ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday June 01, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 53

Some thoughts provoked by Seetha’s story

The report in the Daily Mirror of 14 May 2008 (page A7) about the rape of two teenage girls in Kalmunai and the subsequent abduction of one of them shocked me to the core, as it must have many others. At the same time I felt that this story, with all its cruelty, impunity and cowardice on the one hand and fear, pathos and hopelessness on the other, epitomised the Eastern province in particular and our country in general.

Political optimists will say that on balance the recent events in the Eastern province, inclusive of an election, are a beacon of hope for a war-torn land. Why do I not believe that? Maybe it is my pessimistic nature or my engineering background that makes me look critically at something and focus on failure rather than success; and my unbelief is buttressed by stories such as this. The story raises many issues and reveals the kind of society we live in and which we are shaping for ourselves.

The mother of the alleged rape victims is called “Seetha”. The name is no doubt a fictitious one, but it is a Sinhala name. Were the victims a Sinhala family? The reason I ask is that most Sinhala people feel they will be spared the many terrible things happening around us on account of their belonging to the majority race. If this family were in fact Sinhala, it is a wake-up call to all Sinhalese, a warning that no one is safe. It also demonstrates that your safety in this country depends not on your ethnic background but your alignment to the wielders of power.

Neither the hospital authorities nor the police seemed inclined to get involved in this matter. Did they know who the perpetrators of the crime were, or did they suspect that the criminals had powerful connections? Or did they assume that anyone who had committed such an atrocious crime would have to be parties with powerful connections? The victim girls’ father showed an initial reluctance to go to the police.

Our police have an unenviable task, given the kind of context they have to work in, but they must not forget that they have a duty to protect the victim and apprehend the criminal.

When victims are afraid to go to the police, what does that say about the police, and about our society? And what does it say about those who talk about “the old values” but whose sons have all but stopped joining the police? Even in Colombo, when Tamil people face hardships of various sorts they go not to the police but to a Tamil political entity aligned to the government. Is this how we wish to live, even temporarily?

How about the sheer impunity of the perpetrators who dared to revisit the scene of their crime? Such arrogance and bravado undoubtedly smack of patronage, no doubt political, especially in the context of the election surrounding this heinous crime.

Have our leaders, who pay so much lip service to religion (not only at Vesak time but during all religious festivals, and in fact right through the year), completely re-written all moral precepts, so that right and wrong are merely synonyms for being with them and against them respectively?

Then, of course, there is the issue of rape, which I think the feminist writer Germaine Greer said was a threat that all men held over all women. I will not debate that, but it appears that a militarised society is one where the physical needs of the combatants tend to be satisfied either through prostitution or rape. The combatants are clearly important to whomever they serve, so it is unlikely their such actions will be seriously condemned (their actions may even be condoned). It is not a good time to be a young woman in Sri Lanka.Finally, although our country is on the verge of anarchy, it is clear that there are some who suffer more than others.

I weep for Seetha, but I am uncomfortable that my lot is far more secure than hers. I do not have powerful connections or enjoy any patronage, but I may have some measure of social power. If those of us with such a measure of social power seek to get directly involved with victims such as Seetha’s family, it may result in some protection being afforded to them. That would, of course, be risky.

By Priyan Dias, Dehiwala

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