A representation of Muslim civil society leaders from India and Sri Lanka have issued a statement seeking justice for Sharmila Seyyid, a Sri Lankan Tamil writer who had to go on exile in 2012 after radical Muslim elements targeted her for arguing in favour of legalising prostitution.
In the statement issued a few days back, 57 civil society leaders have said efforts to defame, harass and intimidate a woman in the name of faith cannot be justified and have appealed to the leaders of the commuity, including Jamiathul Ulema in Lanka, to uphold the rights and freedom of Seyyid.
In November 2012, Seyyid, then a journalist researching on women of northern Lanka’s war-affected regions, had to go on exile after a comment she made on BBC Tamil radio kicked up a controversy. “It was a five-minute speech in which I spoke in favour of legalising prostitution in the country. My opinion was taken along with several others’ after a member of parliament raised a similar demand. What I said was circulated through an SMS news service. It put my family in trouble and i had to flee,” Sharmila told The Indian Express.
She said days after the news spread that a Muslim woman had taken such a stand, the local clergy sought an unconditional apology as prostitution, according to them, is a sin. She added that conservative Muslim groups threatened her father, who runs a fisheries logistics service at her native Eravur near Lanka’s Batticaloa region. “I noticed people following me almost everyday. I had no other option other than leaving,” she said.
Three years on, Sharmila, a single mother, is still being attacked on social media. “Last month, there was a Facebook post from Eravur with pictures that I was raped and killed. I had to give a statement to counter the false news. My father has filed several cases against people who defame me. With the help of Sri Lankan intelligence and cyber crime agencies, a dozen Youtube pages and fake Facebook profiles have been blocked. But every other day, I come across a new page in my name which carries defaming content uploaded by people working in West Asian countries. For how long will I live in exile,” she asked.
Sharmila added that she had no intention to hurt Muslims’ sentiments. “I am a practicing Muslim and I am bringing up my son on the same lines. But I need not give an unconditional apology for what I said in 2012 as it was an opinion on a reality that exists around us. It is unfair to treat me like a criminal because I said the truth,” she said.
Sharmila’s first Tamil novel Ummath, which was published in January 2014, was lauded in Tamil literary circles. She already has two poetry collections to her name.