Last week the Nation reported how young couples were being chased away by Civil Defence personnel for behaving romantically in the Viharamhdevi Park. In a country where couples cannot behave naturally, like couples, at a park, what better option do they have than getting a room. In fact, theseguest houses are mostly frequented by youth. Moreover, where there is no singular authority or institution is responsible for streamlining establishments, such as guesthouses, that provide accommodation for locals, what’s to say of the danger that these couples may encounter at some of these establishments and real human stories behind closed doors are.
Lakmal had only been on the job five months when a couple staying at the guesthouse he was managing had a fight. The guy had checked the girl’s phone while she was in the shower. He had just turned data on. Her other boyfriend had called her in the nick of time. The guy smashed the mobile on the floor and kicked the girl out of the room, butt naked.
Lakmal found her dripping wet covering her modesty with her hands. Lakmal has a younger sister and was not the kind of guy to take advantage of a girl her age. He covered her with a bed sheet. He gave her another room and when the boyfriend was having a breakdown Lakmal took him for and a chat over drinks. In the morning the boyfriend took off in his bike and it was Lakmal again who gave the girl Rs 100 to get herself home.
“If you’ve seen what I’ve seen in the few months I’ve worked here you would take to robes,” said Lakmal, when asked if his job of managing the Kurunegala-based guesthouse wasn’t too unnerving. Age 25, Lakmal had seen it all. “Some 18-year girls come here with 70-year-old men.” He knows this because it’s mandatory for him to keep a tab on his visitors in case the police raid the place.
“Most who come to this place are guys and gals who go to tuition classes,” said Lakmal, which is not his real name. “The first few days the mother and father drop their daughter at the class. But when they get used to it and are allowed to go alone they tell their parents they’re going for classes, bring lunches from home, eat here, spend the day and go home around the same time classes wind up.”
One such couple had the misfortune of getting pregnant. “I knew the boy. He was very upset about it and asked me what he could do about it. The girl had to stop her education, stay at home. Her whole life was ruined.” when Lakmal called the boy’s number recently it was out of service.
One time, a couple had ordered food for 12 noon. When room service called they wouldn’t open the door. Fearing that something had gone awry Lakmal broke down the door with the help of a guesthouse worker. They found the couple naked, fast asleep. They covered the woman up with a bed sheet and shook the man awake. When asked what happened the man had said that they had just fallen asleep. “When we checked in the waste bins we found wrappers of Madana modaka (a libido drug) in the dust bin,” which induced sleep.
Lakmal says that most of the women who patronize their guest house are workers of a nearby garment factory. He explained that during the weekend and Poya days which are holidays in the garment trade, some girls don’t go home. “They tell their parents back home they can’t come because of work in the weekend. They book rooms here and come with boyfriends.”
“They get their salary on the 10th and rooms get booked right after. The guys at the Army camp get their salary around 20th and it’s the same story.” Lakmal has observed that most of these acquaintances are made over Facebook. “Because they come with different women every time,” observes Lakmal.
He says that rich Colombo men come with two women at a time. There is a female engineer who stays in our room with her driver. There’s a lady doctor who comes to our guesthouse and stays with the driver.” Lakmal informs that women come there after their husbands have gone to work. He observes that it’s mostly due to marriage problems. “If a man satisfies a woman there is no need for any of these women to go looking for sex elsewhere.”
Proliferation of prostitution in the Kurunegala area has exacerbated the situation, Lakmal observes. “It’s easy to spot them because they don’t spend many hours in the rooms.” Couples in relationships usually spend many hours or the whole day in the rooms.
Police Media Spokesman, DIG Priyantha Jayakody conceded that underage youth patronizing guesthouses is a grave social problem. “Taking a minor into such an establishment is a serious crime the Police is very much concerned about,” said DIG Jayakody. “Under the Brothel Ordinance, the Police is empowered to conduct raids of establishments that are suspected of any such illegal activity.” He further explained that the raids are usually carried out based on tip-offs.
But these establishments come under the purview of local government, and the best that the Police can do within legal boundaries is to educate the establishment owners the adverse repercussions of providing accommodation to minors.
Rooms are available from Rs 500 up to 5000 depending on the number of hours and facilities such as air-conditioning. The point is that any youth, including school-going teenagers, would have an expendable income of Rs 500. When cigarette prices are being increased just to discourage youth from taking up the unhealthy practice, it is ironical that rooms are available for as little as Rs 500.
When the Nation investigative journalists visited these establishments, no doubt some of which were informal sector establishments not registered under the Tourism Development Authority, one of the managers said that they have no problem with giving a room for two women and a man. “But one woman and two men can be a problem if the Police gets here,” said the manager. Another guest house confided that they can provide one room for two men and one woman, but they have to log ID details.
“Only institutions that provide services to tourists, such as tourist hotels, guesthouses and home-stays, are registered under the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Stringent criteria needs to be met for registration of such institutions,” Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, Director General Malraj B Kiriella said. The licence is renewed annually and inspections are conducted before the renewal.
Kiriella said that informal sector institutions that do not provide services to foreigners are not registered under the Authority and such fall under the purview of local authorities. Such institutions still require trade licence and business registration.
Preserving one’s culture is imperative, but not to the point that such an endeavour smothers the freedom and natural behaviour of individuals living within the dynamic culture. Culture is dynamic and will find its own way of adapting by often backfiring on manmade constraints; exemplified in this instance by the phenomenon of mushrooming guesthouses, while authorities are busy trying to cleanup parks. After all, where there is a demand there must be a supply.