29 February, 2024


Do Women Have A Place In Sri Lanka?

By Hiyanthi Peiris

Hiyanthi Peiris

Hiyanthi Peiris

“A girl is first under the protection of her father, then under the protection of her husband, then under the protection of her son and then she dies.”

At first sight, this seems like a very innocent concept. It encourages familial love, protection of women and is overall the right sentiment to propagate. However, notice that the woman is never given her own agency- instead she is always discussed in a position of relational identity to a male.

In 2012, the Delhi Gang rape got everyone talking. Jyoti, who would later come to be known as Nirbhaya (fearless), was gang raped at around 10pm in the night in public transportation in New Delhi. Her case, despite the existence of many other cases of gang rape was used as the rallying point for India to make a stance against rape. This is because Jyoti’s story is quite difficult to construe as one in which she was “asking for it” although many people did try to construe it that way too[1]. Jyoti was what Indian and South Asian culture loves to call a “good” girl- she was a hard working medical student, who was working on little sleep to excel in her exams, was out and about accompanied by a male presence and not by herself, with an inspirational story about overcoming poverty and struggles, whose only crime against culture was that she was out “late” at night. This is why India was quick to react and make her the face of the struggle against sexual abuse of women. However, what about the girls who were raped or sexually assaulted while they were committing the so-called heinous offenses of traveling alone and dressed “indecently.”

Rape Women Sri LankaSimilar to what happened in India, a 17 year old student, Vidhya, from Jaffna was raped and killed by 9 individuals. She was a student in school uniform, and was abducted and raped on her way to school. Although her case was initially not given enough attention to, the protests in the North ensured that justice was served. However, there were some seriously shameful posts and articles being made about how the North was simply causing a scene about nothing. The fact of the matter is that the North is still struggling to get back on their feet after the war- they are struggling to hold on to their identity, language, culture and reclaim what was once theirs, while the government struggles to help them and every other victim of the war. The least we can do is to be sympathetic to their needs, rather than dismiss them.

The common mentality that poses the real challenge to overcoming the problem of sexual abuse is that it is the victim’s fault. Read this article by Mr. Muhammed Fazl that discusses exactly how women are to be blamed for rape[2]. My initial emotions of anger and disgust towards the author of this article were soon overtaken by sadness. Honestly, the sentiments in this article are hardly surprising. Having been born and raised in Sri Lanka, I know how our sex education was restricted to one chapter of a book on puberty and how this was a time to expect changes in your body. Most of our sex ed revolved around why having sex was bad, because it led to numerous diseases like HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, etc. I had to wait till I came to college to start having conversations about consent and intimacy and the importance of affirmative consent. These concepts are completely foreign to the average Sri Lankan who resorts instead to pornography to learn about sex. Are we really surprised that in this kind of environment, the attitude that women are to be blamed for rape still finds a voice? Are we surprised that in the presence of this voice, the only key cases that united India and Sri Lanka to take a stance against rape, were cases that involved two stereotypically good girls? I mean, we are talking about a country that has still to acknowledge and treat marital rape as a crime[3]. We are talking about a country where 97% of perpetrators of sexual violence go unpunished for their crimes[4]. What about the cases of girls who were victims of rape, but were not in accordance with the strict antiquated cultural laws that govern our understanding of rape and sexual violence? What about the rape victims that India and Sri Lanka are hesitant to call their daughters?

Look at this poem by Shamila Daluwatte, Attorney-at-Law, that went viral after Vidhya was killed at the hands of her rapists.

“First they raped Manamperi

And buried her body alive

I did not speak

Because there was an insurrection

Then they came for women in Kahawatte

I did not speak

Because I was not from Kahawatte

Then they came for women in Nuriwatte

I did not speak

Because I did not live in Nuriwatta

Then, they came for Women in the North

I did not speak, because

Krishanthi Kumaraswami, koneshwari, Isaipriya

They were not my sisters

Then they came for women with a different skin colour

Eight men gang-raped Victoria Alexandra

I did not speak

Because she was just a foreigner

Then they gruesomely gang-raped Rita John

Stabbed her body fifteen times

Left her murdered body on the Modera beach

I did not speak

Because she was an Indian

She was asking for trouble

By walking on the beach

with her jewelries in the evening

Then they gang raped a woman in Wijerama

I did not speak

Because she was just a prostitute

Then they raped hundreds of virgins

And celebrated with champagne

in Akurassa and Monaragala

I did not speak

Because too scared of politicians

Then they raped Logarani

Threw her naked body into a sacred temple

Then they gang raped Saranya Selvarasa

I did not speak

Finally they raped

Vithiya Sivaloganadan

I did not speak

Because she is Tamil

She lived on a small Island in Punguduthevu”

