The grinding poverty of tea plantation families has left young girls vulnerable to sexual abuse, rape and trafficking, with a growing number of teens being trafficked as modern slaves. Hundreds of young girls in tea plantation districts fall victim to traffickers every year.
Tea plantation workers lack knowledge about the Criminal Justice System and the way they should make a complaint to the police. Often the language is a barrier at the police and also in courts as tea plantation workers are Tamil with an Indian origin. They know very little about the rights of their children against any form of abuse, which has placed them in very vulnerable situations in their social setup. Further this community is most likely to succumb gender based violence and child abuse, yet they do not seek redress due to cultural values.
Rita ( 17 ) - Talawakelle
Uma Devi ( 23) - Nawalapitiya
Diviya (13) - Rattota (Matale)
Ishalini (16) - Dyagama
However, we came across some daring courageous young girls who fought for Justice and Redress and continue their struggle for Justice for years with the court delay.
RITA (17) a school girl was abducted and raped on the 12th August 2001 while she was returning home after mass and Sunday's school at St. Patrick's Church Talawakelle by Nalaka Piyal and Thuwan Rameez. One of the most shocking cases of the violation of the fundamental human rights of a girl took place in broad daylight in the town of Talawakelle in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. However, Rita been a school girl, went all by herself to the Talawakelle police station, made a complaint and went with police officers in search of the perpetrators even before informing her mother.
Being a poor tea plantation family, her mother was still working at Holyrood Estate, not very far from Talawakelle town. Her father passed away when she was very young and the grandfather was the strength to the family. Rita was a student at Tamil Maha Vidyalaya Talawakelle and when this incident happened, she was in year 10. Like other tea plantation families, the family of Rita too had financial difficulties, trying to manage with the little money that her mother and grandfather earned.
Soon after the incident Rita was brought to Kandy and she studied in Peradeniya Tamil school and sat for her O/L 's and HRO provided her with holistic assistance. A public protest was held in Hatton Town on the 26th August 2012 to pressurize the Talawakella police officers calling for an impartial inquiry.
Justice from the District court to Jesudasan Rita after 17 years .....
In the MR case 04/2004 of Jesudasan Rita for Redress, the two accused Nalaka Piyal Samaraweera and Mohomad Thuwanan Rameez were ordered to pay 800,000/- (Eight hundred thousand rupees) by the Nuwara Eliya District Court Judge on the 30th July 2021 as compensation. However, the Judgement was appealed by the accused and soon the case will be heard in the Appeal court in Kandy.
20 years in search of Justice...
On 28th December 2015, the Nuwara Eliya High Court judge delivered a historic judgment for the abduction and Rape of Rita and the two accused were each sentenced to 23 years rigorous imprisonment and ordered to pay Rs. 200,000 as compensation after being convicted for abduction and rape. However, the case was appealed and a fresh trial was ordered due to a technical error and the case HC / NE 48/2010 will be taken for trial once again in Nuwara Eliya High Court.
S. Umadevi (23), of Nawalapitiya, Imbulpitiya Estate was abducted, raped and murdered on the 12th of September 2001 at Kopiwatte, Mallanda in Nawalapitiya on her way home after attending her typing class in Nawalapitiya Town. The father of Uma Devi heard that the corpse of a young woman was found in the shrub land near the Malkanda bridge. The father went to that spot and identified the body of his daughter who was raped and murdered
Two weeks after the incident in September 2001, when the investigations were at a standstill, we organized a public Protest in Nawalapitiya town from the Hindu Kovil to the Catholic Church, drawing a huge crowd, calling for the police to arrest the accused and proceed with the investigations
This was followed up by a postcard campaign where we called Justice for both Umadevi and Rita. More than 5000 postcards were sent by the students to the relevant authorities including the then President Chandrika Kumaranatunga. Our campaign led the authorities to hand over the investigation to the Gampola ASP office.
