Patriarchy at its Best
The assault on 20 Dec. on Manjula Pathmanathan, intending ITAK Puthukudiyiruppu candidate, shows men feeling threatened by the women’s quota. Fissures have emerged in the ITAK that has, by and large, held up high standards in election campaigning with hardly a complaint against it. To ITAK’s credit, complaints on the incident have been initiated by two of its own MPs and supporters.
Likewise, on 4 Jan. at Selvaa Nagar, a woman candidate of Karuna Amman’s Tamil People’s Liberation Tigers had her house broken up, reports Batticaloa News.
The TNA was made up of four parties, but now three after Mr. Suresh Premachandran took his EPRLF out. It was decided that the ITAK would be assigned 60% of the seats and PLOTE and TELO, the two remaining TNA partners, 20% each. The controversy arose over Visvamadu and Bharathipuram being assigned to PLOTE whereas Brathipuram was ITAK domain.
Manjula Pathmanathan is a woman and, worse, of hill-country origin. She moved North during the 1977 disturbances. Manjula herself says she is not of the hill-country but her Tamil suggests otherwise. This is significant in that it is rare for an upcountry woman to get nominated in the North. This is a major improvement for the ITAK. She was nominated by PLOTE to stand in Bharathipuram. ITAK’s Dr. S. Sivamohan, MP, allegedly opposed her nomination while PLOTE leader Siddharthan insisted on Manjula.
The TNA’s other Mullaitivu District MP Shanthi Sriskantharasa, despite being a long-standing ITAK person, backed Manjula on grounds of gender and service. A former Director in the Ministry of Policy Planning from Mallavi, Shanthi had been identified by ITAK as leadership material for her resilient social work even after her leg was blown off in Matalan in 2008 where she was witness to the horrendous murders and the rows of corpses in hospital. She recalls using her only bed-sheet to cover a body attracting hundreds of flies.
Indicating the status of women among Tamils, instead of asking Shanthi to stand as MP, ITAK asked Mr. Sriskantharasa whether she may. A liberally educated, 1982 Peradeniya B.Com. graduate who had been quite active in Tamil music and debating societies there, he readily agreed. As MP, Shanthi was able to increase her work for those in need. Being who she is, Shanthi stood firmly by Manjula’s nomination.
Manjula Pathmanathan’s Description
Manjula and three daughter live with her mother. Pathmanathan is in the Middle East. They worship at “the sabai” (free church) to which 70% of Bharathipuram belongs. On 20 Dec. she went by trishaw to meet Sivamohan at his father’s house to discuss signing her nomination papers. Her way was blocked by her neighbour Jeyatheepan (also a Christian) assisted by three of his friends. Jeyatheepan lives across her house and, she says, is unemployed and financially supported by Sivamohan. As Sivamohan’s car came out with him and his two police guards, Jeyatheepan slapped Manjula and pushed her. Her face hit the iron bar of the trishaw at her eye causing swelling. Sivamohan and his guards simply watched.
Jeyatheepan and friends took Manula to Jeyatheepan’s home, gagged her mouth, taped it, blind-folded her, tied her hands behind her and to the window, and held her there from noon to 5:00 pm. As it gets dark early, she went to the police the next morning and made an entry. Jeyatheepan was arrested. That evening some 20 of Jeyatheepan’s friends surrounded her house, demanded that she withdraw her plaint and promised to ensure her daughters’ safety. When the threat of setting them alight with tyres was mentioned, she fainted so they took her to the Puthukudiyiruppu hospital, getting her to sign a letter withdrawing her complaint. From there she was transferred to Mancholai Hospital. That night, her daughters and mother were alone. Her relatives kept away out of fear. On Majula’s letter, the police released Jeyatheepan.
In the meantime complaints came from MPs, and Saroja Sivachandran (Centre for Women and Development) passing on what her members told her. The police responded that the complaint was withdrawn, even though Manjula had made subsequent statements to the police that that withdrawal was under threat. She had told this to the Commission team from Mulaitivu too.
I visited Bharathipuram and Mallavi on 13.01.2018 to show some solidarity and to sense whether the police aimed at closing the matter to escape responsibility.
Jeyatheepan seemed a pleasant chap. He agreed that Manjula had carried and fed him when he was an infant. He accused Manjula of having been an LTTE agent who pointed out recruits to help her own husband avoid conscription. He denied her story; claiming that she could have escaped because his house, as he showed me, has no lock on the door and that she could have shouted for help. Both had already been satisfactorily answered by Manula – she was tied up and gagged. Ahilan who was rejected for the PR list by Sivamohan played a recording where Jeyatheepan practically agrees that all this happened.
