“I Keep Picturing His Face”

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 12:10 AM Jun 5 2021
Echo “I Keep Picturing His Face”

Making a complaint From being catcalled and being stalked to being groped and being subjected to indecent exposure, almost any and every woman in this country has experienced some form of sexual harassment on the streets by some of the so called ‘men’ of this county. It has been wired into our systems, from our grandmothers to our mothers and now to us. 

Generations of men thinking they have the upper hand, that women enjoy being catcalled, that being told that we are ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ or looked at or rubbed against is in fact a compliment. The best thing about our generation is the fact that we are willing to talk about things. 

Not just the easy ones but the ones that no one from the older generation is really willing to talk about or things they accept as some sort of twisted ‘normal’. Tehani Rodrigo or Tehani Imara as many may know her, a Director of the Sri Lanka Youth Council, Performer and most importantly my friend faced a situation most of us unfortunately know too well. 

And when she told me about this and about how Instagram kept taking her post down for directly quoting what the ‘man’ said, we came up with a better idea; no one can shut everyone up. Quoting her Instagram post: 20 May 2021; yes 2021! It happens so often it’s unfortunately a part of how we are programmed. We know we have to watch out for it but it’s never really something you can be prepared for or shrug off! Walked out this morning and there was a random tuk parked opposite my lane. 

I don’t normally pay attention to these things but I noticed him touching himself while staring at me. Yes! The first thing I did as I walked out was watch a man ‘pleasure’ himself staring at me! When I noticed what was happening and yelled at him he turned around and said the most disgusting things in Sinhala and proceeded to leave. (I would type it out but unfortunately it’s against community standard guidelines. The irony?) I contacted the cab company, and that hasn’t helped at all. 

Sitting here thinking about how many people this happens to, how many other women got catcalled or had rude things said to them today? I had the fortune of taking a cab to work and back but how many women would get on a bus and face the same situations on their way back home? I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s disgusting and I feel violated to say the least. And I’m not the only one. 

When will we finally be able to head out of our houses without having to be made to feel like sex toys? Shouldn’t we be over this by now? Lawyer and prominent advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, women, and minorities Aritha Wickramasinghe joined Tehani in advocating for the cause, Her post started something we all saw coming; everyone started coming out with their experiences, a few of which are shared here: “I was in a bus and then a man came and rubbed his private area on my shoulder while I was seated. I was so scared but finally a lady saw the incident and shouted at the man. I was in my school uniform.”

 “He used to park in Bambalapitiya. He kept his shutters down and touched himself while watching school kids pass by in uniform; so many of us walk by to get to class or home. I’ve experienced this twice but I was with friends, some kids go on a daily basis when they walk home alone. It’s scary!” “He kept whistling and calling us to get into his tuk and we kept ignoring him. 

He stopped and we looked up again to check if he had left and to our horror we saw a grown man showing us – a 17 and18-year-old – his genitals. He had an ugly smug look on his face. We were mortified. In pure disgust we tried to walk away but he kept following us in every direction we went.

 We couldn’t leave because we were afraid he might follow us. We stayed there for two more hours, made completely sure he was nowhere around and left. We haven’t been there since.” “I was in school uniform on a Sunday morning before Sunday school and walked to the bakery which is about 50m from my home.

 A car stopped in front of me just outside my house and he started jerking off and then left. I still remember his face every time I have to go to the bakery.” “My friends and I decided to go to the Wellawatte Beach. Whilst we were there minding our own business walking by the beach, a man just whistled from a corner and caught us off guard while removing his pants. When we saw this we moved away from him towards the road. 

A few minutes later this man came from that area and suddenly just landed himself on the bench next to us and started jerking off. And the worst part was that we had to pass through him to get to the road.” “Once I was in Pettah near the Red Mosque wearing a very loose kurta which was up to my ankles. Two men who were probably after prayers said that they would gang up and F*** the s*** out of me. I was in tears and I was traumatised.” 

This one was actually a lot worse, this girl had to hear very specific things that the men said they wanted to do to her. Things which are considered too graphic to be published in a newspaper. Ironic? “I was in school uniform and walking outside my school, and the other time I was crossing the road to get to a tuition class and two cops were making comments about my chest really loudly. 

I had to concentrate really hard to not react and cross the road safely.” “Men working on a construction site catcalled and shouted ‘Mash Allah’ and made a scene. I just turned around and went back home. It is literally not even about what you wear or who you are. 