This poem brings to light the hypocrisy of Sri Lanka, and how we choose when to stand up and speak up. It shows how we have as a society almost made it okay to not speak up against the rape case of a prostitute, “because she was just a prostitute.” It shows how we have as a society almost made it okay to stay silent over the rape of Rita John, because “She was asking for trouble…. By walking on the beach… with her jewelries in the evening.”

No. This is the mentality that needs to change.

The point of the matter is that regardless of whether the victim was wearing jewellery, a short skirt, or an abaya… regardless of whether the victim was a virgin, a prostitute, someone who had sex before marriage, or not at all, a victim is not to be blamed for rape, which is an illegal and heinous crime. Blaming it on the victim almost seems like making male entitlement acceptable and assuming that males are unable to control their sexual urges, leaving women to the obvious choice of hoping that their actions don’t tempt them. It teaches women to view their bodies as something to be ashamed of and something that is simply sexual.

Vidhya’s case in Sri Lanka and Jyoti’s case in India, started many difficult and very necessary conversations about rape. But they are still conversations that are restricted by cultures that treat women as subordinates of males, in relation to males, or by calling them flowers or goddesses who are so pure that they should be responsible for their actions- a clever way of masking victim blaming. Instead, what we need is to rethink our sex education. Rethink the psychology that we promote, because according to this study[5], 66% of Sri Lankan men who perpetrated rape against women admitted that their motivation for rape was sexual entitlement, and only 34.2% of these respondents felt any remorse for their actions. While Vidhya and Jyoti’s cases provided a much need start to these conversations, we need to ensure that these conversations and reforms are not restricted and inhibited by the outdated and victim blaming culture promoted by articles such as Mr. Fazl’s article on “Are Women to be Blamed for Rape?” The answer, is no.

(Mr. Fazl goes on to justify his article in his comments section, by citing Saudi Arabia as a great example of a place where putting women in their place led to lower rape statistics, and by claiming that he was not blaming all women for rape- just the victims).

We need to work together to educate and understand. And to do that work, we need to start by acknowledging the existence of the problem. To deny the problem by pointing at other countries that have larger problems is to run away from the issue of women’s rights in Sri Lanka. For example, this happened in India[6].

Rest in peace, Vidhya and Jyoti. Justice has been served, more or less. But there is a lot more work to be done in the name of those victims that India and Sri Lanka are not ready to call their daughters. Being named India’s or Sri Lanka’s daughter is not the only reason that people should stand up for your rights, because women, including Jyoti and Vidhya, have identities and roles that are not limited and restricted to their relational position in society as mothers, wives and daughters. Women are also students, employees, employers, workers and caregivers.

All victims of rape deserve justice and deserve the right to not be blamed and shamed.

[1] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Defence-lawyers-blame-Nirbhaya-for-rape/articleshow/46451407.cms


[3] Marital Rape

Marital rape is not a crime in Sri Lanka unless a judge has ordered a spousal separation. The 2005 Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) provides some protection. The PDVA allows victims of domestic violence (including rape and sexual assault) to request a protective order from a Magistrate’s Court that would limit contact between the perpetrator and the victim.5 The subtopic on domestic violence outlines the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in detail.   – See more at: http://www.impowr.org/content/current-legal-framework-rape-and-sexual-assault-sri-lanka#sthash.MrTh3aGg.dpuf

[4] http://www.therepublicsquare.com/briefs/2013/09/un-survey-on-violence-against-women-in-sri-lanka-97-of-rapists-face-no-legal-consequences/

[5] http://unwomen-asiapacific.org/docs/WhyDoSomeMenUseViolenceAgainstWomen_P4P_Report.pdf

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL4cK_AYXjs

*Hiyanthi Peiris, 22, is a student of Carleton College, Minnesota, USA, and will be graduating in June, with a BA in Psychology. She was a student of Bishop’s College, Colombo, where she was the Head Prefect and was awarded 2 “World Top” distinctions by Edexcel for Economics and Accounting. She has given a TEDx talk about the media’s representation of the civil war in Sri Lanka, interned at the Sri Lankan Permanent Mission to the UN and been a student body representative for Carleton College’s student government for 2 years. Hiyanthi has been an active blogger and activist for gender and racial issues.

