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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sri Lanka: The rape and murder of Vidya—an indictment of a criminal state

From A Word to Win News Service;

 Vidhya Sivaloganathan, an 18 year-old Tamil from Jaffna, Sri Lanka, left her home for school at 7 am, never to return. By late afternoon, her concerned family dispatched her brother to inquire at the school and among her friends, only to learn she never made it to school that day. The family's pleas for help to the police, who made derogatory remarks about Vidya, were left unheeded until late in the evening.

At 6 am the next morning, Vidya's brother searched her usual paths to and from school. Finding one of her slippers, he pursued a trail into the jungle. There he found his sister's dead body, her legs tied to two different trees, her arms tied above her head, her mouth stuffed with cloth. Hearing his sorrowful wails, villagers quickly rushed to the scene. 

After this murder last May, righteous outrage spread quickly throughout the Jaffna peninsula, sparking demonstrations of very young girls, university students and people from many walks of life. Jaffna is in the north of Sri Lanka, part of an area considered by Tamil minority people as their rightful homeland, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought against the Sinhalese chauvinist regime for a separate state over 25 years until brutally defeated in 2009 by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.

People demanded that the perpetrators be punished and justice be done, as opposed to the usual government response of allowing rapists to go free or taking years to even go to trial. Shops were closed and black flags were flown in the area. At one of the largest demonstrations, the police fired guns in the air and shot tear gas at people, who in turn threw stones at the Magistrate Court building and burned cars. One hundred thirty people were arrested and are still in jail. Angry villagers burned down the houses of three of the nine suspects, and rickshaw drivers attacked five of the suspects near a hospital where they were taken for medical examination prior to their arrest. The passionate feelings of the people in Sri Lanka over this unspeakable crime have been compared to the 2012 mass outpouring in India after the rape and murder of a Delhi student travelling home at night with her companion. 

Reports of rape have increased by 20 percent in the last two years in Sri Lanka despite the fact that victims are routinely blamed, ignored and humiliated by the police and courts. A 2013 UN survey found that 97 per cent of rapists in Sri Lanka face no legal penalties. Some of the rapists are people in high places protected by the government, as recently admitted by former president Rajapaksa.

Many men and even some women believe that women are more responsible for rape than men: for the way they dress, for arguing with their husbands or even just being out at 9 o'clock at night. One women's group, "Street Harassment Hurts", runs a Facebook page created to challenge and debate thinking about sexism, rape and harassment, a much needed conversation, they say, for Sri Lankan society. The typical approach in Sri Lanka as well as many other countries is to hide sexual abuse. "Brushing under the carpet has been Sri Lanka's strategy up until now," says Rehana Thowfeek, its spokesperson. "You go home and tell your mum this has happened, and she says, 'But it happens to everyone.'"

The following article by Surendra Ajit Rupasinghe, slightly edited and reprinted with the author's permission, first appeared in the Colombo Telegraph. 

The recent gang rape and murder of an 18-year-old Tamil school girl, Vidya Sivaloganathan in Pungudutivu, raised righteous protests and condemnation from all decent people throughout the land. There is already a high rate of rape and child abuse in the country. It is a damning indictment of a rotting, morally defunct neo-colonial state and social order. Women and children from all communities and nationalities are subject to this heinous crime of violent sexual abuse on a routine basis. Gang rape and murder have occurred before. So, what was of particular outrageous provocation that assaulted the conscience of society over the gang rape and murder of Vidya? There are several reasons and those who protested and raged may have their own subjective compulsions and motivations. It must be said that the effort of the degenerate Mahinda [Rajapaksa] camp and some limp and lame journalists to defame the protestors by focusing on the possibility of
"anti-national" forces being involved in a "separatist conspiracy" is as repugnant, reviling and revolting as the crime against Vidya itself.

Perhaps, many felt that "Enough is enough." In truth, once is enough! At a deeper level, the violation of Vidya was felt to be a collective violation of humanity. For some, this violation was a concentrated expression of accumulated criminal violations against nature and humanity. For some, this violation, as with all such violations of women, was a symbol of irrevocable moral degeneration and a standing indictment of the prevailing social order. For the more politically conscious forces, this violation served to rip apart the veil of deception carried out under the banner of Yahapalanaya [Yahapalanaya refers to Maithripala Sirisena who became president in January 2015, replacing the Rajapaksa regime]. The understanding would have dawned that no amount of cosmetic gyrations and circus gymnastics at the top of the pyramid of power could arrest the generalized depths of degradation and abuse that has spread throughout the body politic and that only a deep,
structural revolutionary transformation of the state and the economic, political and social order it preserves, would eradicate the cancerous roots of this organic crisis and rapid decomposition. The raging public anger and bitterness were directed at the police and the courts, the supposed guardians of the state and the rule of law.

The indictment and due and expeditious punishment of the perpetrators of this grotesque crime is certainly called for. The sheer brutality and barbarity of the war generated a generalized culture of brutality and barbarity throughout society. This savage culture was fervently fostered by the putrid, crony-narco-mafia Rajapaksa regime, and countered by the LTTE with parallel quality and intensity. State terror, assassination, inhuman torture, rank corruption and rape were hallmarks of the chauvinist, supremacist, neo-fascist Rajapaksa regime. An official culture of impunity defiled all that is sacred and human, and justified all that is criminal, venal and profane. A case filed against a rapist was withdrawn by a lackey Attorney General under the direction of Mahinda Rajapaksa, even when there was growing evidence of guilt, being that the accused was a minister and a close and loyal associate and criminal accomplice of the Rajapaksa troika. Similarly, a
case against a minister accused of murder was withdrawn. Every effort was made to protect the rapist-murderer, a Pradeshiya Sabha chairman and close underworld associate of the Rajapaksa family.

The military occupation of the North has had the inevitable effect of criminalizing and brutalizing the entire social order. The narcotics trade thrives and is a most lucrative sub-economy, functioning in mute complicity with corrupt officials of the armed forces and the police. War lords, drug barons and youth gangs feed on helpless victims, without fear of reprisal. This militarization, criminalization and brutalization is being carried on, and even intensified, under the Yahapalanaya regime. Repeated calls for demilitarization and normalization are routinely ignored, and defied, by the Regime. A visit by president Maithripala Sirisena to the grieving family of Vidya and the transfer of police officers will not slice the cake. This is good for photo opportunities and craven journalism. The rape and murder of sister Vidya alerts us to the reality that the prevailing neo-colonial order and its rotting state and murdering ruling class are to be
structurally held accountable for this crime and for all the accumulated crimes committed against nature and humanity.

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