25 May, 2024


Rape & Murder Of Another School Girl In Jaffna

By Kamani Jinadasa

Kamani Jinadasa

Kamani Jinadasa

Lifting The Veil Of Silence Around Sexual Violence Against Women & Girls In Sri Lanka

Three months ago in Vanni a 16 year old Tamil girl, Saranya Selvarasa passed away in the Kilinochchi Base hospital. Saranya was orphaned after the death of her parents. Her father died during the war in 2006 and after the war her mother passed away in an accident. Saranya and her two younger brothers were adopted by their grandmother, who had been doing the best she could to care for them under very difficult conditions. When Saranya’s grandmother tried to seek answers for her granddaughter’s death she was informed by the doctor who handled her case that she had been gang raped by at least three men. The police visited the grandmother’s home after Saranya’s death had been reported in the local media. They tried to pressure Saranya’s grandmother to conceal the gang rape and say instead that Saranya had died due to a mental disorder. The police then threatened to have the grandmother imprisoned on charges of “damaging Saranya’s character” if she failed to comply with their demands[1]. Her grandmother refused to comply with their threats.

As I write this article the news of another brutal rape and murder of another school girl in Jaffna, Vidhiya has surfaced[2].

The reality:

Saranya’s story and now Vidhiya’s, are not new to post war Sri Lanka. Horrific stories of sexual violence perpetrated against Tamil women and girls by the military have been seeping into our news feeds sporadically, mainly via international news agencies[3]. What makes it even more disturbing is that these stories are being brushed off, conveniently ignored and even discredited, claiming that they are nothing more than attempts to damage the government’s reputation. While rates of sexual violence against Tamil women, children and men have not been measured, there is substantial anecdotal and plausible evidence to indicate that this is happening on a regular basis with little or no accountability on the part of the perpetrators in the North. The manner in which the lives of victims change after such experiences cannot be truly captured. Who can a survivor turn to when the perpetrators are more likely to be the military or law enforcement officials?

At a wider level, a report which sought to capture prevalence rates of violence against women and girls (VAWG) reflected that 14% of men in the sample from four districts in Sri Lanka had admitted to perpetrating rape[4]. Among men who did admit to perpetrating sexual violence including rape, over half of the men stated they were motivated by feelings of sexual entitlement[5]. More alarmingly 28% of the men that had perpetrated acts of sexual violence including rape against women said that they had been in the 15-19 year age group at the time they committed their first rape. The same report calls attention to very high levels of impunity experienced by these men who admitted to perpetrating rape. Accordingly 97% of the men in these four districts had faced no legal consequences for their actions[6].

Given the conditions surrounding the lives of women and girls in the North, where there are an estimated 90,000 women headed households[7] one can only imagine how these similar statistics surrounding their vulnerabilities are exacerbated.

The problem:

Despite the fact that Sri Lanka elected the world’s first female Prime Minister and has very low maternal mortality rates across districts which have participated in national census’[8], police statistics reveal that registered incidents of rape saw an increase of nearly 20% during 2012-2014[9]. It is reported that every day, three to five children are raped in Sri Lanka. The total number of all crimes against children besides sex crimes include crimes of violence, abduction, trafficking and other offenses, increased by a dramatic 64% between 2011 and 2012.[10] It is time for us to admit that we are experiencing an epidemic of sexual violence in our country.

Given the resurgence of extremism and mysoginism that was allowed to prevail under the previous government’s regime, issues surrounding sexism and violence against women and girls were undermined or ignored. We had a former parliamentarian, Mervyn Silva stating that if women are sexually attacked it is due a fault in the way they are dressed. We currently have an MP, S.B. Dissanayake who vowed to strip a former female head of state of her clothes and make her run down the streets naked. Members of parliament that have been convicted of rape have been released. Another politician who was involved in the brutal gang rape of a Russian woman and murder of her British partner walked scot free for years until the British government applied tremendous pressure for some level of accountability. These are the lessons we are teaching other men in Sri Lanka. We have given men the license to go ahead and flaunt or exercise their feelings of sexual entitlement and power with absolutely no consequences. What does that say about us as a nation?

Following the news item about Saranya’s case, I started a petition to pressure authorities to take necessary steps for a proper investigation into her untimely demise[11]. Many brave women have come forward with their own experiences of rape and the steps they have taken to reduce the risk of their own daughters facing the same fate. Women have taken the burden of risk aversion into their own hands, through their activism, individually or through women’s organizations as there is little faith in the system that has prevailed in Sri Lanka to date.

The good news:

With the change of government I see a definite increase in reporting of VAWG. There is a better space for women’s organizations and activists like me to feel safer to take action when terrible incidents like this occur.