It was only in 2002 the 03 accused Junideeen Mohomad Haris, Abdul Razaak Mohomad Salam and Pakeer Mohomad Kamaldeen between the age of 55-70 were arrested, however the second accused died before the trials concluded.
On the 25th September 2012, Kandy High Court Judge sentenced the two accused for 20 years of rigorous imprisonment for abduction and rape and death sentence for the murder of Umadevi.
The rape and murder of Umadevi took place exactly one month after the rape of Jesudasan Rita in Talawakelle on the 12th August 2001 and her case is still on trial at Nuwara-Eliya high court even after 20 years.
Divya - Mohanambal was 13 years when she was raped by her neighbor S. Jeevaratnem on the 08th November 2007, while she was all alone at home, in Dankanda Estate Rattota, Matale. Divya lived with her father, grandmother, uncle, two sisters and a brother. Her mother had gone to the Middle East for employment. On the 08th November 2007 happen to be a Deepavali day, 'the Festival of Light' and she was alone at home.
Mr. Jeevaratnam (43), the neighbor, had come to her house after consuming alcohol threatened her a knife and forced her to drink alcohol. When she started shouting, Jeevaratnam put a cloth in her mouth and raped her. When she regained consciousness after an hour, she informed the family members and made a complaint to the police. Divya was then brought to Kandy by the Human Rights Office staff for counseling,
protection and for her security. She was housed in Ampitiya and studied at the Ampitiya R.C school and at Peradeniya Tamil School. Divya sat for the GCE O/L exam in 2011 December.
The Kandy High Court Judge, Manilal Vaidyathiaka, sentenced the accused Sandanam Jeevaratnam to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs. 5,000/- on the 18th May 2012. Apart from that The Judge ordered Rs. 100,000/= as compensation to the victim.
Since there were several cases of Rape & Child abuse reported from Matale and Rattota, a Protest was held in Rattota town on the 02nd December 2011, calling the Police to arrest perpetrators and bring them before the law.
Ishalini Jude Kumar, a 16-year-old Catholic girl from Dayagama West, Division 3, died 12 days after she was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital on the 03rd July 2021 with severe burn injuries while she was working as a domestic helper at the house of Parliament Member Rishad Bathiudeen. She succumbed to injuries 12 days later and the post mortem found that the teenager had been subject to repeated sexual assault.
She was the 11th domestic worker sent from Dayagama to the same house of Rishad Bathiudeen's in laws. Out of the 11 girls, one has jumped into a train and committed suicide and another had died at home while Ishalini died from burn injuries in hospital.
The Bishop and diocese of Kandy represented by the Human Rights Office have stood by Rita, Uma Devi and Diviya and many other victims and would stand by Ishalini's family.
Rita & Diviya like many others were provided holistic assistance, such as legal, medical, psychological, educational, employment and housing and has accompanied them during the past 20 years and still continues to accompany them and their families. Rita now lives in her own house while the first daughter is studying in a leading catholic school in Kandy. Diviya is happily married and has a son.
However, we sadly note that still the children, especially the girls of tea plantations workers are vulnerable due to grinding poverty. Endless promises of various politicians for the increase of wages etc have never realized.
“Justice for Ishalini”
“As the Bishop and Priests in the Catholic Diocese of Kandy (Central Province), we were very saddened and shocked to hear about the death of 16-year-old girl Ishalini, a parishioner of St. Anthony’s Church, Dayagama in our diocese. It is our firm conviction that a young girl like Ishalini should have been in school and not as a domestic worker in an unfamiliar setting without any protection mechanisms. It is a shame on us as Sri Lankans, including the present and previous governments, that Ishalini’s parents were in debt and an economic situation that compelled them to send a young daughter as a domestic worker”.
Bishop of Kandy in his letter made 07 demands on behalf of the tea plantation community.
This was stated in the letter sent by the Bishop of Kandy, Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando and his priests of the diocese to his excellency the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The contents of the letter s was explained during the Media conference held on the 03rd August 2021 at the Human Rights Office in Kandy along with Frs. Nandana Manatunga, Ivan Jayasundara, Surendra Pragash & Fr. Christy Paul.
