Walls! Walls!_Anushka Kahandagama

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Limits are marked with walls. Walls are not innocent spaces but indicate the power and arrogance. Walls make the ‘other’ visible. The political space created through walls leads to wars. My interest in walls developed from my childhood. I used to talk to my neighbor-friend when I was six. We talked for many hours when our mothers went to take the afternoon nap. The neighboring girl was Muslim and we were of the same age. She knew Sinhala and we talked and played for hours. It was an inspiring experience although I did not recognize it as such at that time. I learnt how to interact with people and be friends. There were differences between us, but there were more similarities than differences. I knew that she was from a different community. But, the idea of ‘ethnicity’ was alien to me. They were building a wall one day. I came home from school and my friend’s home was half invisible. She was waving at me from the other side. Now there was an other side. The ‘other side’ of the wall. I learnt how to be without my friend. Although our friendship didn’t end, our communication paused and became less frequent, and finally her family shifted to another village. That was my first experience with walls.

Then I can remember there was a wall at my primary school, at which we used to look from above. As we were small we used to climb on a ladder which leaned against a water tank and watch the other side of the wall. We were curious to see the ‘other’. It was a bus depot. It was a busy place and there were many people and there were many activities. We talked to the people from above. They were happy to see us and they smiled at us.

Then I met with a wall at the secondary school. It was a girl’s school. We were in search of the meaning of ‘freedom’. We were so excited to grow ‘old’, become adults as soon as possible. Being an official adult was waiting for us and waving at us. We were no-shows for some of the classes. We went outside of the school jumping over a wall. Beyond the wall there was freedom. The freedom was on the ‘other side’.

Then after many years, when I was an undergraduate student, I read about the Berlin wall[1] which divided Germany into east and the west. After the end of World War II, Allied powers divided Germany into four zones and the same was done with Berlin. These zones were occupied by France, United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. After the disintegration of Allied power between the Soviet Union and the other three countries, Soviet Union built the Berlin wall stopping all supplies from reaching West Berlin. The official purpose of this Berlin Wall was to keep Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West. The other recent famous wall is Trump’s Mexico wall, about which, explanations might not be required.

Against the background of all these walls, I heard about another wall being built at a hostel of an unknown University, on the request of the students, separating the two genders. This wall seems to protect all the other walls I have mentioned earlier. One would think how it is even possible. Because, this last wall is built at a University, where they teach about ‘freedom’ and ‘emancipation’, where you get to understand about the moulding of your body and mind through socially constructed structures. The request to build this wall is not merely an act of separating gender, but an act of accepting and encouraging all the other ‘separations’, stratifications and othering.

The ‘gender wall’ which is requested by some of the female students and approved by the University authorities of this unknown University implies a division between the entities we live our everyday lives with and the theories we learn in the classrooms. As per this act, these entities are completely alienated to and from each other.

While this is the story, the ‘gender wall’ is based on the heterosexual discourse. The ‘heterosexual’ act has become a taboo; taboo of a modern University. This unknown University is a heaven for ‘homosexuals’, as three of the same gender people are staying in one room. The heterosexual discourse has engendered the ‘gender wall’.  The Victorian, colonial understanding of gender has come to play through the wall.  Sad, but funny!

 

[1] Berliner Mauer

 

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