The new government has decidedly placed more qualified people in certain positions as per their experience and interests. The sum of these choices can be felt in Saranya’s case. Subsequent to the development and circulation of the petition Rosy Senanayake, State Minister of Children’s Affairs and Natasha Balendra, Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority flexed the national law enforcement apparatus to facilitate an impartial investigation into her death. Saranaya’s body was exhumed and taken to Colombo for forensic analysis and the post mortem report is expected to be produced on 18th May (Vavuniya Magistrates Court – Case No: AR 141/15). In a situation where the entire story would have been buried with Saranya, a proper legal process has been activated instead. In this case there is a higher likelihood that justice will be done.

On 15th May three brothers suspected in the rape of Vidhiya were arrested. I would like to add that while Vidhiya was murdered on 13th May it took two days for mainstream Sri Lankan media to pick up the story even though protests were held in Jaffna immediately after the news of the rape and murder emerged[12]. News of bribery, constitutional amendments and a foreigner’s visit to Sri Lanka make the headlines within minutes.

My question is though, what will it take for Sri Lankans to react collectively to the levels of violence that is meted out to women and girls every day? What will it take to motivate Sri Lankans to act in instances where violence is not meted out only towards their own kith and kin? What will it take for Sri Lankans to open our eyes to the realities of what women and little girls like Saranya and Vidhya are facing daily in the North and that their lives are as equally important as those in the South? What will it take for people to understand that impunity experienced by perpetrators of sexual violation of a person in the North can only mean that the same is most likely to occur in the South as lack of accountability will become the norm? What will each one of us do to make Sri Lanka safer for women and girls? When will we, as a nation, lift this veil of silence?

*Kamani is a Sri Lankan working at the International Rescue Committee, New York. The views expressed here are entirely her own and do not represent the views or opinions of the International Rescue Committee.

[1] http://www.colombomirror.com/?p=2709#.VVYvHUaM5QU

[2] https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/living-with-violence-rape-murder-in-jaffna/

[3] https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/torture-and-sexual-abuse-in-sri-lanka-four-years-after-war-frances-harrisons-bbc-documentary/; http://www.hrw.org/reports/2013/02/26/we-will-teach-you-lesson-0; http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2013/12/scars-sri-lanka-2013122492410187367.html

[4] de Mel, N., P. Peiris and S. Gomez (2013). Broadening Gender: Why Masculinities Matter—Attitudes, Practices and Gender-Based Violence in Four Districts in Sri Lanka. Colombo: CARE Sri Lanka

[5] Ibid, 67% of the male sample

[6] ibid

[7] http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2015/04/sri-lanka-widows-war-150421161203533.html

[8] http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sri_lanka_statistics.html

[9] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/rapes-surge-sri-lanka-amid-weak-marital-laws-201481772359790802.html

[10] http://world.time.com/2013/08/13/sri-lanka-struggles-to-contain-a-growing-epidemic-of-child-abuse/

[11] https://www.change.org/p/requesting-prime-minister-state-minister-of-child-affairs-minister-of-women-s-affairs-and-igp-to-investigate-into-alleged-gang-rape-of-a-minor-saranya

[12] http://www.adaderana.lk/news/30879/three-nabbed-over-kidnap-rape-and-murder-of-student-, http://newsfirst.lk/english/2015/05/3-suspects-arrested-in-connection-to-rape-and-murder-of-a-student-in-jaffna-watch-video/95080

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Latest comments

  • 10

    Lots of view points, and recent happenings, expression of anger, helplessness of the people, desperation to find a way out were reflected in the writings and comments.

    Problem is 30 years war and spill overs, today. Entire moral, social fabric, Law and order machinery, degradation of character, human values devalued, morals are prevalent, in the full spectrum of the society, particularly the vigilance apparatus of the Law and order systems and amongst its actors demanding new norms and methodologies.

    Lot of reasons, accusations adduced are addressed, regarding the situations. What is the remedy.

    1. The society as a whole must refuses to have anything to do, in any form, ostricese the perpetrators of such crimes, establishments and systems.

    2. Find out the failures, deficiencies of the law and order machinery, actors, systems. Augment man power of vigilance activity outside the existing system which operates personal on the job shortage of manpower, prevalent corruption, ill educated, socially uncommitted. This can the corrected by recruit and enhancing the local manpower, allowing people of good character to be partners on this activity/operation on a voluntary basis.

    3. Punishment is a form of compassion to deter crimes and for the greater good of the community peace, progress and productivity. Singapore is the modern example of discipline, orderliness, fearlessness, happiness, contentment of, and for the people. This is compassion in action.