A round table conference was held along with Rita, the survivor, the lawyers, the staff and the members of the support group on the 12th August 2021 at the Human Rights Office to review the long walk of Rita seeking Justice and Redress.
Rita in a soft tone narrated her painful experiences in seeking Justice and described her present life being a mother of two daughters. Rita thanked profusely all those who were around her during the past 20 years.
The 04 lawyers present, Surangika Ranaweera, Suren D. Perera, Charaka Dharmasiri, & Geeva Nilmalgoda expressed their views regarding the adjudication process, court delay and their experiences in prosecuting the case. The defects of the Justice System were highlighted by all the lawyers and required reforms were also pointed out.
Dr. Clotida Perera narrated how Rita was assisted medically when necessary and also the trauma counseling provided by Sr. Mabel. A former staff at Setik, Asela Ihagama recalled how the persons who accompanied Rita were humiliated and insulted in court by the defense lawyer.
The staff of the HRO and some members of the support group recalled how they assisted Rita holistically during the past 20 years and assured their assistance in the future as well. It was noted that Rita was placed in 16 different houses for security & protection while she was studying and employed. Due to discriminative acts experienced by Rita being a Tamil at the Free Trade Zone in Katunayake, she was forced to return to Kandy.
Fr. Nandana explained how the support group was formed and the “Victim centered activities” emerged with the need to accompany victims and monitor trials. “With the case of Rita we have learnt how we should accompany victims not just for few months but even 20 years or more”.
Rita was raped on the 12th August 2001 when she was just a student in Year 10, while she was returning from St. Patrick’s Church Talawakelle on that fateful Sunday. Exactly 20 years ago.
She took the first step in seeking Justice by making a complaint to the Talawakelle Police, all by herself which was supported for 20 long years with holistic assistance by the then director and the staff of Setik followed by the director staff and members of the support group of the Human Rights Office. The Bishop of the Central Province Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando was very much involved in the struggle in seeking Justice to Rita and encouraged Rita and those who were accompanying her.
The MR case for compensation was completed on the 30th July 2021 in the District Court, however the fresh trial of the criminal case at the High Court is still to commence after 20 years.
In 2015 the Nuwara Eliya High Court Judge sentenced the two accused for 23 years of imprisonment but due to a technical error made by the Judge who initiated the trials was pointed out during the appeal. Hence the case was ordered for a fresh trial by the Court of Appeal.
The protest that was held in Hatton against the Talawakelle Police and the post card campaign in support of Rita and Umadevi were recalled when Fr. Nandana pointed out a post card sent in 2001. Asian Human Rights Commission also sent out several Urgent Appeals requesting the authorities to conduct impartial inquiries and expedite trials.
As a response to the appeal made by the Bishop of Mannar late Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph, the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga ordered to conduct a fresh investigation in to the criminal offence committed against Rita.
Altogether 09 High Court Judges heard the criminal case of Rita since 2007 and 10 State counsels have led the prosecution and more than 20 lawyers have appeared during the court hearings on behalf of Rita. Further several Priests, Religious, staff members and members of the support group have accompanied Rita to court during the past 20 years.
How long the fresh trial will take is a question... another....10 years...or 20 years ..
The right to a fair trial is fundamental to the rule of law and to democracy itself.
The victims of rape, Torture domestic violence and of Human Rights violations have to follow the legal process to punish the perpetrators and hence Legal assistance comes in to the forefront in the process of seeking Justice & Redress. Often victims tend to take Law in to their hands and punish the perpetrators instead of following the adjudication process. The delay in the adjudication process and the defects have made people to lose confidence in the Justice system. In this context, HRO encourages the victims to seek Justice through adjudication process, identify the defects and campaign for necessary reforms.
Access to Justice - Strategic Litigation & Legal aid