not sure how to deal with situations or with the changes occurring within.  A parent will chide when necessary but will always love, will leave the door open for a child to return after a bout of pouting and self-righteous resentment.

The promise of understanding and love must always be tagged in some unobtrusive manner to each warning note, each admonishment.  At least I think this is a reasonable enough way of handling such delicate situations.

There’s a flower. An innocent flower. Somewhere. A child. Confused perhaps. Worried, probably. Deserving a chiding, who knows?

Someone, somewhere has the power to nurture. Someone, somewhere holds the power to stamp foot, crush flower and rob fragrance forever from a father and a mother and who knows who else.

There’s a name that that someone would do well to remember. Anuththara Kavindie Jayawardena. I won’t forget this name. That’s all I can say.

By Malinda Seneviratne
Courtesy: AdaDerana

Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010 @ 16:09:48 LKT by

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