Resolving youth agonies | Daily News

Resolving youth agonies

On an early July morning, they had apparently gone to their death holding each other in a final, tender, embrace. A girl of 17 years and a boy of 16 years, both Advanced Level students in the Kandy area, reportedly took their own lives early morning on July 7 by jumping into the Mahaweli River at the Polgolla Reservoir. Their bodies were recovered that evening.

The news reports were terse, as befitting the very private, personal nature of this tragedy. In keeping with news media decorum, no names were mentioned while most reports only gave the bare details of the incident of suicide – the approximate time, witnesses, the final leap by the young lovers. A few reports hinted at parentally stifled romantic love as the provocation.

Romantic love, whatever the sexual orientation, has provoked human tragedy throughout the ages and in many societies. Folk traditions, myths and documented historical narrative speak of many instances of controversy, confrontation and, often tragic endings as a result of such intense human relationships and desires.

Shakespeare created the quintessential tragic romance ‘Romeo and Juliet’ which was based on earlier Italian narratives that, in turn, apparently drew on real personal relationships involving powerful family clans. Long before that Roman litterateur Ovid authored a similar tale, while perhaps centuries even before that, our own South Asian societies were spellbound by the romantic-mythological epic of crossed love, rescue and revenge, the Ramayana - also possibly derived from real ancient human events.

All these classic narratives, however, also guided us morally and philosophically in their reflections on the rights and wrongs of human behaviour in these instances of powerful and destructive human emotions. We are entertained and also instructed on how we should perceive such human relationships and actions and react to them, deal with them constructively rather than destructively.

While such moral tales provide our ideological approach, in our times and contemporary human actions, we need to know and, understand thoroughly, what is happening around us if we are to properly and constructively respond. We need to know our current modes of social behaviour and be well informed of trends and outcomes in order that we can avoid disruption and destruction of life.

What is highlighted in the news reports of the Kandy youth double suicide is their youthfulness and their romantic motives. That human life is so suddenly and spontaneously taken away is shocking, no doubt, but is, nevertheless, an inexorable punctuation of our community history. But why did the youthful lovers in Kandy have to end their life? What was so terribly insurmountable that they had lost all hope?

The news reports hinted at parental intervention which seems to have only served to worsen the situation, whether or not the parents themselves had any actual responsibility for their children’s spontaneous behaviour. We need not dig into this particular case of tragedy at this moment.

Already we know that youthful suicides, indeed, joint suicides by couples, have been a significant feature of our country’s social life for much of our post-colonial modern history. In the 1980s-1990s period Sri Lanka’s suicide rate climbed to be among the top ten countries for this awful social phenomenon. Most importantly, the 16-26 years’ age cohort had become the group most prone to suicide. Equally significantly, a high proportion of this youth category were young people, often young couples, committing suicide due to difficulties in their relationships arising from parental or family pressures.

In short, older generation or encircling social pressures against youthful love aspiring to marital union were driving our young lovers to suicide. By the 2000s, however, the suicide rate had declined somewhat and Sri Lanka’s overall suicide rate (number of suicides per 100,000 population) currently places us at 22nd among 188 countries. Still, youth suicides remain a high category.

Social studies have found various causes for the persistent social pressures against youthful love and marital aspirations. Ethnic, caste, socio-economic class barriers have been found to be key factors at play in these circumstances.

At the same, many social organisations have been strongly advocating for greater social support infrastructure that could intervene and mediate in these tense social situations to avert disruption and tragedy. Clearly, the situation requires addressing the various factors involved. The young people at the centre of such social controversy need support and advice, other actors such as parents and elders, also need support and guidance. Community spiritual leaders may also need technical support in terms of understanding changing societal trends and expectations in order that their spiritually guiding roles are enhanced.

The tragedy of the young lovers in Kandy must serve as a distress call by our country’s youth for a greater understanding of their own desires, hopes and ambitions, especially their desire to better manage their own destinies.

Our younger generations must be equipped with the intellectual-emotional, social, economic and political capacities to build our future society. The onus for this capacity building lies not only on Government, but also on the community, with research institutions, education systems, social service organisations and religious leaderships all contributing.

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