Jaffna broils in the aftermath of horrific gang rape and murder of 18 year old student S.Vidhya
By Thulasi Muttulingam (via: facebook.com/HumansOfNorthernSriLanka)
Jaffna was broiling today (May 20). Civilians are outraged by the horrific gang rape of an 18 year old school girl which took place in the island of Pungudutivu.
A hartal (an economic shutdown of sorts with shops and businesses closing) was enforced and protesters burned tyres along road intersections everywhere to signify their anger. Apparently the protesters who stormed the court building (read link below) wanted to get arrested in the hopes that they might get put in the same cell as the rape suspects in order to mete out vengeance directly. My only issue with all this is the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”.
The police had arrested some known hooligans in the area but other than that, there are no media reports (that I know of) on what connects them directly to the rape / murder. Let us hope justice prevails and it is the real perpetrators who are caught and sentenced. The victim S. Vithiya was a talented student who had apparently often told her mother that the isolation of their rented house from other dwellings in the neigbourhood was not safe and that they should move to somewhere safer. Then, being a pragmatic girl from a family of straitened circumstances, she had herself philosophically accepted, “But we can’t afford to do that for now.” According to a relative of hers, she had told her mother, “Let us try to move to a safer place in town at least by December.” The main problem had been that she had had to navigate lonely pathways to get to school.
A girl with the world and her life before her who set out to school on May 13th – she deserved way better than this. The system has failed her on multiple levels. May the crime against her be rightfully avenged.
Update: May 21, 2015:
According to local (Tamil) media reports and facebook updates by local vigilantes, the culprits were caught with the rape videoed on their mobile phones. If that is true, they are going to have a hard time getting out of this.
They are said to be part of a well-known paramilitary group that were active in harassing the people with impunity because the political culture of the previous regime made them immune to serious punishment. They are said to have even boasted that they would carry out contract killings for just Rs.10,000, and had done so in the past.
The outrage by locals was that these gang members have been arrested before over serious crimes – but inevitably let off the hook after a few months of jail due to political interference at the police / judiciary level.
Apparently one of the main culprits was a middle-aged Swiss National (of Tamil origin from Pungudutivu) who had sought to flee the country after it became clear that he was about to be caught. The main outrage of the people was that after this man had been apprehended by the police, he had been ‘rescued’ by a prominent Tamil Law lecturer who had spirited him away to Colombo, allegedly upon payment of Rs.4 million. Wide protests in the North spanning even Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi led to government officials pledging to bring the suspect back to Jaffna. He was apprehended in Wellawatte and brought back to Jaffna two days ago.
The protests at the Courts was in some measure due to the youths of Jaffna signifying their lack of confidence in the police and judiciary after all that has passed.
S.Vidhya (18), a talented and studious Advanced Level Student had often expressed nervousness about having to travel alone along lonely pathways, to get to school. She did not show up at school on May 13 (Wednesday), So the teachers had assumed she was at home, yet she had left to go to school that morning. She had been kidnapped on her way to school but the alarm wasn’t raised until school was well over and she hadn’t returned home. The family are upset that the police didn’t take her disappearance seriously when it was reported to them that evening itself. Due to many elopements in her age group, they take at least 24 hours to ascertain a person is really missing and so had told the frantic family that she might have eloped with somebody, to just take it easy.
The next morning when the family were still frantically searching for her, the family dog accompanied them. Her elder brother spotted her abandoned cycle in the bushes first. Then their dog had come up with one of her shoes in its mouth. It was eventually the dog which led her family to her body, tied up in a cruel position on two logs inside an abandoned house. The brother, the first to see the body had apparently fainted and had to be revived hours later at the hospital. Many of the people who saw the body are still in shock over the injuries and torture obviously inflicted on the girl before she died. Some of the facebook pages detailing this account as it unfolds have shared graphic images of the state her body was found in, because they say they want people to know just how badly she was tortured. I have seen some of the pictures but I am not going to share them. Suffice to say they were enough to make even a relatively non-violent person want to take a machete to those who had been cowardly and depraved enough to carry out this despicable act.
Many of the suspects eventually caught, including the Swiss national had had the nerve to attend the funeral – the funeral mourners in attendance said they made people feel nervous there with their ominous stares. One person who attended the funeral told me, “I saw them standing around with bulging eyes glaring at people. Their body language was one of both nervousness and defiance.” The Swiss national however had been all charm and conscientious concern. The family had had no idea who he was but he had made an impression upon them in his solicitousness for their welfare.
Little wonder the civilians of the North find it so hard to trust anybody including whoever is in their midst much less the judicial process. It remains to be seen how this plays out.
If there is one thing the people of the North have made clear with their protests however, it is that they are weary of law and order not being applicable to all. Let us hope the new government in place takes note and delivers the due justice called for.