14 December, 2018

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Sri Lanka’s Daughter

By Thisuri Wanniarachchi

Thisuri Wanniarachchi

Thisuri Wanniarachchi

Before the protests, before this became a debate about race, political affiliations, and law, even before her body was found, happened something that happens every day in Sri Lanka. Something that we need to talk about. It doesn’t matter if she’s Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher. She’s a citizen of this country. She’s a daughter; Sri Lanka’s daughter. Every day an average of 18 girls are raped in Sri Lanka. This is an issue that has gone unaddressed for far too long. And it’s time we start looking for long term solutions to it. 

Every 90 minutes a girl or a woman in Sri Lanka is forced to have non-consensual sex. This is no coincidence. In societies with education systems that promote male superiority, don’t address the concept gender equality and respecting women, or the ethics of sex, and the only sex education men and women get is through pornography and antiquated societal norms and gender stereotypes, of course there will be high rates of rape. We live in a society where girls are taught from a very young age that they have to be careful, and behave a certain way, unlike boys. Our culture is built upon disciplining girls, although, every day, it is mostly men who commit crimes against women.

While those responsible for the rape and murder of Vidya will be brought in front of the law, nothing can bring back Vidya or justice the inhumanity faced by the thousands of girls raped in Sri Lanka every year. The law can only prosecute, it cannot protect. I believe the only sustainable solution to this: is education. We, as a culture need to rethink the fundamentals of how we bring up our children and the education system that we put them through. Think about the gender inequality we promote through it, the way we carefully ingrain to the minds of society that women are inferior to men.

We neglect sex education to such an extent that Sri Lanka is ranked number one in the world for googling the term ‘sex’. Most of the porn industry is fundamentally dominated by the idea of objectifying women. It fantasizes situations like gang-rape. It promotes the concept of women being inferior, and mere sexual objects. In Sri Lanka’s culture, the objectification of women is at such a high level that “baduwa,” the Sinhala term used in our society to casually objectify women, directly translates to “object.” Why are we so reluctant to educate our children about gender equality and consent? Why are we so shy and resistant towards having open conversations with our children about respectful intimacy, the issue of sexual harassment and the unjust and inhumane nature of it? We shouldn’t just be educating children about sex as a means of reproduction (as our national school curriculum does right now). We should teach them about intimacy and the concept of consent and respect that it involves. We have been using “our culture” as a defense against sex education for far too long and it is girls like Vidya that pay the price for it every single day. The price has come to a point that we can’t afford.

It is too late to educate most men about gender equality. I learn this every day from the amount of sexism that I face and have faced since I was a child. But, this shouldn’t discourage us. Our goal must not be to fix the broken but to set up policies that ensure the safety of the unbroken, the unborn; those who are forced by society to be broken. Recognizing the fact that it is too late for some, that there are many who are too broken to fix, is the first step to accomplishing change. They should be our motivation, our stepping stone. If we start now, our children and their children may not have to experience the unjust, unspeakable, inhumane violence that Vidya did. Education reform is the only way.

*Thisuri Wanniarachchi, 21, is the author of novels The Terrorist’s Daughter and Colombo Streets. She is Sri Lanka’s youngest State Literary Award winner and the world’s youngest national nominee to the prestigious Iowa International Writers’ Program. She is currently an undergraduate student and full scholar of Bennington College studying Political Economy and Education Reform.

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Latest comments

  • 6
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    SRH Hoole

    I agree with you on the implication of the words used to denote rape. In Sinhala it is often translated as “dushanaya vela” – polluted! This does give credence to the idea that a victim of rape has somehow become “spoilt”. In both buddhism and hinduism, women who are menstruating are seen as “polluting” – often they are not allowed to enter religious places during their menses. Where do these ideas come from? Are they helpful or harmful to us as a society?

    • 9
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      Correction…Hinduism has an issue with menses but Buddhist temples never do…they never use the tern kili like at Hindu temples…u are mistaken my friend

  • 12
    12

    Thank you Thisuri for your excellent analysis of this despicable problem in or society. We also have another dreadful well hidden statistic in Sri Lanka. That is incest. This, according to many who work with rural women, is a huge problem. The scenario is this: A man marries a woman who he thinks is not a virgin. He then insists that he has sex with his daughter because he wants to have the experience of having sex with a virgin! The wife; out of “shame”, gives in to this. The young girl grows up and marries. Her husband finds out that she is not a virgin… and the same cycle continues. Shame, shame shame!
    Hopefully Rosy Senanayaka our Minisiter for women’s affairs will look in to the issue of proper sex education in schools.