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Latest comments

  • 20

    “However, there were some seriously shameful posts and articles being made about how the North was simply causing a scene about nothing. The fact of the matter is that the North is still struggling to get back on their feet after the war- they are struggling to hold on to their identity, language, culture and reclaim what was once theirs, while the government struggles to help them and every other victim of the war. The least we can do is to be sympathetic to their needs, rather than dismiss them.”

    Well said young girl! How and where did you learn this very empathetic outlook in issues, in Sri Lanka?!
    You have a good future well-ahead! Thank you!

    • 6

      Hiyanthi Peiris

      Do Women Have A Place In Sri Lanka?

      Yes. they have a place. What place?

      1. To be at the receiving end of the rapists and goons, and shills of the politicians.

      2. As objects for practicing Double Standards.

      3. As objects for Wahhabis and their clones following The Devil, Mara, Iblis, Shaitan, Satan and Lucifer.

      4. Others points. please complete the list..

  • 20

    Great article. I think Mr Fazl needs to know that no matter what a woman wears or doesn’t wear should ever justify rape. In fact the focus of responsibility should not even be on the victim and I feel it is quite childish and arrogant of him to question your intelligence based on your reply. I think we as a country have an opportunity to take a lead on this problem and can do it through education and not beheadings like other countries.

  • 8

    Excellent Hiyanthi.

    More young ladies like you should reach out to the victims and their families. They need comforting and solace. The families need moral support from people like you and me. Some of the comments and views just threw me off guard. Is that what they have to say about a tragedy, I thought.

    One thing though. This heinous act rape is affecting another layer of society, the young children both boys and girls who are left in the care of someone while his/her mother goes to work overseas!

  • 11

    There are 13 female Parliamentarians in Sri Lanka – have they moved a finger on this
    category of issue, ever?

    Will they be able to work with the 2 Female parliamentarians assigned Womens Affairs
    to see how many pending cases of Rape are in our Courts and the length of time so
    far lapsed in such cases and formulate a methodology for quicker disposal and effective
    compensation and punishment on all outstanding cases.

    The Police and Lawyers must bear the blame for Rape cases being given step-motherly

    • 8

      Excuse me! As far as I know, there are 225 parliamentarians. Why should 200 + be excused of this responsibility because they are male?

    • 2

      There should be separate courts throughout the country to deal with rapes and other forms of sexual abuse.
      Also laws should be amended to safeguard the dignity of victims and their privacy where necessary.
      Sengodan. M

  • 14

    Mr. Fazl is delusional holding up Saudi Arabia as a paragon of virtue safeguarding human decency. Their treatment of our maids working there is legendary, with nails inserted up the arms as punishment for working too slow; to women victims of rape being stoned to death for the crime of having sex with someone other than their husband; to beheading after obscure trials contrary to international laws. I have not forgotten the beheading of young Rizana Nafeek found guilty of murdering an infant simply on the say so of the child’s mother but against all noteworthy forensic evidence pointing it was an accident.

  • 1

    You cannot solve the problem of rape by just raving and ranting and blaming everyone else.

    Bring death penalty for rape.

  • 5

    [Edited out]Commenters Alex Jude, Mikhail, Japwatch and Sylvia Haik (3 out of 4 – 75%)have already complimented her.

    Like the previous pipsqueak Miss Appuhamy, Miss Peiris has condemned Mohammed Fazl for suggesting that decent clothes and a less provocative lifestyle may reduce incidents of rape. Both have maliciously lied saying that writers like him have provided a defence to rapists absolving them of any wrong doing.

    Despite all this, it is common knowledge that the law does not exonerate the perp from criminal responsibility for rape, by reason of the provocation. This is well established by statute and case law universally. However defence lawyers have frequently pleaded in mitigation prior to sentencing, citing grave provocation. At most, if this is accepted by the judge or the jury, the punishment handed down will be a little less severe, depending on the severity of the provocation.

    If society wants to deprive the perp of this relief, writers like Miss Appu and Miss Pei should prevail on lawmakers to pass legislation depriving perps of such relief. Crucifying Mohammed Fazl is really barking up the wrong tree. It is disappointing that there are far too many non-discerning readers of CT providing a cacophony of applause.