    4. Introduce sever hardest punishment for any crimes, who breach, social order etc including caneng, whipping ,in schools to stifle juvenile criminals and to any level persons and in any institution. This will reduce crimes, at least by 80% of crimes, and reduce the work of the police, judiciary, deter tendency of criminality and social disorder.

    5. In the social pyramid, only less than one tenth percent, of the population are the diehard criminals and offenders .Punish them severely.

    6. The social media doesn’t expose the criminals, offenders, by name, pictures, address so that the people, and society can be vigilant regarding the activities of those identified people. This is practiced/happens in Singapore.

    7. All govt. servants work for their pay, and mostly have no social obligation or accountability or responsibility to answer to anyone.

    8. The past fifty years the community saw nexus of politicians, lawyers, criminals, anti social elements. To what level it has brought the community without any humanitarian, consideration and feeling of helplessness. Desperation to reset their targets, demanded by the community, is pathetically at low level of confidence, in establishments The concerned establishments demand their pound of flesh and potage, who treat the population as goats and cattle available for plundering, and slaughter?

    9. The words used (item, sarkku for women and girls (Makkal to Maakal) to address the people population/Society by these low grade vulgar lot, is very degrading, inanimate, disparaging expressions used for the last 30 years. Re-education is a must from school to elders with (Makkal to Maakal) punishment strict.

    10. The reports from crime scene, Jaffna /N.P Indicate, international connections intention to convert Jaffna as red light area for flesh trade, photographic production for export to world trade, free for all, for drug trade at Punguditivu, engineered and implemented. Tip of the iceberg volcano ready for eruption.

    The spontaneous anger erupted and its multi manifestation and the reaction to the lawyer who tried to take custody of, one of the gang member are pointers to reflect on the underling excessive heat currents that may erupt, To be reflected by all concern. This might boomerangs on the persons, who engineer unruliness, to create situation like the past.

    11. Who cares? Who will save the community? Except shouting from platforms, printing placards to instigate more, as a political advertisement by vested groups for ulterior motives and not talking any meaningful work programmes, actions.

    12. At any cost Bring Back Discipline, and Order and justice speedily.

    Old Yarlpananthan 22/05/2015

  • 3

    Let me start by apologizing for my inability to say something truly insightful or intellegent, since my vocabulary and knowledge is limited. But as a fellow female student in this country, I feel the need to address this issue as well. Its an open secret that almost every girl or woman in SL is exposed to some form of sexual harrasment, be it verbal or physical, at some point of their lives. It may not be as serious as a rape, but one way or the other, we hear nasty comments that make us want to turn invisible or are exposed to offensive physical contact in buses, etc. In one occasion I personally felt outraged when two men were following me and another girl, on a motorcycle for over half an hour, whistling at us and even tapping us on the shoulder to give their phone numbers. When we finally complained to a cop, he stared in confusion and said “what do you want me to do about it?”. But what I find stranger still, is the fact that other people are generally indifferent to the victims in such situations, even though this might be occuring right in front of them. So I believe that this system should change and that this issue needs to be resloved so that women do not feel afraid each time they leave their homes, or even when they are in them.

  • 1

    Oh ok, I hadn’t read the older comments before I posted my own. Clearly people see the need to argue about race rather than saying something to oppose the disgusting practices to which all women are subjected to in this country. How typical… Oh well, I guess somethings don’t change.

  • 4

    Is the new president aware of all this? If so can his government not do something?

  • 0

    I believe India has a law for eve teasing. Why should we not have the same in Sri Lanka.

  • 1

    Ethics and ethnic tension
    When a school girl of 18 years is raped and killed by a gang everybody expects to reject this barbarous act vehemently. It is a fearful thing for parents and others concerned to comprehend that this has happened in their society. In this kind of context when this natural ethical tendency is twisted by ethnic polarization that society becomes inhuman by creating an unhealthy atmosphere for people to live in harmony.
    Often people react to sensitive issues of this nature in overwhelming manner. This is human nature irrespective of cast, class, code, race, ethnicity or religion. Therefore it is the responsibility of the society, police and the government to handle the incidents of this nature by realizing the gravity and emotional nature of these events. Instead when ethnic explanations are provided to dilute the seriousness of a brutal act it is natural people overreact to make their case heard in the society.
    The people who performed this ruthless act would have had many hidden agendas to promote and achieve their own ends. But it cannot diminish the brutality of this act which creates lasting impacts on the sound ethnics in the society. If the society allows reducing the fierceness of these acts on ethnic or any other ground, this can act as a seed to create a culture of violence which will have long lasting repercussions.
    Fr Keerthisiri Fernando

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