Dr. Sivamohan, once a JMO, denies Manjula’s story. Why were there were no abrasions on her wrist if she was tied up? How did the police release Manjula without verifying her letter’s authenticity? He says Manjula told him she was not interested in being a candidate and disrupted his finalizing ITAK nomination papers; that this is why ITAK supporters chased her way. He can bring these 20+ men as witnesses. He says MP Sriskantharasa encouraged this drama. In a key give-away he says Manjula might have hit her head but no injury resulted because the hospital discharged her.
Although Sivamohan had denied guilt, I listened to secretly taped conversations where he asks Manjula to declare that he had nothing to do with the incident. Worse, when she asked him why his policemen did not help her when she was attacked, he replies that their job is to protect only him – thereby admitting to the attack in his presence. With me too, he insisted that they are not there to protect others.
I am convinced of Manjula’s overall veracity, and that the police just want to close the file. Shanthi Sriskantharajah testifies that women candidates are now afraid to campaign, and when they do, their husbands, afraid for their safety, refuse to let them go out. This needs urgent addressing. “Justice!” she demands. ITAK leaders Mavai Senathirajah and R. Sampanthan have promised disciplinary action, but a month after the incident nothing has happened.
Muslim Reaction to Women Candidates
Attacks on Muslim women candidates, are even more virulent but bear similarities The SLMC, and NFGG have put forward many Muslim women. Their rival Muslim party, however, has avoided putting up Muslim women on the main ward list. In Puttalam particularly, their candidates are Tamil or Sinhalese!
Shreen Abdul Saroor, a founder of Women’s Action Network, working with the Election Commission and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, has been training women to be the best candidates they can be. The Commission received Shreen’s complaint that on 17.01.2018 around 8:15 pm police raided the house in Puttalam’s “Karaba Safamarwa B” of SLMC woman candidate, Cader Ibrahim Rinoosa.
Based on a 119 phone call that Rinoosa had weapons, four policemen stormed into her house in violation of the sound practice of always having a policewoman and ransacked it. I visited Rinoosha at her home on the 18th working through Bishiya Bhutto (the SLMC’s Woman Congress District Coordinator). When questioned why, they threatened to lock them up. After initially refusing to record a complaint, it was only close to midnight that the Puttalam Police took it down after it was mentioned that they were in touch with the Election Commission. The Chairman of the Puttalam Urban Council, Abdul Baiz, was very worried that attacks are being escalated.
Moulavi Niyas Siddeeq Siraj of Thihari is originally from Ottamavaddi Batticaloa. He belongs to Sri Lanka Thowheeth Jamath. In his video message, he openly flouts election laws relating to women:
“Today Muslim women in covered heads are contesting and showing their faces in posters to other men. Islam has no room for women to enter politics. These women are shaming the community and their husbands. They are sinners and an insult to Islam. Having their poster up on walls and Whatsapp – It is disgusting! Husbands, what are you doing? The whole world is looking at their posters. Chee! You have no shame? In Islam it is said any society that is administered by women will never do well.”
This video has gone viral in social media to the extent that many Muslim women candidates fear getting out to campaign. Some due to family and social pressure have stopped their social media campaign and removed their posters from Facebook etc.
The same Moulavi had attacked on video, Muslim women’s rights activists and victims when they went to Parliament for a hearing before the Constitutional Reform Sub-committee on Fundamental Rights on reforming the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. That itself, if the police had been alert, would have landed him in jail. This man is airing his hate-speeches from a media house called TMC.
Puttalam complaints said messages were blared on loudspeakers from the Nahavilu Mosque against women contesting. Our investigators could not find any evidence. Now a video has emerged from Puttalam made by Moulavi Abbas Murshidh, publicly spewing venom on women contesting.
Our laws are quite clear. Will they be enforced? Will culprits be punished? Will women get justice?
Our laxity has led to the Tamil Congress’ chief Jaffna candidate, V. Manivannan (who was involved in the political meeting at the Maviddapuram Temple that I exposed last week), making a threatening speech in Jaffna saying
“We wish to tell [Ratnajeevan Hoole] one thing at this time. Until 10 Feb. 2018 you do your attacks. On 11 Jan. attacks on you will begin. You be ready to face them. We are saying this pleasingly with responsibility. If you pull us into dirty work, we too will not let you be.”
Then Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s media unit published this speech. It means they are so sure of impunity – the scourge of Sri Lanka.