By Mano Ratwatte –
It was with great trepidation that a lot of us émigré Sri Lankans read the story on the horrible abduction, rape and murder of an 18 year old in Jaffna. Rape is a heinous crime by itself. Rape and murder is carried out by vile men and it is not about romance, or love or even having sex for pleasure. It is a violent sadistic crime and it is about savage men exercising violent control over women.
In the US it is estimated that 300,000 women face sexual assault or rape attacks per year. Attacks against women and children (including against boys) has a chronic ugly pathology and it has nothing to do with how a person dresses. Date rape is another serious issue in nations where there are no restrictions on intimacy. That too has nothing to do with how a woman dresses but has to do with impaired judgment where a man is unable to accept that no means no.
If the claim that sexual assault, rape and molestation are all about appearances were true, then how is that the Catholic Church has for decades hidden the ugly truth about child abuse/pedophilia across the world? Was it the fault of the defenceless boys that they were molested by persons of the cloth in whom we all trust? From Germany, to Ireland to Australia to the US the Church and Vatican have systemically covered child abuse from the public by quietly transferring pedophile priests from one parish to another. They have no spent Billions of dollars to settle cases with the victims in the USA. They have ruined hundreds if not thousands of lives; were those victims wearing shorts that were too short or victims of predatory men? It is only since Pope Francis took over the Papacy that decades of abuse and predatory behavior is being discussed openly in the west. The crimes against kids by clergy in Ireland were covered with connivance of local police for ages.
How is it that the demented religious Islamic extremists of Boko Haram in Nigeria are kidnapping young girls and raping them and selling them as wives in the name of religion? How is it that ISIL soldiers are raping Arab women who are not Sunnis but are conservatively dressed Arabs ? Almost all of those victims were dressed conservatively right? How about gang rapes in India? Indian women wear Salwar kameez; in rural India and Pakistan women wear the veil. It is not their dress or their clubbing at night that made them the targets for vicious assaults right?
What was the point of high-lighting all of the above in a story related to the violent gang rape and murder of an innocent in Sri Lanka? It is to highlight the tragedy of rape in civil society and child abuse which is far greater in occurrence/incidents but goes unreported and perpetrators unpunished because society doesn’t want to discuss it. It is a dirty secret.
I was moved by TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran’s column in the Daily News. He is right; I must say my initial reaction was also based on reading internet reports and I too wondered if the protests were politically motivated by Tamil Tigers. Then I realized that after a suspect was allowed to get away, it was natural for people to be angry. They have been living in fear for too long and if the Police is indifferent to their pleas for help it is natural be they in the Deep South or North to be angry at the lack of empathy by law enforcement authorities.
It is not a Tamil, Sinhala, Malay, Burgher or Muslim issue. Rapists rape because they feel they can get away with impunity. Yet we cannot ignore those issues that have ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of women across the world either. Rape during war has happened in Vietnam when US troops raped with impunity, mass rape occurred during the East Pakistan war, in Russia during World War II and in Germany with Russian troops exacting revenge on German women, in the Congo, in Rwanda, in Bosnia etc. It is terrible that men who are raised by mothers will themselves become savage animals during war. I was saddened and ashamed to read of the incidents and anecdotal evidence (by journalist DBS Jeyaraj) documented about sexual harassment at check points, rapes by members of armed forces that went unpunished during war in Sri Lanka too. It should not be a shock but it is sad; were we as the majority silent or afraid to even discuss the possibility of harassment of “enemy” women because they were not one of us.
But in civil societies where there is no more war, and people are trying to recover from the effects of war, it is shocking to read about the incidents of rape and the culture of impunity that seems to exist in many nations. What does that do to the psyche of people who have been ravaged by war and live in fear of the people who are meant to protect them? What is the excuse when there is no war?
It was upsetting to read about a journalist’s statement that “it was the first time courts were stoned” to try to bring a twist to the protests in Jaffna. Then there were government leaders trying to talk about the culture of impunity as if it started only during the previous Rajapaksa regime.
Not so. I will like to remind people of one of the first instances of Government instigated thuggery against Judges. The stoning of Justice Soza’s, Justice Barnes Ratwatte’s and Just Percy Colin Thome’s houses happened in early 1983. There was a Demonstration in Colombo which was broken by police and where late Vivienne Goonewardene was ill treated during the break up. She filed a fundamental rights case and won. The three judges held that her fundamental rights was violated by a Sub Inspector (I think of the Colpetty police ). The courts went on to fine the officer Rs 10,000. It was actually a great victory in the face of an arrogant govt. However JR s intolerance knew no bounds. The next day or soon after he had a cabinet meeting where they decided to pay the fine of Rs 10,000 from govt. and not only that, the officer was promoted. The next day people came in CTB buses parked in front of the judges houses and demonstrated in front of their house and Justice Percy Colin Thome’s house was stoned. These were believed to be gangs working in collusion with the government of the day. Later the Sun newspaper and Aththa papers did their own investigative work and discovered that the the whole thing had been carried out by a know UNP thug and his gang; of course nothing happened! If memory serves me right, a repeat offender rapist got a presidential pardon and was made a JP too. That there was a gradual deterioration of law and order was becoming apparent to everyone except those in that government. It culminated with the heinous violent pogrom against innocent Tamils in July 1983. The government of the day tried its best to frame the JVP or “Naxalites” but at the end of the day everyone knew whose thugs and whose goons carried out those vile attacks. Let us start with an honest discussion of that too. Why were people allowed to get away with that pogrom? It is the seminal event that led to the relatively unknown and small LTTE to grow into this massive movement and to be seen as protectors of Tamils.