    Women’s Lib and its servile followers have made such a hue and cry of this so-called encouragement and defence of rape, that the real causes of rape have escaped the attention of the general public. This is tragic.

    While perverts in the street corner do rape, their acts are by far less fewer than is generated by vice gangs, militaries, power politics, and projection of raw power.

    This may be briefly stated thus:

    1. Sri Lanka is a drug and hooch paradise. Most respected persons engage in this enterprise. After consuming drugs and liquor, young men and women engage in sex in a senseless state. When things go wrong allegations are made. Legally when the female says no at any time ‘during’ the act amounts to rape. Is Mohammed Fazl responsible for this?

    2. Rape is clearly recognized as a weapon of war. Thousands of Tamil women have been raped by the Hambantota thugs who were enlisted in the Army. Many Sinhala women were raped by the Ranil Wickremasinghe and Premadasa armies in the South during the JVP insurgency. The internet, particularly Youtube is full of the atrocities. Read them if you want to.

    3. Blackmail or undue pressure by the financially and politically powerful. The wife or sister of an assistant or opponent is an easy target. “Can you please ask your sister to go to my house and coach my son with his maths?” is a common pretext. Rape was commonplace during the Rajapaksa Regime.

    4. Rape is also committed by the higher rungs in the Administrative Services. The mechanism is very much similar to 3 above.

    5. A would be rapist is encouraged by the legal system to go ahead with impunity, because it is so difficult to prove rape. Both Appu and Pei gleefully talk about marital rape. I ask them do they know how many husbands have been convicted in a court of law, in the West and the USA (in SL it is not criminal)?

    There may be many other causes of rape, which will take place whether the women behaved provocatively or not. They have also escaped attention in this discussion. The politically powerful and the super rich have it in their power to put an end to the misery; through appropriate legislation and improved and effective judicial procedures. They will not. And some of them themselves wallow in the misdeeds as well.

    Finally, where Mohammed Fazl becomes relevant, there is a mean and beastly nature associated with an insignificant number of men, in proportion to society as a whole, to vent their lust on women who have no power to resist. There is a disease in the hearts of men such as these. They need to be sexually aroused for them to resort to rape. That is why traditionally sociologists and religious leaders have advised their audience to appear decent in appearance, and exercise restraint in their interaction with the opposite sex. The aim was to avoid becoming a target of the depraved. It has to be admitted that mostly the advice works.

    Miss Appuhami and Miss Peiris want to give sex education to boys and girls. There are nearly 8 billion humans on this planet. Do they seriously think that any human or animal needs to be taught how to do? Do Miss Appu and Miss Pei assume the average Siripala and Somawathie need this education, while they do not?

    The two articles one each by the 22 year old [Edited out]

  • 3

    Would you agree if I suggest the Death Penalty for rape?

    • 3


      “Would you agree if I suggest the Death Penalty for rape?”

      Why Death Penalty?

      Shop lifting – chopping the hand

      Adultery – stoning the pair to death.

      Treachery – impaling the traitor

      You can also suggest the above forms of punishments if you are turning into full time barbarism.

      • 2

        N. Vedda, that is exactly the point: on the one hand, we identify rape (I entirely agree with you)as barbarism but legalized execution you think is extreme. So please tell me what is the difference? I am glad that my comment has stirred a hornets’ nest!

  • 4

    isnt it shamefull, that our awareness to day-to-day discrimnation and sexual abuse of women was at the lowest possible level until a total abuse of a young girl should happen. Even this would not have got our attention if it was not carried to the streets and politics under the present ethinic and after the end of war perception. what about all the other women, girls and boys being abused by grownups and pedophiles? we need a pragmatic sexual awareness in our society. Of course our society is conservative one but no society can accept the deprivation of self-respect and rights. we have to be progressive enough to change our perception to gender knowledge and sexuality. Otherwise we have to live with our raped daughters, sons, sisters and wives in a darkened hemisphare.

  • 1

    We blame everyone else except the rapist.

    Bring death penalty for raping, we will reduce the problem of rape immediately. Educate the women to dress decently for their own security and protection from these wicked psycopaths.

    Will it happen, no. As long as men are making laws, forget it.

  • 0

    Very well presented article focusing mainly on the perspective of an educated Asian female mind and we agree with her conclusion that women deserve the right not to be blamed for the rape committed against her.

