Northern Province Minister of Women’s Affairs, Ananthy Sasitharan, commenting on former State Minister of Women and Child Affairs Vijayakala Maheswaran’s statement, said, “We must first consider curbing the escalating crimes against women and children in the North. These incidents have risen due to the increase in alcohol and drug consumption in the region. We should first consider these social issues rather than just harping on her statement.”
Following are excerpts of the interview:
There had been on and off, hints that Chief Minister Wigneswaran will contest at the upcoming Provincial Council elections from an alternative coalition party. He even had indirectly mentioned this at various events. You being one of his supporters, are you aware of any such development?
A: I’m aware through the media that he is considering aligning with other parties. At this juncture, many were expecting a change in leadership. However, the recent book launch by the Chief Minister created a turning point. Most TNA representatives including the hierarchy were invited to this event. Opposition Leader Sampanthan made a special speech at this event. Although his name was not initially included in the programme agenda, it was later added. During this event, Wigneswaran stated, “I don’t have the habit of cutting off hands which extends support.”
This was a message extended to people that he wishes to maintain a good relationship with TNA. He not only invited the TNA, but EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda was also invited. I have been affected from the days I surrendered my husband to the Security Forces. I have been searching for my husband and it was many times said that he is various camps. Even during the former regime, they promised to release the names of those who surrendered.
But, the current Government under the label of good governance has failed to release the names of those who surrendered. They have mainly ignored the issue of surrendered people and have hurt the feelings of the relatives of missing persons. I do not intend to spend much longer in politics. I have entered politics to find out the truth. We need accountability over this issue. What happened to the surrendered persons? I’m prepared to quit politics if the Government releases all surrendered. As a woman with a family, I don’t have to be in politics. I don’t need it. Politics is not an easy task but our goals should be met.
An alternative political coalition is the expectation of the people. The TNA cannot change their decisions. They have already agreed to give two years time to the Government to implement the UN resolution and also agreed to a domestic inquiry for war crimes. These decisions cannot be changed. The TNA had agreed to even reform their coalition but these are just fake promises.
Therefore, we are expecting an alternative coalition to enter the Tamil political arena that will fulfil people’s aspirations. We must be able to openly express our views. Being in the TNA, I have faced many obstacles in expressing my views. I cannot continue to control my views and if this continues, I will not be able to work with any other party. I have to be outspoken. I cannot control myself just because it is the party policy.
You being the provincial Minister of Women’s Affairs, how do you view former State Minister of Women and Child Affairs Vijayakala Maheswaran’s recent remark on the revival of the LTTE? Is it justifiable for a Parliamentarian who has taken oaths under schedules of the Constitution to convey such a remark?
A: She had made similar comments even during the Local Government Election campaigns. At that time, it was not given attention. Maybe because there was no participation of ministers at that meeting. According to my knowledge, she had made such comments even earlier. However it was just an utterance. It was meaningless at that juncture.
She and I have policy differences. She is a member of a national party. She had carried out the Party’s policy in her agenda. Let it be the SLFP or UNP, they only want to expand their party in the North but have failed to uplift the lifestyles of the war affected.
However, I must say that people were safe during the time of the LTTE and currently it is history. Nobody can deny that. This could be a bitter statement to the chauvinists in the South. This is the truth! Even if former Minister Vijayakala’s statement was politicized, she may have conveyed that opinion due to frustration since there is an increase in violence against children and women in the North. She may have been frustrated as the violence could not be controlled in the North.
Anyhow, when we take oaths as a Parliamentarian or Provincial Councillor we promise to follow the Constitution. We have promised not to divide the country or support a division. Therefore such statements may have political motives.
Currently, the former LTTE cadres are neglected. They have faced many difficulties in their life. Former cadres do not have proper means of income generation. They are denied livelihood assistance and disabled cadres are not given proper attention. In this backdrop, it is very wrong to make such a statement. There is no point in just provoking people.
I have been in such a situation as the former cadres and it is very painful. I will not convey such a statement just to provoke people. Former Minister Vijayakala invested a large amount of money to construct buildings with the aim of increasing her voter bank and failed to address the issues at the grass roots. She could have provided livelihood assistance to at least 500 war affected families with these allocations.
However, those in the South should try to understand the context as to why the former minister made such a comment, rather than making racist comments. They should try to understand that the comment may have been made due to frustration that the violence against children is increasing and most cases are relating to sexual abuse.