It is absolutely stupid for people to suggest to us women to watch what we wear when I was literally covered from head to toe, and with my child. I was not only worried about my safety but the safety of my two-year-old daughter.” “While we were standing near the traffic lights, suddenly this man came out of nowhere and started pulling and holding his private part out of his sarong, right in the middle of the road at Dematagoda. It seemed like this man had been following us for a long time just to flash us. I was terrified.

 Even though so many things have happened like this, this was one of the most horrific things to happen. The fact that I have to accept it - why do women have to go through this?” These are just a few of the many, many messages that keep flooding in. In addition to stories there was also some advice broadly divided into two types each sad for a different reason. 

“Hello Akki, it’s better to avoid going in taxis, rather does your brother have a vehicle? Don’t put this in stories, okay! (Of course we did!) Just try to go with your brother or close relative or close friend that’s better and try to wear clothes which will not attract men, simple thing you can don’t wear out s*** men lose their mind. You know Akki what I am saying is there are a lot of perverts out there they will do anything to women. Try to make a plan.” 

Dear Omesh, you need to go to school again for more reasons than one! Also I’m not entirely sure what you are trying to say either but I think the gist of it is that women should be accompanied at all times and dressed like covered furniture. Sad Omesh, very sad. “The only trick I learned is to act like I was calling someone as I got scared and couldn’t speak up for myself.” This is sad for many other reasons. We’ve all done this, we all know this. 

Tehani is a brave soul who put her story out there and in turn raising awareness about an issue that has been happening for so long that it’s almost normalised. All the women and men coming forward are traumatised by what they had to go through. To be sexualised against your will is in my opinion one of the worst forms of abuse a person can go through. To know that you are being thought of in such a manner, your entire existence valued for just sex by a complete stranger who gawks at you is inhumane. But what’s sadder is this response we received from one too many people; “Yeah, and if we go to the Police they will just ask me what I was wearing or tell me that’s just how things are.” Women are so judged in this country there is almost no way to be considered a ‘good woman’ by its standards.

 From aunties that are jealous to men who say things just because no interest is shown in them, gossip and shade is thrown at every single female who tries to express herself in any way that does not please everyone - the known and unknown. Street harassment is still a grave issue because it’s become something overlooked by generations. Our mothers only taught us how to ignore what they say or to dress differently and the truth is only those of us who are not scared would speak up or do anything about it. The rest of us would silently walk away like I myself have done one too many times. Regardless of how a girl handles such a situation, these stories prove that the trauma lives on. These stories also show how we as women are programmed to avoid harassment. Most of these girls talk about what they are wearing and that is heartbreaking because what they are wearing has no bearing on what they had to go through. 

Making a complaint 

We spoke to A, the kind of lawyer that would normally help ‘men’ like this get out. Here’s what he had to say: Offences of this sort are normally filed under Section 345 of the Penal Code, which reads; “Whoever, by assault or use of criminal force, sexually harasses another person, or by the use of words or actions, causes sexual annoyance or harassment to such other person commits the offence of sexual harassment and shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years or with fine or with both and may also be ordered to pay compensation of an amount determined by court to the person in respect of whom the offence was committed for the injuries caused to such person. 

1. Unwelcome sexual advances by words or action used by a person in authority, to a working place or any other place, shall constitute the offence of sexual harassment. 

2. For the purposes of this section an assault it may include any act that does not amount to rape under section, 363.” An offence filed under this section would constitute a non bailable offence, which essentially means that the Police cannot release such a person on bail without producing such individual to a court. 

Bail is granted or denied at the discretion of the Judge in accordance with Section 14 of the Bail Act which essentially states that; “A person would not be granted bail in instances where the Court has reason to believe that such person would: Not appear at his inquiry or trial; interfere with witness or the evidence against him or otherwise obstruct the course of justice; commit an offence while on bail or if the particular gravity of, and public reaction to the offence may give rise to public disquiet.” 

This is exactly why speaking up is important. While you may be one individual, and an unfortunate statistic in an ongoing madness together we can fight for justice, not just for ourselves but for every single one of us. Read up on more stories and share your story with us through our Instagram accounts; @tehani_imara @aritha.w @sharon_arnie (To be continued…)

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 12:10 AM Jun 5 2021

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