30th November 1997

The law and beeshanaya, dooshanaya and isthree dooshanaya

Susanthika: desperately seeking justice

By Mudliyar

It is up to the govt. to investigate the complaint and give her redress
Sanath Jayasuriya is my favourite cricketer and sportsman. During the first Test between India and Sri Lanka in the current series, commentator Geoff Boycott apparently made it a point not to say anything about Jayasuriya's achievements which would have enhanced his popularity.

Similarly the commentators failed to mention Susanthika. But when they were commenting on the lineage of umpire Steve Bucknor, they said that he hailed from Jamaica, the country which produced the athlete Merlene Ottey.

They probably did not know or had forgotten that our sprint queen, Susanthika Jayasinghe beat Merlene Ottey at the World Athletic Games in Athens. Ottey is black, Susanthika is brown.

Unlike Cricket which is played only in a few commonwealth countries, athletics is a primary sport in almost every country. Susanthika's achievement is therefore equal to or greater than the achievement of our cricketers.

If Susanthika's account is correct, her present predicament is a national tragedy. It deserves not only a debate in Parliament, but also agitation from all organisations, specially women's groups to protect Susanthika from the alleged harassment she has received from an official in the Sports Ministry.

The elite and some middle-class snobs, who esteem Victorian prudery, are cynical about the outpourings that Susanthika had made to the world through the media. It is only a misogynist who would behave in the manner in which some members of the government behaved during the debate in Parliament.

For them, Susanthika is suffering from hallucination, as her mind is deranged. For them, the act of the official in using his position and the status to even molest Susanthika had to be defended. It is unfortunate that we have not yet outlived traditions where women are relegated to the kitchen as chattels and playmates of men. Susanthika Jayasinghe may be the second fastest woman on this planet. But she is firstly a woman, and secondly a woman from Sri Lanka, and thirdly a woman from a remote hamlet in Warakapola. Therefore, for men and officials who lavished gifts and other material possessions on her, the fulfilment of their ulterior motives probably were the reward they expected from her. This is not common to Susanthika, it is common to many women in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is necessary to assail such mentality of men in authority.

There ought to be a movement for the protection of the rights of women and children, and we should launch a campaign against sexual discrimination, racial segregation and sexual harassment. A movement which will sincerely carry out a crusade for the rights of women irrespective of who the abuser is. Further, it is for civilised societies to enact legislation to prevent such abuse and harassment. Sexual harassment laws in the Penal Code were a result of such agitation. Professor Savithri Goonasekera, Chairperson of the technical committee that drafted the amendments to the Penal Code, is a person concerned about the welfare of women and children who are frequently abused.

Some men believe that it is their prerogative to abuse women and children. Women abused by their husbands, in turn abuse the servants. Burning the private parts of young girls is not uncommon in Sri Lanka. These pathetic conditions that are quite prevalent in our country, and the increase of foreign paedophiles in search of young innocent children, prompted the technical committee to draft these laws. In addition to these much publicised and well known abuses, there were other aspects which had been ignored by the legislature. The woman is treated in offices by male employees as an object to vent their sexual predilections and other drawbacks. They derive a great deal of pleasure in expressing obscenities in the presence of female colleagues. The initial embarrassment and the mental trauma a woman undergoes at these frequent outbursts specially if she is from a village can also be imagined. Many believe that this is a part of what women have to undergo to be employed without remaining in the kitchen and looking after the children. If a woman complains of such verbal abuse it would have been a joke but now with the amendments it will amount to a very serious offence where the jail term can extend up to 5 years.

But what Susanthika had to undergo is much worse than the mental harassment a woman undergoes in her place of employment.

1. Susanthika has alleged that the official, or the person in authority, or the executive, has threatened her husband with death, or to get him remanded by introducing a gun.

2. Susanthika has said that the official has made unwelcome advances to her and caused a mental trauma, and therefore she cannot do her training.

3. Susanthika has said officials who are under this official had told her not to bring Dhammika, her husband when training at the Sports Ministry.

4. Susanthika has said the problem she faced was not the want of money or the lack of other material benefits, but sexual advances made by this official.

5. She said that when these threats were made to her they were made in the presence of a police officer and other officials.

