By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“If under aged girls are statutorily raped and the sexual act was however with consent, it may be good to have legislation that allows the perpetrator to marry the ‘victim’ with her consent.” – President Mahinda Rajapaksa[i]
President Rajapaksa says no one is above the law.
Either the President is psychologically challenged, incapable of unravelling reality from imagination; or he is a consummate liar.
In the last fortnight, Eraj Fernando, Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero and the BBS broke the law, as blatantly and as publicly as Mervyn Silva ever did. Their criminal conduct was witnessed by innumerable eyes and captured by innumerable cameras. Yet they remain untouched by the law.
Which country would that be?
When asked what action will be taken about last week’s invasion of a state institution by BBS monks, the President said that “he would meet the warring parties separately”[ii]. There are no warring parties. There is just one warring party – the BBS, which is attacking religious-minorities and Buddhist monks. The BBS hordes broke the law publicly and blatantly at least twice in the last fortnight. Are they going to be rewarded with an audience with the Head of State?
When the US equivalent of Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero, fundamentalist pastor Terry Jones, threatened to burn a Koran, he was not invited to the White House. He was arrested[iii]. When Pope Francis included Muslims and women in the Holy Thursday ritual, he sent a powerful message of inclusivity, solidarity and tolerance[iv]. Gestures can be of critical importance, especially in times of crises. When President Rajapaksa invites the BBS monks in his official capacity, when the media shows the President worshipping and conversing with Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero, a very powerful signal is transmitted nationally. Next time any monk is caught attacking a church/mosque, the police will do nothing. After all, the culprit might receive an invitation from the president for a public powwow, ere long.
In Sri Lanka impunity is the exclusive privilege of Rajapaksas, their pawns and favourites. For instance, the army is going to the schools in Mannar collecting details about teachers and students, according to the Deputy Director of Education of Madu. Some students have even being photographed. The CTU claims that the military had acted in a similar manner in Killinochchi[v]. The army can break the law, because it is a key Rajapaksa pawn. Its impunity is sourced not in weapons but in the Rajapaksas.
The impunity enjoyed by the BBS too is a function of Rajapaksa patronage. The day that patronage ends, the police will treat the BBS the same way they treat normal law breakers. So long as the purveyors of religious strife enjoy Rajapaksa patronage, there is no point in having a special police unit to prevent religious disharmony. In the current context, such a religious police is likely to assist the BBS rather than impede it. According to the CEO of the BBS, the BBS asked the President to form a religious police in January 2013: “Though the President was keen about this idea…the move was not implemented due to inefficiency of officials….. The BBS General Secretary urges all Buddhists and Buddhist monks to make use of this opportunity and complain on any harmful activities against Buddhism and Buddha Sasana…”[vi]
While stating that no one is above the law, ad nauseam, the President continues to justify the Hambantota attack: “However these politicians provoked the crowds by saying the Hambantota harbour would be made a swimming pool and making similar uncalled for statements”[vii]. After such presidential remarks, can one blame the police for their inaction? The police would know that like the BBS monks, the Hambantota thugs are protected-species, pawns doing the bidding of their political masters.
The President also blames the media for depicting the Hambantota attackers in an unsympathetic light. “The President pointed out that the recent ‘attacks’ on Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga and MP Duminda Silva at Moratuwa and Borella respectively had been presented in a different way. In both instances, the parliamentarians had received negative media coverage whereas the reporting on the Hambantota District incident was different.”[viii] The Borella and Moratuwa incidents were not planned and implemented by the Opposition; they were desperate responses by desperate people. When law becomes the plaything of the powerful, ordinary people, without power or money, respond with the only weapon they have – the weapon of numbers. Mob-violence at the bottom is the inevitable response to illegality at the top. And there is nothing felicitous about people being forced to take law into their own hands. That road leads not to liberation but to anarchy.
The Proud Father
Last November a soldier was arrested for sexually abusing an eight year old girl.
The girl, the daughter of an ASP, was waiting in an anteroom in the CMC while her father was at a discussion about the Commonwealth Summit. The soldier was the bodyguard of a colonel who was at the same discussion. The girl revealed what was done to her by the ‘Army Uncle’ (“using words according to her knowledge”) only after she went home[ix].
Any reasonable person would know why that child did not scream during the abuse, why she remained mute until she was safe at home. Her silence and inaction were functions of terror and ignorance. But if Lanka enacts the proposed Rape Marriage Law, the soldier might be able to argue that he abused the child with her consent. After all, she did not protest, did she? Or tell her father when he came in? And the President himself thinks that children can ‘consent’ to rape: “If under aged girls are statutorily raped and the sexual act was however with consent, it may be good to have legislation that allows the perpetrator to marry the ‘victim’ with her consent.” [x]
A Lankan must be over 18 to vote, to drive, to smoke and to drink. Such limits are imposed globally because until a certain age is reached, a human being lacks the capacity to make mature and informed choices about important matters. Statutory rape provisions too belong in same category. Their main purpose is to prevent adults from exploiting the ignorance, the trust, the inexperience and the terror of children.
President Rajapaksa thinks otherwise. He says children can ‘consent’ to a sexual act. So when a male adult rapes a female child and claims that he did so with her consent and she is too confused or scared or shocked to prove otherwise, he can escape punishment, by promising to marry her when she is 18.
Currently statutory rape laws apply to children under 16. How old does the President think a female-child has to be, in order to ‘consent’ to a ‘sexual act’? Fourteen? Twelve? Younger?
The above-mentioned incident indicates, again, how vulnerable North-Eastern children must be, under de facto military occupation. It also proves that child abuse/rape is a problem for all Lankan parents and children. But what hope is there when the Presidential father thinks that children can ‘consent’ to rape, and that rapists should be allowed to marry their victims?
[vi] BBS welcomes ‘religious police’ – Sri Lanka Mirror – 26.4.2014