In the aftermath of World War II the German theologian Martin Niemöller gave humanity one of the most memorable war poems titled “Then they came for me”. It was about how good and righteous people kept silent when the Nazis slaughtered people here and there and there was no one left to speak when Hitler’s maniacs came for them. A similar crisis is developing in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the May 13 gruesome gang rape and killing of 18-year-old school girl Vithiya Sivaloganadan by nine maniacs at Pungudutivu in Kayts.
Lawyer and human rights activist Shamila Daluwatte paraphrasing and updating Martin Niemöller’s famous verse, has sounded it as a trumpet call for girls, women young and old and others to join in a mass demonstration on Tuesday May 26 opposite the Kanatte cemetery in Borella to demand that immediate and effective action be taken to deal with gang rape.
In a neighbourhood of South Delhi in 2012, 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern Jyoti Singh Pandey was beaten and gang raped in a private bus in which she was travelling with a male friend. The horror generated widespread national and international coverage and outrage. Subsequently, public protests against the State and Central Governments for failing to provide adequate security for women took place in New Delhi, where thousands of protesters clashed with security forces. The life and death of this rape victim have come to symbolise women’s struggle to end rape and the long-held practice of blaming the victim rather than the perpetrator.
So has the gang rape of Vithiya in Sri Lanka. Sharmila Daluwatta in a powerful message to Sri Lanka’s women says, “First they raped Manamperi and buried her body alive, I did not speak because there was an insurrection; then they came for women in Kahawatte, I did not speak; then, they came for Women in the North, I did not speak because Krishanthi Kumaraswami, Koneshwari, Isaipriya, they were not my sisters; eight men gang raped Victoria Alexandra, I did not speak, because she was just a foreigner; then they gruesomely gang raped Rita John, stabbed her body fifteen times, left her murdered body on the Modera beach, I did not speak because she was an Indian; then they gang raped a woman in Wijerama, I did not speak because she was just a prostitute; then they raped hundreds of virgins, and celebrated with champagne in Akurassa and Monaragala, I did not speak because I was afraid of politicians; finally they raped Vithiya Sivaloganadan, I did not speak because she is Tamil, she lived on a small island in Kayts.
Sharmila Daluwatte’s plea coming from a deep trembling heart follows major protests in Jaffna and Batticaloa. When the case was taken up in the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, hundreds of angry protestors tried to storm into the court demanding that the suspects be handed over to them for street justice. Reports indicate that various political groups provoked the protest for various vested interests. The police spokesman says the policemen on duty had no option but to tear gas the demonstrators while 127 of them were arrested and remanded. Hartals were held yesterday also in Vavniya, Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu and Mannar, while the Criminal Investigations Department took over the probe. The main Tamil party the Tamil National Alliance and Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Vigneshwaran have appealed to the people to remain peaceful and allow the CID to conduct investigations and the law to take its course.
Eelam People’s Democratic Party leader Douglas Devananda and ally of the former regime, alleged that attempts by some politicians to secure the release of some of these suspects had provoked the people to protest.
TNA parliamentarian and senior lawyer M. A. Sumanthiran, underlying the complexity of the crisis said an armed political gang had been in control of Kayts till 2013 and many such gruesome gang rapes had taken place there. The TNA had brought up this issue in Parliament but little or nothing was done. Now with the Northern Provincial Council taking control and the new Government giving freedom to the people, they were able to demonstrate against gruesome crimes.
Whether in the north or the south the west or the east, gang rape is a crime against humanity and destroys the treasure of Mother Lanka. We hope the people and the government of Sri Lanka will act fast and effectively to restore the image of Mother Lanka.