    Having said that let us look at the aspect of male mentality in this issue. Majority of the male population I believe, are ethical in their sexual overtures towards female, thanks to our cultural etiquette and law enforcement. However, there are quite a few predators among the male population who look at female to derive sexual gratification from them depending on the circumstances. Some of these predators also know how to get around the repercussion of their lewd acts using political, financial and social status. I do not need to elaborate more because we all know who they are in our society as they are exposed from time to time.

    Therefore, it should be taught to our daughters how to stay away from such predators who may be among their relatives, friends or colleagues. In the Western countries for example, the statistics show that majority of sexual abuses are committed after social functions, pool parties, night clubs etc and when the female is intoxicated. It may be rare in countries like Sri Lanka but there are other opportunities for these predators where the female is alone at a wrong place with wrong company.

    Dressing modestly in public places or avoiding close association with such predators is not always a safeguard against them but it may help from giving a wrong impression to them. In a curious argument by the defence counsel for a student from Pakistani origin who was accused for raping his fellow female student after a cocktail party in Australia that his cultural understanding of the social behavior of the victim was taken as consent for sex, was rejected by the Magistrate.

  • 0

    Hyanthi. Yes. They do have a place.
    My Mother & and my only Sister…………….

    Unfortunately, Our divine Mum, the Our Lady of Madhu was abducted and taken into the Wanni by the self appointed Body Gard of the Mother of Christ..

  • 2

    most of these articles wont stop rape, it will only increase rape. Say for instance a women wares a bikini in the house to attract her husband to have more sex or get aroused. Same women goes out with the bikini to the super-market. wont the male security guard/cashier other male customers get aroused or is it wrong for them to have biological sexual feelings? If people are machines without emotions i can understand, but when women dress reavealingly they are telling the world – look i am a sexual being and most males take it as a invite to look and gawk.some goto the extent of raping. Dress matters what ever the so called liberal outlook, statistcally America leads the way in child abuse and rape by a relative. mostly due to the foolish thinking by the western liberals making man a machine. man is a biological being first, so respect it, and dress appropitely.

    • 1

      Jehan I am amazed that you have still not been verbally raped by the morons who are writing to say “Well said young girl!”, “Great article”, “Excellent Hiyanthi”, “Mr. Fazl is delusional (compared to the writer of the Article)”, “A very promising and positive attitude” etc etc, for the only reason you spoke some sense.

      It is so depressing to contemplate how fast their thinking will change after one of their loved ones is raped.

  • 3

    A very promising and positive attitude. This article reflects an awakening among our women and that is something to be happy about.

    Sengodan. M

  • 5

    To those who are still claiming that women should dress conservatively to avoid rape, and citing western countries as the problem, what about unreported rape cases in countries where women dress conservatively? Just because a man is a biological being, that does not mean that he is not in control of his urges. Are we saying that men are so unable to control their urges that they are basically animalistic enough to go out their and rape every woman who is dressed provocatively?
    Also, sex education means education about consent and intimacy and how women are not males’ subordinates. Teach your sons not to rape. Rape is a crime. This attitude of blaming women for their attire is just plain stupid. Een women who are dressed in abayas get raped. The problem is that everyone acknowledges that rape is a crime but no one goes beyond that to question why the victims are expected to bear even an ounce of blame for something that some individual with no control of his sexual urges performed.
    Commenters who are still blaming women, shame on you.

  • 1

    When we are more concerned about the misuse of women than the misuse of Vehicles then change will happen.

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 3

    Large majority of men in Srilanka look at women as sex
    objects. All Women, both educated and uneducated have
    enough experiences about this culture.No mother or
    father is in peace when their daughter is late to
    return home , especially after six. Why ? Some parents
    are worried even about their boys after six because
    boys might be out on a MISSION in the dark. Remedy for
    this is very remote because the respect for individual
    freedom has not drawn proper attention of both men
    and women of all ages. Right at the moment, being a
    party to party politics is the greatest freedom all are
    saturated in. Laws , laws and laws alone is not enough
    to run a country to its maturity. People must realize
    the need for a better standard of respectable living.
    Just take the public transport system for an example,
    it is a sex paradise for lusty men at peak hours.
    Is it not violating people’s privacy ? How long are
    we all living like this shamelessly ? Is it unstoppable?
    Why non is concerned? Why everyone allow this to go
    into the next generation ? Why women don’t feel that
    they must do something to stop this epidemic so that
    they have some respect in public places?

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