    • 6
      7

      This is the first time I heard something like this: but this is sick. What I have heard is the women going to ME heaving teenage daughters with their fathers or grand parents and being abused.

    • 5
      1

      At the same time we have to talk about mothers who sexually abuse sons. This starts from very early ages and continues until puberty. It starts innocent but in the end we finds a disturbed adult with messed up mentality. Shame on them too.

  • 11
    2

    Thank you Thisuri for your excellent article, I live overseas, travel to Sri Lanka very frequently, at least twice a year. I see myself the amount of disrespect shown to women in public. I strongly agree that it is hard to teach gender equality to some of the Sri Lankan public, the government can make abuse of women an offence that police could charge the person, for a criminal offence, and conduct public education via media.

  • 12
    5

    Thisuri: Your article translates a global need for gender equality education, litigation, and legal precedent to something Sri Lankan’s should understand. The gender stereotypes and resultant sociopolitical discourse -or lack thereof- need to examined, buried, and rebirthed through a modern and ethical lens.

    In 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first female Prime Minister and democratically elected world leader in history (the British and Egyptian monarchies being birthright not meritorious service). Whatever your politics, it is a reality that she and her daughter, Chandrika, led this nation as Sri Lankan women, with strength and dignity.

    Yet today this country continues on with the archaic and arcane interpretations of 1800s societal norms.

    In a world where women have led nations and armies and Fortune 100 companies, banks and foundations and scientific discoveries, it is disgraceful and damaging for Sri Lanka to lag so far behind the moral standards of civilized society.

    Women have led us in governance, fought alongside us in wars, educated our children, and distinguished us internationally. Yet single mothers and teenage girls alike are treated with derision and dismissal. Has everyone forgotten that our female leaders have, in fact, been single mothers to a nation?

    By contrast, our men have started wars, robbed our national coffers, ruined our economy, and made us the global poster children for terrorism and corruption.

    Yet we rape our women and string them to trees.

    As a human and as a man, I am ashamed for my kind.

  • 9
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    Hi Thisuri

    please take this as analyse not as racial report.

    Jaffna was wonderful place for women liberty many decades ago, I don’t know whether Chinese, Japanese or Indian women ran Bicycle but definitely Jaffna girls prior ethnic conflicts boldly move day and night with Bicycle.

    if any senior writers like Mr. Hoole or in Sri Lankan movie director Mr. Chandram Rutnam can be witnesses in their critics.

    after rises of Para-military organizations like EPDP,TELO,TULF,EROS who not under strict law of benevolence code of conduct like Tamil tigers LTTE four letter rebel organizations strictly followed gender equality Within organization.

    Rebels can be male or female they can’t maintain hidden affairs whoever needs to be married as couple, Tamil tigers allowed to marry announced as couple. if any civilian abuse or harass or rape any age women the punishment will be severe to maintain a organized civil society of course some of those inhuman like shot and tied in junction a board carry around neck the cause of the death or punishment , I did molested 13 year of old girl being 28 years man. many more….so you may curious what this person trying to say:

    simply this not an attempt appraisal of LTTE or Tamil Tigers….. after era’s of Jaffna peninsula capture by SL Army or IPKF entries and exit the Jaffna males or male chauvinism begun same as South Indian men female creatures for pleasure.

    EPDP members most active government backed Para-Military blended among civilians they entertain women bringing them Colombo temporary lodges been established No basic laws been observed in those lodges National Security watchdog part was shared with EPDP, TELO former Tiger cadres later pro government groups.

    Of course No Sinhala friend can help where Sinhala friends was ready for rescue if Northern or central hill country Tamil boy/girl inquired by Police or Intelligence or forces a former cadre or Para-Militants spy agents can assure or determine ones freedom of walk or speech.

    Same mechanism during the CBK & MR regime EPDP was higher influential non military, non police, non intelligence, Non forces powerful group in Jaffna peninsula If those operatives interested a Jaffna woman or girl it’s compulsory act the female must adhere to there interests. I AM NOT DECLARES OR PLEASE DON@T MISINTERPRET PRESIDENT CBK being woman aware and she was allows EPDP, TELO, etc freely to do such nasty activities. IT was a period those EPDP kind groups reports highly concerned as NIB but later days predecessor purposefully implement operatives ( there court cases to Angajan Ramanathan) SLFP candidates and violated state laws

    NO way this cruel activity can be done in anywhere in south, if you want to refer there is a website http://www.newjaffna.com prominently uploaded Jaffna rascals whom publically nuisances to school girls in Jaffna prominent junctions and their crime rates climbs up as they abuses girls in the omnipotent backgrounds of family ( Business tycoons pro to EPDP or Government or Para-Militants)

    same week of above Nithya the Sri Lankan daughter’s destruction”

    DO our police aware those individuals ???? did any attempts to inquire? this are the areas Transnational Governments South Indian politicos run there agenda’s.