People who suffered wanted revenge and joined to fight back. Rest is history. Why wasn’t anyone punished? NWP provincials elections came later.
Incidents of abuse, rape, and harassment need to be stopped or at least controlled before they reach epidemic proportions. There has to be deterrents. India has taken steps to fast track rape cases and also reinstituted the death penalty. Sri Lanka re-introduced the death penalty to hang Mr.SWRD Bandaranaike’s assassin and it has been in the books since then. I see no reason to implement it as a deterrent.
If execution is anathema, given that Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation, please at least fast track these cases and give them life time sentences with no chance of pardons or parole. How about public flogging before jailing them?
Until leaders take off their blinders and treat this as a crime against civilization, and values, attitudes might not change. From child abuse, incest, alcohol and drug related wife beatings even at high society levels, rape are all a curse upon societies in the West and East. But at least in the West, there is more open discussion of these issues. Husbands have no right to rape their wives either.
Women are reluctant to come out when they are raped because they fear being ostracized by society where virginity before marriage is still a norm. Create a system where victims may be able to present evidence in camera. Fast track DNA matching facilitate the supply rape kits to all hospitals in the nation. Teach law enforcement officers to be sensitive and not look at a victim by their race but by the crime committed. Hire more female police officers. There are obviously times people make false accusations after having consensual sex, but most rape victims do not falsify reports. Hire more Tamils and Tamil speaking men and women to the police in the North.
Mr. Sumanthiran, I am sorry that this incident of rape was treated lightly by the police first, but I am also glad the alleged suspects were arrested fairly quickly. I hope President Mr. Sirisena will think seriously about reintroducing and implementing the death penalty on these savages and similar savages be they in the North or the South. The culture of impunity and political patronage of criminals must come to an end or at least reduced so law enforcement officials can carry out their duties without fear or favor.
Sri Lankan nation has seen too much violence for too long and clearly people are desensitized. There is woeful lack of awareness about crimes against children and women and also about mental health issues in Sri Lanka. It was only during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s regime at least some efforts were made to make Sri Lankans aware of serious mental health issues and child protection issues.
Are drugs, alcohol and money playing a role in the North as they do in the south where people think they can get away? Are people in traditional closed societies unable to cope with the rapid exposure to western culture and more liberal social and electronic media coverage of sexuality? Is what is happening in the North what the South underwent a few years ago too where there too there is an epidemic of rape? Was the north protected to an extent because of the iron fist of the LTTE and their strict codes of conduct? In the South, in Sri Lanka if not for pressure from the British, suspects who killed a tourist and raped his companion would not have been brought to justice fast.
Do people know that the State of Israel successfully prosecuted, and sentenced a President of Israel for Rape? The 8th President of Israel Moshe Katsav was found guilty of sexual harassment and rape and sentenced to 7 years in jail. The longest serving Speaker(now retired) in the US House of Representatives, Republican Denis Hastert was indicted for lying to the FBI about hush money amounting to millions he paid to a victim he sexually molested when he was a High School Wrestling coach. The sister of a second victim has now come out and spoken about Hastert’s rape of her young brother when he was a student. Mind you, the Speaker is the 3rd most powerful person in the US political system and Hastert is still a very senior respected Republican and the school was about to erect a statue in his honor! How many such cases occur across the world where people we trust abuse that trust and rape and molest children? Rapists and criminals exist everywhere but not every nation allows them to get away no matter how high or powerful a person is.
Please create a system of courts to deal with child abuse, rape, violent assault and even spousal rape(which is illegal in many nations and make sure people are aware that a husband cannot rape a wife). Hoping for a day where Sri Lankans too can feel strongly that no one is above the law. Protecting children and women is a sacred obligation of every father and man born. Justice must be done, but it must also be seen to be done.
In closure here is a quote from Reverend Martin Neimoller, a Lutheran National Conservative pastor being used in Sri Lanka without proper citation. This original verse was written by Neimoller 2 years after World War II ended. He too was one of those silent majority of Germans who thought “Hitler was good” . It is a powerful verse and is appropriate for so many tragic situations that have befallen that beautiful nation.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Please stop the culture of impunity. President of Sri Lanka ought to be thanked for visiting Jaffna to speak to citizens after the rape incident and assuring people that they are all Sri Lankans. It is an arduous task to promote healing and trust, just like how Pope Francis is trying to clean his house it will be no easy task.