6. She also said when she went out of Colombo to get out of these problems, some officials of the Sports Ministry came in search of her with her mother and wanted to take her back to Colombo.

From what one could gather from the interview of Susanthika, she had admitted that she may have done something wrong in the past. If Susanthika yielded to the extraordinary pressures of those who came forward to protect her, look after her, and promote her and then used her village innocence to despoil her, the initial mistake she made does not give a licence to the very same people to continue to harass her, asking for sexual favours, when she refused it. Then all that may have happened in the past comes to a grinding halt. What happened immediately prior to the complaint, as far as Susanthika is concerned, is another chapter.

If these allegations are true, not only has the official, committed an offence under Section 345 of the Penal Code, as amended by Act No: 22 of 1995 by this Government, but he may be found guilty of other offences including the offence of extortion under the Penal Code, or even be guilty of an offence under the Bribery Act.

What is material to file charges under Section 345, is not what happened between Susanthika and the official a few months ago, but what she is complaining of today. Susanthika has refused to yield to the advances made by the official. Then if he continues to make advances, requesting Susanthika to leave her husband and come for training without her husband, then is he not guilty of sexual harassment under the new amendment? If the official, by the use of words of actions, causes sexual annoyance or harassment to Susanthika, then he has committed an offence.

As I said last week, any unwelcome sexual advances by words or actions used by the person in authority in a working place or any other place, shall constitute the offence of sexual harassment. Obviously the official will be the person in authority and the working place will be the Sports Ministry. But the official is also a government servant, and the working place is a government Ministry, then he will be committing an additional offence, even under the old Bribery Act. The Bribery and Corruption Act which was introduced by Justice Minister Dr. G. L. Peiris, has introduced sufficient provisions to charge such a person with bribery, if he is a Government official or an executive under the Act. When Nelum Gamage was the Bribery Commissioner during the regime of President R. Premadasa, she received a complaint from a female worker about a senior security officer, alleging that he had solicited sex from her to give her a promotion. This officer was the chief security officer of an important government authority under President Premadasa. Ms. Gamage had two problems: (1) this was an unusual complaint. The complainant woman said the officer demanded sex instead of money or other gifts. The question that was uppermost in the mind of the Bribery Commissioner was whether such an act would constitute an offence under the Bribery Act; (2) Secondly, she knew the accused was a very powerful officer close to the President. She telephoned the President and told him about the complaint that she had received and wanted to know what action she should take. She was dumbfounded by the reply. The President told her: 'You are the Bribery Commissioner, and you must decide what you should do. If the accused is not co-operating or hindering an impartial investigation, let me know I will give you every assistance you need". This officer was indicted by the Attorney-General and the High Court, of Colombo convicted him.

But this was during the era of Beeshanaya and Dooshanaya. This Government came to office with promises to eradicate not only the Beeshanaya and Dooshanaya, but also 'Isthree Dooshanaya. But with all these promises the government instead of launching an investigation, ganged up to defend the Ministry and call the complainant various names. But when in the opposition the members of the present government lamented, wept and moaned about the alleged rape of a young girl named 'Sandarekha' and said that the Attorney-General was influenced by the UNP to discharge the accused. Every one knows now that this story was absolute balderdash.

One would ask how the government could act when a complaint has not been made. But an oral complaint has been made by Susanthika to the nation. She has said she is prepared to disclose everything to the President. It is the duty of the Minister of Sports or the President to probe into the allegations of a girl who has bitterly complained about the sexual harassment she is being subjected to and is seeking redress. We only know that Sports Minister S. B. Dissanayake who heads the Ministry, has so far not denied these allegations made against someone in the Ministry. Neither has he appointed a committee to go into the merits of the complaint, nor has he reported the matter to any investigating authority in the manner he reported the Bribery scandal involving the Cricket Board to the Bribery and Corruption Commission. It is a well known fact that investigators work with exceptional speed when they have to arrest a supporter of the opposition or release a supporter of the governing party. Forgetting the niceties of the laws of the country, it is up to the Government to show its bona fide by investigating the complaint, and giving Susanthika, the redress and relief she asks. If the Government is genuinely concerned with human rights and the rights of women and children and the new laws they introduced by the recent amendment to the Penal Code, then Susanthika's complaint is one on which immediate action could be taken.

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