By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“My opinion is that nobody can make men responsible for the violence against women. Women are responsible for it…” Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa [i]
Aminal al-Filali was fifteen when she was raped.
According to Morocco’s penal-code, a rapist could escape prosecution if he married his victim. Amina did not want to marry her rapist; but the rapist was willing, her parents were willing and the judge was willing.
After several months of abusive marriage, Amina drank rat-poison. She was just sixteen.
Amina’s suicide caused a national uproar against the country’s ‘rape marriage law’. In January 2014, Morocco’s parliament unanimously approved the repealing of that archaic and unjust law[ii].
Sri Lanka, in the second decade of the 21st Century, is planning to enact her own ‘rape marriage law’.
According to Minister of Child Development and Women’s Affairs Tissa Karalliyadda, under the proposed law a rapist will be able to marry his victim, if she consents. If the victim is underage, the rapist can marry her when she is eighteen[iii].
This is the Rajapaksa solution to the growing menace of rape/child-rape – not tougher punishments or speedier justice, but enabling the rapist to escape punishment by marrying his victim.
If enacted, this law will have a particularly deadly effect on child victims, many of whom might be compelled by familial and societal pressure to marry their rapists – assuming the perpetrators are not already married or not too closely related to the victim. In a situation where the victim is financially dependent on her family (and the absolute majority of eighteen-year-olds are financially dependent), any clause about ‘consent’ will be a mere fig leaf for a forced marriage. The rapist will escape punishment, the family will be saved from ‘social stigma’ while the victim will be condemned to a lifetime of abuse (especially since under Lankan law martial rape is not a crime). Instead of living with the memory of the nightmare, she will be forced to live the nightmare, everyday of her life.
According to a study by Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRD), “since 2008 there had been a trend in imposing suspended sentences in cases of rape and child molestation…. even convicts of gang rape of underage females including school children had been given suspended sentences by courts.”[iv] A recent UNICEF study identified inadequacies in existing laws as a major cause of the growing epidemic of child rape/abuse: “The procedures for investigation and prosecution of child abuse, witness protection and support for the victim are grossly inadequate…. The entire system needs to be assessed and rebuilt, through all the stages, with efficiency as a key priority…”[v] Not only is the law inadequate; it moves at glacial pace. During a recent parliamentary debate, UNP parliamentarian Ajith P Perera pointed out that a rape case usually takes around seven to ten years[vi].
A law to protect children is reportedly in the making but, according to unnamed official sources, “provisions for witness protection and special procedures to deal with child rape cases were not among the new recommendations”[vii]. Add the ‘rape marriage provision’ and the law will become a veritable green light to would be rapists.
In June 2012, the Minister Karaliyadde expressed a far more sane, sensible and realistic opinion on the problem of rape. “I noticed the kind of minor sentence the perpetrators are getting…. We need tougher laws…..[viii]” His current advocacy of a bad law is consonant with the Rajapaksa regime’s attitude towards rape (including child rape) which is characterised by ignorance, denial, distortion and trivialisation. Rajapaksa kinsman, Ambassador Jaliya Wickremesuriya, smilingly informed The Washington Times that rape is not a problem in Sri Lanka: “Rapes, this and that, is not taking place…. We have very disciplined people in Sri Lanka…. Like any other country we have couple of cases… I don’t say its zero…”[ix] His uncle, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, said that men cannot be blamed for rape and that the fault lies with women. “The way men view women should be changed. Only women can bring about that change”[x] he opined at an event to mark the International Women’s Day no less.
Research indicates otherwise. According to a recent UN Study, 14.5% of Lankan men admitted raping a woman who was not their partner; just under half said they have perpetrated rape more than once. And nearly three quarters of these self-declared rapists identified a sense of ‘sexual entitlement’ as their main motivation; entertainment came second and punishment third[xi].
But Rajapaksas are never hobbled by facts, not when they have a myth to propagate. And blaming the victims is a favourite Rajapaksa tactic. Tamils are exclusively responsible for all their ills; Muslims and Christians are responsible for the attacks on their communities/mosques/churches. The people of Weliweriya got shot through their own fault. Basically in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka bad things happen only when people are unruly and disobedient. Tamils oppose discrimination, Muslims and Christians insist on following their creeds and the people of Weliweriya do not want to drink poisoned water. They all asked for it, as do women and children who are raped, including the 75 year old woman and the barely five months old baby who joined the ever-growing list of victims last year.
And the UNP Parliamentarians were attacked because, instead of enjoying Avurudu bliss in some salubrious location, they poked their collective noses into Rajapaksa business. They were uppity and opinionated; they had it coming.
Historian AGE Blake points out that “every civilisation has at its core a pool of creativity aligned with a set of values”[xii].
The Rajapaksas are creating their own dominant value system. Patriotism – as defined and interpreted by the Rajapaksas – is now the greatest virtue. Any concession to or accommodation with minority communities is deemed unnecessary if not dangerous. Fundamental rights, democratic freedoms and progressive values are rejected as Western imports, inimical to national sovereignty and inconsonant with cultural values.
Casinos – that is quite another matter.
The German couplet, ‘If you do not want to be my brother, I will hammer your skull’[xiii] is how the Rajapaksas relate to the nation and the world. They are blasé towards ordinary crime and disposed to welcome the criminally-inclined because crime and criminals are indispensable in controlling dissent and punishing opponents. The pistol-packing Hambantoa Mayor described himself as a ‘toy soldier’. He is right. Murderers, rapists and thugs, they all have a bright future in Rajapaksa-Sri Lanka, as ministers, chairmen and mayors – puppets/toys, weapons and shields.
Under Rajapaksa rule, Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly antediluvian on a host of critically important areas, from democracy to devolution, from economics to socio-cultural issues. The naked attack on UNP parliamentarians and the proposed ‘rape marriage law’ which penalises victims and rewards perpetrators are symbolic and symbiotic of this national retrogression.
Lankan society in general and the Opposition in particular have a choice to make: resistance or subjugation. Unite to defeat the obscene ‘rape marriage law’; form a broader delegation consisting of representatives of all opposition parties, civil society and local and foreign media, and make another fact-finding visit to Hambantoa.
Or let the Rajapaksa tsunami devalue and destroy everything that is good and decent about this country.
[iv] Lenient sentences in child abuse cases– HR Groups concerned – Susitha R Fernando – The Island – 24.6.2011
[vii] The Island – 11.4..2014
[ix] Are our diplomats and PR firms doing enough in the international arena – Namini Wijedasa http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/7238
[xii] A New Time – The Dramatic University, the UniS Journal – November 1993
[xiii] ‘Und willst du nicht mein Bruder sein, So schlag’ ich Dir den Schädel ein’