The Independence Square is considered a symbol of historic importance, a symbol which tells us Sri Lankans the story of the country’s freedom from the Colonial rule. But last week, a group of people staged a silent protest at the Independence Square, calling for a slightly different kind of freedom. An incident where a couple was not allowed within the premises of the Independence Square went viral on several social media platforms and created a buzz. This eventually resulted in the silent protest ‘Occupy the Square’.

The security officials stopped the couple from entering the premises, stating that it was a place where children and families frequent and that the intimacy of couples could be deemed indecent.

The protest did yield the expected outcome. However, the incident on the whole has triggered questions on what is defined as ‘decent behaviour’. The incident had also created a sense of confusion among the youth and couples as to whether they could visit certain places without running the risk of being kicked out.

No one barred
Assistant Director, Cultural Department, Nilanga Withana speaking to Nation on the issue stated that the department had not given any instructions to bar couples from entering any place of cultural importance. “We have not issued any directives instructing anyone to prevent couples from entering places of cultural importance,” he said.

However, the question here is where to draw the line when it comes to ‘indecent behaviour’. Withana said that such uncomfortable situations could be avoided if people were aware on how to behave in specific places. “It all depends on the person. He or she should know how to behave in specific places,” Withana opined.

He also pointed out that places like the Independence Square was of historical importance and therefore due respect needed to be given to such places. Withana pointed out that there had been instances where the Independence Square and the area adjacent to it were used by slum dwellers to sleep at night. “Eventually we came to know that certain people used the place for activities that tarnished the image of the place and therefore, security personnel were deployed to ensure that people behaved themselves,” he said.

Generation gap
On the other hand, defining what is decent behaviour is also important. Senior Lecturer of Sociology, Sri Jayawardenapura University, Dr. Praneeth Abeysundara told Nation that the concept of decency and situational behavior was connected to the cultural practices of Sri Lanka.

“For example, kissing on the sidewalk of the road is considered indecent in Sri Lanka while it is not so in other countries. This is because of our strict cultural values and practices that we have been following for generations,” he explained.

Speaking further, he explained that there was confusion especially among the current generation on what was considered acceptable and what are not. Accordingly, the confusion in the perception is due to the exposure they receive through internet, social networking sites and differences in lifestyles between generations.

“Therefore, there is a clash of viewpoints and opinions,” he said.
But, creating awareness and education on cultural values and ethics should not be restricted to the young generation alone. Dr. Abeysundara cited instances where representatives of the people had behaved in an unruly manner in Parliament. “So how can they point fingers at the youngsters? Everyone needs to understand the rich cultural values of the country and act accordingly,” he opined.

However, Dr. Abeysundara pointed out that today’s environment is different from what it was for previous generations, where the current younger generation is exposed to other cultures. “They are open to other cultures but the elders are not willing to accept deviations from traditional practices,” he said.

He also pointed out the importance of educating the youth on Sri Lankan tradition and culture. “Thereby, they would not only get to know the importance of these cultural monuments and buildings, but would also conduct themselves in the appropriate manner,” he added.

It was also pointed out that such an issue cannot be handled by drafting regulations. “You cannot deal with such situations by enforcing new regulations. The values should be inculcated in people,” Dr. Abeysundara added.

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