Yesterday, 21 Dec. 2017, the Election Commission finished the second phase of accepting nominations for Local Government Authorities. It has been a great stride forward for women. Women now have 25% of places in local government reserved for them. Parliament (of which I have been critical), must be strongly congratulated for uplifting this badly put down 53% of our population.
However, it does not mean women are fine now. We do not understand yet that the system is rigged against women, and that the choice often comes down to equality versus the family. An educated person once held forth that at the District Secretary’s, some 65% of employees are women and they do not work. The female boss takes no files home, he continued, but the previous male-boss took files home, planned the work for his staff from home, and, coming to office the next day, kept them busy. The audience of educated men at the Jaffna seminar nodded in agreement. To understand their mindset, consider my wife and me. We are both professors. When I wake up at 4:00 am sometimes to work, she feels she has to wake up, make me my coffee and then get back to bed. Mea culpa. However, in excuse, I say I never ask her to do it, and she thinks that it is her duty. It is a choice she and many other women make that is detrimental to their careers. In reality, she works part time as professor while I work whenever I need to. I get ahead faster than she.
Many men conveniently feel that equality is an abusive western intrusion in our lives. Yesterday, at Karainager I believe, two women were going to register as party nominees. A man, who had not received nomination, snatched their identity cards form them and ran away. No one interfered. Fortunately, the women had time to run home and get photocopies of their ID cards, and register through provisions for an alternative ID.
A far more egregious example is from Puthukudiyiruppu. According to a written complaint I received, and what reporters from whom I enquired told me, a man had kidnapped and taken away in a trishaw a female intending ITAK candidate on the 20th when she went to sign her nomination papers, and had thereby prevented her nomination. According to an ITAK MP, it was done at the instance of another ITAK MP. Upon being released that evening with a swollen face, the victim filed a complaint with the police. About 20 men surrounded the woman, and threatened her to withdraw the complaint. She fell sick with chest pains, and was first admitted to the Puthukudiyiruppu hospital and then transferred to the Mancholai hospital. Women groups say that many women nominees are refusing to come out to campaign.
Today, a Tamil newspaper reported that the kidnapper was arrested.
However, when I took the complaint to the Election Commission’s complaint unit, the police made inquiries and reported that the woman has withdrawn her complaint and it was just a personal quarrel. There was nothing about the arrest. This is what I call play-safe do nothing administration. Even if she withdraws her complaint, the police need proactively to proceed with investigations, realizing that she did not make her complaint for no reason. We should not look for excuses to say the “Matter is closed.” The police mindset is further exemplified by an incident in Nintavur yesterday. Two Muslim parties were holding street processions on nominations day, a punishable criminal offence. Despite many complaints, the police stood in the middle between the parties without issuing the required B-reports which are done for criminal offences, and claimed to be doing their duty keeping the peace.
How bad things are for the women among us is also exemplified by a still developing incident at a church parish. The youth had ganged up and elected themselves as Wardens. The one with the highest vote was thereafter caught photographing his next door 16-year old girl OL girl while she was bathing at her well by the fence. The matter went to the police who simply told the boy to apologize and not to go by the girl’s road (running by the side of his house at the corner of his road and the girl’s road). When the boy was asked to resign as Warden, his family started a campaign that the girl was bad-charactered while she looked like any shy OL girl. The priest said the girl and her sister are liars, not to be believed. A female warden who pressed the matter saying an inquiry is necessary, was told that she is the one creating the story while the priest claimed there is no evidence (although no inquiry had been held). A senior member of the church said it is not such a serious matter, but he changed his mind when it was pointed out that the law requires an inquiry, and that girls have committed suicide over their compromised photos being circulated on the Internet. The errant warden finally was asked by higher authorities to step down, pointing out that church rules require an inquiry and reporting such matters to them.
Even training sessions to empower women through these elections are failing in teaching them to campaign in sari and jasmine in their hair, upholding Tamil culture as its embodiment. Pushing this line, posters have appeared in Jaffna. Thinakkural of 18 Dec., 2017 is reports a statement by “The Great Council of the Hindu Religion” which states among other things, that “Showing the world that Tamil still lives in Jaffna, can be only done by Saivite Tamil culture […] and therefore at a time when political parties and the TNA are trying to put forward a Hindu nominee in the minds of voters [as Mayor of Jaffna], people of other religions must fully support this move.
In addition, notices have appeared all over Jaffna from the Siva Senai which is headed by Maravanpulavu Sachithananthan of the Federal Party Central Committee, with TNA Batticaloa District Parliamentarian Seeniththamby Yoheswaran as Co-coordinator. The notice, reproduced here, is headlined ‘May Tamil Nationhood be Saved” and states:
“All Saivite Voters. At all Local Government and Provincial Council Elections and at Parliamentary Elections, vote for those who would safeguard Saivism and Tamil. Siva Senai.
I have complained to the Election Commission that according to §82C(2) of the Local Government Elections Act which came into force in 2012, hate speech is punishable as a criminal offence “from the first day of the nomination period […] and ending on the day following the date of the poll.”
We have a long, long way to go to recognize the needs of minorities. We must encourage women and stop nit-picking when we men often have the same faults we blame women for A society that claims that we place women on a pedestal, cannot afford to be seen putting them down as we do.