They must understand that there is an increase in drug consumption in the North which had further escalated the number of murder, robbery and rape cases. We should first consider these social issues than just harping on the former minister’s statement.
Tell us how your ministry plans to curb the rise in violence against women and children in the North?
A: There is no Provincial Ministry for Women’s Affairs under the 13th Amendment. This subject had not been shared with the province, but only vested with the Central Government. However, we created this subject at the Northern Provincial Council because there is an increase in violence against women in the post war period. Even if we do not have financial allocations, we decided to implement certain programmes. However, we requested the Central Government to provide staff to handle women’s affairs, but we did not obtain any response from them.
Since, we do not have cadres and financial allocations, we are going beyond our power and directly contacting the Police to solve issues relating to violence against women and children. Only the Chief Minister is currently there to contact the Police to solve these issues.
We have planned out a framework to create awareness in villages. When implementing this awareness programme, the participation of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs alone is inadequate, but the Ministry of Health and Education should participate. The Chief Minister also participates in this programme to create awareness among children below 18 years to save them from drug consumption. There are Women Development Officers serving in our Province appointed by the Central Government but they only submit progress reports to the centre. Only the Northern Province is against the Central Government among all nine provinces.
However, we contacted the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs to work collaboratively with the Provincial Ministry. But it had been so long that the Central Ministry representatives in the Northern Province are not ready work with the Provincial Ministry. They had failed to even inform and report the occurrence of child abuse cases in the province.
Therefore, currently we have decided to at least issue pamphlets in the Northern Province to bring a change within our society.
There are many complaints from village level in the Northern Province that caste issues have denied the rights of low caste people. Such issues have mainly affected those seeking school admissions. What exactly are the reasons for increase in such incidents? Has this matter been taken up at the Provincial Council sittings?
A: During the time of the LTTE, caste issues did not affect society. They welcome mixed marriages. They were against caste and dowry system and believed in equality. However these issues have yet again began to affect society. Even when I joined the ITAK for my political career, the very first question posed to me by a senior member is which caste I belonged to. Only after another senior member said that I belonged to a so called ‘high caste’ that the conversation stopped. This was the very first conversation I had before obtaining membership.
We are able to see the so called ‘high caste’ people degrading and denying the rights of low caste people. As you said we have come across incidents where school admissions were denied due to caste. Some leading schools in the province have begun to consider the caste while providing admissions. When parents go to obtain admissions if they are from a low caste, they are criticized by school officials.
At the same time, there is another view to this issue. Those who are politically representing low castes use this issue for their own benefit to increase their votes.
Former Provincial Minister Deniswaran had obtained an injunction order from the Court of Appeal against his removal from office, following allegations made against him. Chief Minister Wigneswaran had given you one of those subjects looked after by Deniswaran. What would be your stand over this legal development?
A: When the new Cabinet was formed, the Chief Minister gave the Ministry of Cooperatives to me. This subject was earlier under Deniswaran. As soon as former Minister of Health Sathiyalingam was removed from office, the Chief Minister also removed former Minister of Fisheries, Transport and Cooperatives Deniswaran from his post. Although the removal letters were given to the Governor, he failed to follow the procedures in this regard. The Governor has the duty to inform the new minister that the dismissal proceedings were not followed up properly, similarly the Chief Minister should also have inquired into this.
I took oaths as the Minister of Trade and Cooperatives, too. We have no staff to operate this Ministry. It is just another label similar to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. If the Chief Minister faces any crisis over this issue, I have informed him that I’m ready to resign from this Ministry.
How do you view the delay in Provincial Council elections?
A: The main reason is that both the SLFP and UNP are currently weak. The Local Government Elections set a good example. Therefore they are postponing the elections for such reasons even if it is not a democratic practice.
There are allegations set up by various parties that you have obtained financial assistance from the diaspora community to continue your campaign on missing persons. What are your comments?
A: Some journalists who are against me have created this campaign, claiming that I have obtained money from the diaspora to continue my campaign on missing persons. I do not take it seriously as it is a fake allegation. If I’m obtaining such assistance, it should come through bank or money transfer mode. If I have obtained money by any such organizations they must provide information or details regarding the transaction. It is meaningless to just bring in allegations without proof.
I have always directed humanitarian organizations to provide their assistance directly to the beneficiaries and not through me.