    SRI LANKA CAN CURB PREVAILING LAW AND ORDER ACCURATELY.

    • 1
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      Another LTTE sympathiser trying to white wash them hiding under the banner of human rights, good governance.

  • 5
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    The reason sex education isn’t the sole solution is apparent by the fact that rape and violence against women still prevails in countries like the US and other western countries. No matter how much men are taught about consent, crime still does happen in those countries too. Implementing a judiciary system that has strict definitions and has zero loopholes is really the only way to fight this. Yes, sex education is important but to fight rape, laws against the crime have to be strengthened.

  • 6
    3

    to Native Veddah
    ‘half the country will be left with men without ‘b..’!
    Are you saying that most men in this country are potential rapists? I dispute that. All men are certainly not of the kind that did this particular type of rape and kill, which if proved, deserves the harshest punishment. A punishment which will be an effective deterrent to others of the same calibre.

  • 4
    1

    I am a Sri lankan living in Singapore for the last forty years.In Singapore,we rarely come across this type of incidents.cos the govt.deals with iron hand.For rape,molest, it is mandatory public caning.It needs courage to introduce such policies.The founding father LKY was very firm in this.We have one million foreign workers.Our girls walk on the road even at 1Am after a shift.MR was the curse to the country.His men were running riot with Douglas help in Jaffna.if you don’t put the country now in the right path,it will never be done.We are in the bottom of civilized nations.We can only go down further.Masses must be educated – both men and women.The most stupid culture of sending women to work overseas must cease.You must elect honest and sincere men to the parliament.I see most of the men elected has an ulterior motive.This may be cos,they buy votes for rs.500 and a packet of briyani.This culture should stop.most of the countries are progressing today.But where are we going?

  • 12
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    I am a Srilankan who grew up in Colombo and now living in the UK. I was repeatedly abused and raped by 2 men from Jaffna over 7 years (when I was aged 9-16). Their excuse was that their wives were living in Jaffna away from them. This apparently gave them a right to abusing a child and damaging me for life (regardless of race). The law may have been in Jaffna but definitely not followed by all men from Jaffna. This has nothing to do with who was in power and where. Law should be for the land.

    If I have my own way, castration would be the solution to all convicts. Death sentence is too easy as some of us live with a life sentence because of these ‘men’.

    • 0
      0

      Name them and shame them bother. You don’t have to divulge your identity.

  • 4
    0

    Dear writer,
    Are you confident that you can statistically support your point by providing data of countries, where you beleive to have gained that ‘gender equality’?
    -Amila

  • 7
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    An excellent and a timely article. I am a 55 year old male now living overseas for 23 years now but I know all too well the inherent sexism in SL males from my school days, university years and in the work place. It disgusted me to no end and still does. We need a seismic shift in getting rid of this “females as an object” attitude and sex education may well be the antidote – albeit not the only one. Education and more legislation against sexism may help too.

  • 3
    0

    SrH Hoole. ..just a small correction…Hinduism has an issue with menses…but Buddhist temples.never prohibit or find menses as an issue

  • 5
    9

    I am British and lived in Sri Lanka for 5 years and was so shocked by the attitudes of Sri Lankan men towards women and equally, the expectations that women were supposed to remain demure and quiet and not defend themselves. In my time there, men regularly exposed themselves to me, offered me lifts, sat outside my house, shouted obscene invitations, rubbed themselves against me, tried to grope me. This is nothing compared to the horrendous acts detailed in this article but it gave me a tiny idea of what Sri Lankan women go through. One friend was physically abused in public as a teenager at a school event. She shouted at him to stop and was reprimanded by her very well respected Buddhist girls’ school ‘because it wasn’t ladylike behaviour’. Women need the support and authority to publicly shame these men.

    • 2
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      Gee wiseinstone

      you probably hung out with a bunch of louts. I dont think this is the common experience of other women or expats . you should have left earlier and hung out with more louts in London or where ever you are from

  • 0
    1

    Abhaya…you seems to be living in a fantacy world…try to understand the reality..its not sweet…its not colourful but this is the truth.

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