There is much talk about violence against the minorities, but one community of people that are left in the dark is the eldery. Oftentimes, when elders are assaulted, they are unaware of resources that they can use to help themselves, and are also shrouded in the stigma of “what will people think?”
Recently, a disturbing video emerged on social media where a teacher, attached to a leading school in Wallahagoda in Gampola was seen in an altercation with her alleged mother-in-law up until the point where the mother-in-law was seen falling on the ground. This video caused an uproar on social media and brought attention to the prevalent issue that is elder abuse in Sri Lanka.
A recent cross-sectional descriptive study at the North Colombo Teaching Hospital revealed that 38.5% of elders over 60 years attending the out-patient department were at high risk of abuse. Either physical, psychological, or verbal abuse, or neglect was reported by 45% of elders while 5.6% of elders surveyed were physically abused. The figures are monumental and are an immediate cause for concern. We, at The Morning Brunch, spoke to some experts in the field of dealing with violence on their opinions on the matter.
The consequences of abuse are long-lasting and grave: Raneesha De Silva
The never-ending debate, the mind-boggling founding question of psychology is, “why does someone behave the way they do?” After many years of extensive research, scholars still do not have a precise answer. The research findings are not so black and white. Forensic psychologist Raneesha De Silva commented that according to nature theory, people are born with their personality characteristics, whereas the nurture theory argues that our personality and behaviour are shaped by our environment which includes one’s family dynamics, religious beliefs, and social values. She added that as far as educational speculation allows, an individual’s behaviour is a result of both nurture and nature.
In Sri Lanka, we live in a collectivist society where the societal expectation and pressure are high, especially when caring for elders. “In such circumstances, an individual’s free will is compromised if they truly desire to care for elders by their own choice or not. Additionally, if the caregiver has existing mental health difficulties and/or external stressors due to professional pressure like stress from overworking and/or personal reasons like marital concerns, lack of privacy, and conflicts building over time, the outlet of such temper may be directed at vulnerable populations such as children and/or the elderly.”
Although there may be reasoning as to why an abuser indulges themselves by exhibiting dark and disturbing behaviour, this in no way means that their abuse is justified.
De Silva stated that the consequences of such physical and mental abuse are long-lasting, paramount, and grave. “The victims may especially feel isolated, bullied, ashamed, helpless, and hopeless as they are victimised by their closest support system. This may result in severe mental health difficulties that may develop into self-harming and/or life-threatening behaviours that could eventually lead to suicide.”
Videos like this fuel speculation: Sharanya Sekaram
Feminist activist, researcher, and writer Sharanya Sekaram expressed that she found the way the video was circulating, deeply disturbing. “There is no context to those videos, and we have no idea what is the truth and what is not and all it does is fuel speculation.” It is quite likely that a video of this nature would garner so many views and spread like wildfire, causing the people of the internet to go up in arms, but the privacy of the people in the videos have been violated. This subject is also incredibly sensitive, and may cause viewers to feel triggered and fall into a bad mental state, which is why such videos need to be approached with a grain of salt. She added that we, as a society, want to raise awareness about violence towards elders, but there is a way to go about it without being so brutesque. “It’s quite sad that we had to wait for a video like this to surface to have this conversation.”
Sekaram also stated that the abuse of elders is a form of domestic violence, so they are afforded protection under the Domestic Violence Act and have the ability to file a complaint and obtain a protection order by contacting a lawyer. She also advised women to reach out to organisations like Women In Need (WIN), that specialise in issues concerning domestic violence. There are also organisations like HelpAge Sri Lanka which specialise in care for the eldery that one may reach out to for protection.
We need to address these issues from a legal perspective: Tersha Nanayakkara
Talking about how elders or anyone experiencing domestic abuse can help themselves, Attorney-at-Law Tersha Nanayakkara shared: “Under the Domestic Violence Act No. 34 of 2005, women, elders, children, or any aggrieved person, in respect of whom an act of domestic violence has been, is, or is likely to be committed may make an application to the Magistrate’s Court for a protection order, for the prevention of such act of domestic violence.”
Having said that, unfortunately the majority of our population or victims so to speak are unaware of such resources. So as important as it is to create legislation, it is imperative to formulate awareness programmes at a policy level to educate the public on such laws. Educating the general public on what they can do to save themselves from lifelong abuse, and letting them know that there are options out there is a key factor in bringing down the staggering amounts of violence cases reported in Sri Lanka, not just in elders but in women, children, and many others too.
Nanayakkara commented on the incident which took place recently where a graduate teacher severely assaulted her mother-in-law: “In my opinion, this reflects a severe breakdown in social order. Not only was the older woman mercilessly assaulted, the incident has been recorded and circulated on social media with no apprehension of legal consequences.” The lack of remorse is concerning and could also depict a lacuna in our society in addressing mental health issues. She further stated that the Government should at a policy level give prominence to improving mental health initiatives in an attempt to curtail such incidents of domestic violence as opposed to penalising the offenders after a crime is committed. “Therefore, to mitigate such heinous acts and to improve our society as a whole, not only do we need to address these issues from a legal perspective but we need to do so from a societal one as well.”