Draw necessary lessons from Vidya,s tragedy says activists


by Randima Attygalle

"Young Vidya had a right to go to her school in Pungudutivu all by herself safely as much as women who were killed in Kahawatta area had the right to remain alone in their houses safely which in reality was not the case," observed Priyadarshini Ariyarathne, Co-convenor, Citizens for a Secure Sri Lanka (CSSL), encouraging the parents and schools to give the girl child life skills to prevent them from falling a prey to sexual predators.

She was addressing the media at Girl Guides Association urging for a collective public voice condemning the brutal gang rape and murder of 18-year-old Sivaloganathan Vidya a few weeks ago and for expeditious delivery of justice. At the time of her murder, Vidya was an Advanced Level student of Pungudutivu MahaVidyalayam.

Bridging the gap between law and society

Ariyarathne was critical of a patriarchal society where girls are often raised as "sickly and feeble" bodies without empowering them to fight back for their safety. Co-convenor, CSSL was also critical of a social fabric in which very often other than the perpetrator, all others are found fault within case of rape.

"In some quarters there may be those who are pointing the finger at the victim’s mother for sending the girl all alone to school without realizing the fact that every female has a right to be free of sexual harassment either when she is alone on the street or in a crowd." The activist all pointed out the necessity to bridge the gap between the Law and society.

"What befell Vidya in the North befalls many young women in the South inside hotels and guest houses, where they are abused by powerful men in society including certain politicians and many of these incidents don’t meet the public eye," said Ariyarathne who urged all religious institutions and leaders to come forward to condemn such heinous crimes.

She further said that rather than confining to a ‘legal lens’ through which anti-social acts are viewed, a social angle where spirituality is encouraged among the public should be encouraged.

Strengthening the Police

On the day of Vidya’s disappearance - May 13, her family had first lodged a complaint at the Kurikattavan police station around 6 pm. It is learnt that police officers there had made disparaging remarks implying that the missing girl may have run off with her lover.

The family made a second complaint with the Kayts Police on the same day around 11 pm. As Visakha Dharmadasa, representing Association of War Affected Women pointed out, a study done by their organization in 2011 had revealed that the Women and Children’s Desk of the Kayts Police could be accessed by its so called beneficiaries only on the discretion of the police authorities there.

"In this light, there is a serious doubt if the police concerned acted fast enough in Vidya’s case," observed Dharmadasa who pointed the finger at the responsible authorities for not providing adequate facilities for Women and Children’s Police Desks around the country. "There isn’t even an ‘ A4 sheet’ put up indicating the Desk."

Breaking the cultural silence

CSSL which came into being a few years ago in response to the high wave of rape and child abuse which was rampant in the country, has partnered with many other civil organizations lobbying for women’s and child rights and the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association is one such forum.

"Young Vidya’s tragic fate could have befallen any girl in this country and this is not a case of whether the victim was a Tamil or a Sinhalese. There is no question of ethnicity here and we only need to look at the human factor concerning the globalized family of today," said Deputy Chief Commissioner Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association, Visakha Tillekeratne, citing similar cases in the recent past including that of Krishanthi Kumaraswami.

Citing CARE and OXFAM studies, Tillakeratne further said that boys as young as 15 years perpetrate acts of sexual assaults and such acts are shrouded in social evils. "The nine perpetrators in Vidya’s case are the results of social evils which ail the entire society," she added.

Sharing similar sentiments, Coordinator, Stop the Violence Campaign, Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association, Chamathya Fernando expressed that her generation of youth had largely defied ethnic divisions and what matters is that a Sri Lankan girl had been faulted in case of Vidya’s case.

"I’m 22-years-old and Vidya is like a sister. What happened to her in North could have happened to me here in Colombo," she said applauding President’s gesture of goodwill pledged towards the victim’s family. She further said that state or media alone cannot break barriers in championing a safe country for the girl child and women until the notion of ‘cultural silence’ is broken.

Expediting justice

"We are very much part of the society if it works for us but for our convenience we move out of it," asserted Chairperson, Viluthu, (an organization committed to the empowerment in women, operative in several districts), Sarojini Kanendran. She questioned the legitimacy of a system where the average citizen cannot have faith in. "Reporting percentage of child abuse and other forms of sexual assaults is still very low in the country and even when they are reported sometimes there is a delay in response by the Police and in the few cases which ultimate reach courts, very often the perpetrator is bailed out and is let out to the same environment where the victim is in."

The activist also urged the legal fraternity in the country to create a more forceful dialogue with diverse representative from the community including the clergy to create a safe environment for the girl child and women.

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