By Kusal Perera –
Count seven days more and the more than two months old diatribe on the independence of the judiciary should come to a close with the exit of Shirani Bandaranayake as CJ, not because she is proved wrong or proved at fault, but, because the Rajapaksa regime decides she has to go. Who the next public “servant” to sit on that chair would definitely be as fancied by the Rajapaksas and not on merit. Beneath all that evolving chaos about an independent judiciary, there was this human tragedy, less talked about and never taken as an issue.
“WAR: Women Against Rape” read the caption to the front page photo in the ST of today (06 January, 2013).
The photo was not one from Delhi, though. It was from a protest event organised in Colombo by the UNP’s ladies, called “Lak Vanitha”. They had wanted to register their solidarity with Indian women, protesting against the recent gang rape in New Delhi.
India is still groping about, trying to understand why such humanly unimaginable, gruesome acts of violence and rape are committed against their own women. They burst into mainstream debate after a 23 year old para medic was gang raped, beaten to pulp and thrown out of a private bus in New Delhi, on 16 December, 2012 to succumb to her injuries 12 days later at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore. All expenses taken care of by the Indian government that had to. The swelling tide of protests across India had to be heeded by the government, with accusations the police were far too callous in their handling of investigations.
While the Delhi gang rape was garnering protests, another teenager gang raped in Patiala, Punjab committed suicide on 26 December. The news hit the media to stir more anger across India. Pressured by a police sub inspector and the suspects who forced her to either withdraw the complaint or marry one of the suspects, the teenage girl had left a note in desperation, before consuming poison. The Indian middle class was not going to digest such vulgar humiliation in comfort and leisure. Their fuming anger was on the streets.
They now demand stronger laws, better and efficient policing and discuss whether capital punishment could be the right punishment for the guilty. A young student protester at the “Delhi Gate” was quoted in Indian media as saying, “These murderers should not be sent to gallows….they must be tortured to death. They should know her pain before dying”. There were also those who wanted the guilty publicly humiliated and insulted for a few months, labelled as rapists. Capital punishment they say, have not been an answer all these decades.
Three weeks into protests and still going in India, Kathmandu had also woken up. Women in large numbers stormed the Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s residence on 01 January, in what was tweeted as “Occupy Baluwatar”, the high end of Kathmandu’s residential area. Women were demanding justice to a 21 year old woman returning from Saudi Arabia who was reported as gang raped, robbed by some Immigration officials at the Tribhuvan airport and threatened with death too, by a police officer.
So is it in Dakha, Bangladesh. Women came on the streets against gang rapes and sexual molestation said an activist, Sultana Kamal of Ain o’Salish Kendra (ASK) quoted in “The Guardian” UK. Protests in Delhi have inspired women across the South Asian sub continent, said a report filed in “The Guardian” UK on 04 January, 2013. It opened its story with the line, “Demonstrators in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh join protest movement against sexual violence.” Yet there was nothing about Pakistan and nothing about Sri Lanka too in that news report.
Why aren’t those ladies from “Lak Vanitha” who gathered in Colombo for their protest event, acknowledged in The Guardian report ? Their “Colombo event” differed very much from all other protests and protesters in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Their Colombo event was not about their own mothers, sisters and daughters. Remote Kahawatte in the Pelmadulla electorate though not that far as New Delhi, was out of their map. Fifteen women, young and old, murdered in cold blood in 05 adjoining villages around Kahawatte over a period since 2011 February and according to some reports raped too, wasn’t good enough to stir their conscience. They had not been woken up by any of the sensational reports about Akuressa PS Chairman being taken into custody over an alleged rape of a 14 year old girl and released on bail. Not after its Deputy Chairman who is also now out on bail, was accused of sexual molestation of a young girl. From Tangalle a report in June 2012 that had also gone without notice by them said, a 13 year old girl had been continuously raped by about 19 influential businessmen and politicians for over 10 days, moved from place to place, before she was finally handed over to the police by another, who had also raped her. The latest here in the South was again from near Kahawatte, where an under aged girl in Balangoda was reported to have been gang raped.
These were all in the Sinhala South and almost all cases were committed by Buddhists too. A fact, this Sinhala society would not want to accept in public. Therefore this society would not want to know details of and how many Tamil girls and women have been allegedly raped in the North-East though there are open accusations of organised rape, especially in Jaffna and the Vanni area. In Mandatheevu, villagers protested against a 04 year old girl who went missing on 26 December last when on 03 January was found killed after being raped. Jaffna DIG Eric Perera had told the media just last week that 06 complaints on rape against young girls were recorded in Jaffna during the week. The accusations on rape, sexual abuse and harassment are so loud, regular and continuous, there has to be serious campaigning for independent investigation of these allegations.
