March 3, 2012 marked a very dark ebb in our society as it saw the horrific rape and murder of little Jesudasan Lakshini (13), allegedly at the hands of former EPDP cadre, Kanthasami Jegatheswaran (alias Kiruba) (31), from the Delft Island, Jaffna. Currently being held in remand at the Jaffna Remand Prison, the accused was produced before the Kayts Magistrate this week (30). However, the hearing was further postponed to April 9, 2012, as the Delft Police had failed to conclude their compilation of eye witness statements, said attorney-at-law K.S. Ratnavel, who is appearing on behalf of the victim’s family. The pending statement is the last of four eye witness statements attesting to having witnessed Lakshini being intercepted and taken by the accused on her way to the market, he added. This raises the glaring question as to why the Police was unable to obtain a mere four eye witness statements in the course of almost a month following this incident, unless of course exterior political forces are in play.

The Acting OIC of the Delft Police, SI W.P. Mendis said that the accused was first produced before the Kayts Magistrate Court on March 16, 2012, following which he was ordered to be remanded at the Jaffna Prison till his next court date on March 30, 2012, where both this case, and a previous allegation against him, would be taken up. “Just three months ago, the accused had held a young girl at gun (“plastic” pistol) point in Delft, in an attempt to intimidate and rape her. Following this incident, he was ordered by the Kayts Magistrate to sign in at the Delft Police Station on a daily basis until further notice. He was doing this until the day before the rape and murder of Lakshini.” Why an alleged attempted rapist is allowed back into the community with as little as a “wrap on the knuckles” is quite telling of the political influence the accused seems to be wielding. If instead, he had been subject to due process, Lakshini might still have been alive today.

Furthermore, villagers claim that the pistol had been in fact real and not plastic as mentioned above. If this were true, it raises two grave issues; 1.why is it that the State is yet to carry out a nation-wide disarmament programme of all former paramilitary cadres, e.g. EPDP, TMVP, PLOT etc., and 2. How is it that an armed ex-cadre can walk about freely, brandishing arms at will, within an island fully controlled by the Sri Lanka Navy? Villagers said, that it was only after they made complained about this incident to the Navy, that the Police had arrested him and produced him before the Kayts Magistrate.

The Police have also made a request to the Magistrate, for a blood sample from the accused, to be sent to Colombo for DNA testing. Having collected the sample, the Police have sent it through one of their officers to Genetech, Colombo, for testing this week (March 19).

Having visited Lakshini, a student of Neduntheevu Maha Vidyalayam’s bereaved family last week, a Jaffna –based local organization shared the following details with me.

Delft, being home to approximately 1500-2000 people now, is quite obviously a close-knit community, much like any other small town. However, the Kachchatheevu Feast (St. Anthony’s Church Feast), which is of great religious significance to Christians having drawn over 5000 devotees this year, resulted in Delft being almost deserted at the time Lakshini met with her brutal end.  Lakshini had left home for the fish market at about 8am on that fateful day, with the 100 rupee note her mother had given her to buy fish, clasped in her hand. Later that day, when she hadn’t yet returned home, her family and relations had started to search for her in their neighbourhood. “My relatives saw my child (Lakshini) being picked up by Jegatheswaran (the alleged perpetrator) whilst she was on her way to the fish market. He had told her to come with him that he would get her some fish, as fish was unavailable at the market that day. He was the one who killed my daughter,” said Lakshini’s distraught mother.

The Police was notified about this incident by woman from the village who had discovered Lakshini’s body on her way to chop firewood. “We found Lakshini’s half naked body, lying face down at a bare land approximately 30Ms down a little lane nearby the Pillaiyar Temple, at the 10th Region of Delft. She was only wearing her Shalwar top, as her trousers had been removed, and she had received multiple injuries to her head. A bicycle, an empty bottle of Arrack (quarter pint), a 100 rupee note and a few coins, and a large stone were found alongside the body of the victim,” elaborated the Delft Police.  As the Kayts Magistrate was due to arrive from Kayts the next day, to initiate an enquiry into her death, villagers had stood guard over her body until the judge arrived to the scene. The Post Mortem Report stated that the child had been raped and later killed as a result of having her head smashed by a rock.

 “I lost my dearest daughter Lakshini. I can’t believe he did this to my daughter. I heard that there was a bottle of alcohol near her body, and that her dress was all disheveled. The money she had been given to buy the fish too was still there on the ground next to her, and her head had been severely injured. I was also told that he had attempted to strangle her. I simply cannot bear the loss of my daughter,” lamented Lakshini’s father tearfully.

As this was not the first incident of assault/abuse of girls in the area that Jegatheswaran has been accused of, on discovering Lakshini’s body, the villagers had stormed into his house, dragged him out onto the street, and started beating him up. Eventually, the Navy had intervened and handed him over to the Delft Police.

Villagers said that Jegatheswaran had  been former EPDP Commander, Napoleon’s right hand man, and also a suspect in the murder of Jaffna based Journalist Mylvaganam Nimalrajan. In addition to the two above mentioned cases, villagers claimed that he had also attempted to abuse two other young girls, a mere two days prior to this incident. The villagers are enraged at the inaction of the Police, even after having lodged multiple complaints against the perpetrator, and are therefore convinced that it is as a result of some political influence that he was released by the Police, thus enabling him to carry out this heinous crime.

“The Accused has only studied till Grade 5, and is from Manipay. He used to sell newspapers for the EPDP in Jaffna during the war. As he had not returned the proceeds from newspaper sales to the EPDP, they had punished him by making him work for their office in Delft. He eventually married a young girl from Delft. We have come under fire by certain parties claiming that we’re not taking any action against him, because of his political affiliation, but this is completely untrue. Not only is he no longer a member of the EPDP, but we also don’t care what party/faction he belongs to, we will do our job regardless of his affiliations,” emphasized SI Mendis.       

It is very rarely that you get to witness the people of Delft go up in arms against any authorities, as they have been under the complete control of the Navy and the EPDP. However, this time they decided to take matters into their own hands, as so they took to the streets demanding that Jegatheswaran must not be permitted to escape and must be incriminated according to the law. “Let us punish him! We want justice! The murderer needs to be severely punished,” is what the people are said to have chanted outside the Police station that day. Angry villagers had also had confrontations with the Police and EPDP members, demanding justice.

Villagers had entered the premises of the EPDP Office in Delft, and demonstrated outside the entrance, at which point many party members had fled the scene. The people had pointed to the fact that Jegatheswaran was a member of the EPDP, and that as a result should not escape from being punished for his crimes. People are demanding that justice be served and the perpetrator receive the maximum punishment.

The Jaffna-based Tamil Daily, Uthayan Newspaper reported the following comments from TNA MP S. Sritharan. “The punishment meted out to this murderer should act as an example and put fear into the hearts of all other such perpetrators. Incidence of sexual abuse seem to be on the rise in the North, with 140 children having been abused in the Northern Province to date. The accused having committed such a crime whilst being a member of a Tamil political party in Delft which is also under the control of the Navy and the Army, is a complete violation of the people’s rights; the very rights he has a duty to protect and uphold.  So, stringent action must be taken by both the Court and the Police this time, so as to ensure that he doesn’t get away. The islands have been under the control of the Navy for more than 20 years, making it that much more unacceptable that an armed man is permitted to freely walk their streets abusing children,” he added.

(Authors note: A much shorter version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times, 1 April 2012)