Last year, on 05 July, the police media spokesman SP Ajith Rohana told the media, during the first 06 months of that year (2012) the police had received over 900 complaints of rape and abuse of women and children. Ajith Rohana said there is much concern over increased number of rape and sexual abuse against children with 1,160 out of over 1,700 complaints received in 2011 being complaints on rape and sexual abuse against children.
Why is it, here in Sinhala society, there is no such protests as there is across the Palk Straits and beyond ? We perhaps don’t have “social activists” and “opinion makers” as in neighbouring countries. We have instead “tragedy marketeers” not much different to any “Brand Manager” in the corporate sector. Those who would only create events out of tragedies for cameras and voice recorders. There are random, sincere statements made too, for a sanitised middle class to wake up. Excuses too thrown out that say, we have been hardened and gone immune with decades of violence and a brutal war. Reasons accepted or not, we have certainly not taken any issue seriously, as they should be taken. Not even mega corruption that in real terms would be plunder and looting, that in India threw a massive middle class protest movement challenging the government and proposed amendments to the “Lokphal Bill” on corruption.
What’s wrong here ? It can not be that we have been “hardened” and gone “immune” in a few decades of violence and war. It can not be that we have been living in a “denial mode” without good reason, for a society would not go on a denial mode for long, that way. If we are that hardened against and immune to 1,160 cases of sexual abuse and rape of children, if we are in a denial mode not wanting to react to brutality and crime against women and children, how did “Lak Vanitha” get activated in 24 hours, over a single gang rape in far off India ? What debars them from speaking against our own victims of rape and murder, not just one, but every where ?
Over 2,500 years of Buddhist dominance that is claimed to have fashioned a tolerant, peaceful culture based on “compassion”, “universal kindness” and “selfless joy”, can not in the first place be immune and hardened to rape of children and women continuously and with brutality. A society rooted in Buddhist culture can not go into a denial mode and watch criminals and rapist prey on mothers, sisters and daughters with hardly any one protesting. IF tolerance, peace, compassion and everything good said about Buddhist culture is rooted in our society, it can not produce rapists and murderers from its own social belly of compassion, universal kindness and selfless joy. What then is this callous disregard for all crimes and brutality around us ? Disregard for all rape and murder of women, young girls, children and even toddlers ?
Most say, the 30 year neo liberal economy, its fast track consumerism leading to selfish competition has destroyed the values of our long held social culture. But that can not be more in rural society than in cities. Competitive, tireless days which turn out stressed out isolated humans in a neo liberal economy are more in urban middle class society than in rural peasant life. SSP Ajith Rohana as police spokesperson, talking of increased cases of child abuse and rape, said access to internet and electronic media, both facets of neo liberalism, is a major reason. Internet often becomes the poor flogged horse for crime. But rape and murder of women in Kahawatte, those in Tangalle and Akuressa, in Mandatheevu, those 1,160 child victims quoted by SP Rohana, can not be all trial runs by “tech savvy” youth trying to play macho kids like in cyber world. And they are not in the majority, reported from urban society too.
In India, though the demand is for stronger and stricter law with harsher punishment, their problem lies far deeper in their extremely feudal, macho culture that law alone would not prevent. A culture that for centuries turned out men as far superior to women. A culture that demanded the widow to kill herself in the pyre of a deceased husband. A culture that demeaned and disgraced women and denied women the right to a married life without a “dowry”. Its in such cultural context the “male mindset” is nurtured and created within Indian families. It is just “natural” therefore to treat women the way Neera Chopra said she was treated, after her second daughter Pooja was crowned Miss India 2009. The Indian policeman therefore would not have a different perception of a woman, than any other man who would not want to treat a woman, as equal in larger India.
Not so here in Sri Lanka. Our culture does not have such marked macho reflections as deep as in Indian life. But, there is a fundamental error within our long held culture too, and has to be accepted as horribly negative and passive. There is definitely a savage contradiction in adopting to a modern world that demands decency and discipline to be understood differently and a social responsibility in accommodating every one’s right to safe life. That therefore needs serious and open dialogue, for here in Sri Lanka too, the answer is not as easy as getting back to capital punishment, as Minister Tissa Karaliyedda and many others would want to propose.