Carry Out Sentence, Lament Women On Death Row
By Camelia Nathaniel
In certain instances where women have killed their husbands or partners, there is most often a history of domestic violence that causes these women to suddenly act violently. When a woman is subjected to abuse over time it can drive these desperate women to attack or kill their partner. But when battered women fight back, the law does not always truly take into account the circumstances under which the violence took place.
Moreover when these ignorant women who in a majority of instances have no idea of what the laws of the country are, they are exploited by unscrupulous lawyers who act without any conscience at all. The two women on death row at the Welikada prison both have similar stories, where the lawyers who were supposed to take care of their interests had so disgracefully fleeced them of the little they had and more shamelessly had let them down badly.
There have been numerous views with regard to the implementation of the death sentence in recent times, and according to the prisoners themselves, the death penalty should be carried out within a stipulated time period.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader the Commissioner General of Prisons Chandraratne Pallegama said those death row prisoners who had been lamenting behind bars for over 10 to 20 years had already suffered enough.
“My view is that if the death penalty is to be implemented then it should be done within a stipulated time frame, so that these death row prisoners are not subjected to double punishment. No one can punish them more than their own conscience, and these prisoners go through great mental trauma,” he added.
Forty-nine-year old Chandrawathie, who had killed her abusive husband, is one of two women on death row at the Welikada prison. At first when I visited her with the aim of hearing her story she simply came up to me and said, “Lady there is no use in me relating my story to anyone anymore. Even though I have repeated my story to many who came here prior to you, they simply come to listen to me and write down my story and that is the end of it. To the world my life story is just another tale that is read and forgotten thereafter. Yet for me each time I relate the incidents that occurred that day and the plight of my children, a part of me dies. I am human too, and I killed my husband in self defence as I could not take the abuse any further.”
She looked up with tears in her eyes and said her husband had ruined her and the children’s lives while he was alive, and his death had completely destroyed their family. “My husband was involved with another woman and he squandered all our earnings on her and even that I could tolerate. But what was most agonising was that he used to assault me all the time. I went abroad on two occasions to Dubai and Saudi with the intention of building a better future for my son and daughter. But that dream was destroyed by my husband, as he spent all the money I sent for my children on his mistress. After I came back, he came back to me and begged me to take him back and swore never to harass us ever again. I was naive to believe his lies as all he wanted was the money that I had earned,” she sighed.
Yet after he had spent all the hard earned money that Chandrawathie had brought, her husband had again begun torturing her mentally and physically. “On that fateful day, he came home and began physically abusing me, and he had a knife in his hand. I too struggled with him and we both sustained injuries in the fight. My husband was rushed to hospital in a trishaw and I was taken to hospital in an ambulance. However fortunately or unfortunately I don’t know, he had succumbed to his injuries while I survived, only to suffer my whole life in prison, and my two innocent children who were 8 and 12 years of age at the time they lost both parents” she said.
However, for both women who had been sentenced to death, the lawyers had sensed their ignorance and had used the opportunity to make money. “I had made a statement with the police regarding the events that occurred that day. However when the case was first heard at the Badulla high court, he demanded Rs. 75,000 to represent me. Since I did not have ready cash, we had to sell part of our land in order to obtain the money to pay him. He then instructed me to tell the court that a gang of men had forcibly entered our home and assaulted my husband and killed him. I too was so frightened at the time that I agreed and did as I was told, not realising the repercussions. However, due to the disparity between my statement to the police and the statement made in court, I lost the case. Thereafter when we appealed the sentence handed by the high court, he wanted Rs. 125,000 and told me to opt for a jury. That again was a big mistake and I lost the appeal too and he never even said a word on my behalf. The only outcome was that I was handed the death sentence and condemned for life. The lawyers are now asking for Rs. one million to present my case in the Supreme Court, and from where am I to afford such an amount? There is not one single day that I don’t regret my action and feel that I should have been more patient, as my haste has ruined the lives of my children. No death sentence can punish me more than I have already punished myself,” she mourned, tears streaming down her face.
It’s around nine years since Chandrawathi’s incarceration and as her children had no protection other than her aged parents, her son had joined the Army soon after his O/L’s while her daughter had been given in marriage at a very young age as there was no one to protect her. “My daughter has a child now and I have not seen her in over two years, and my son comes to see me once a month when he is on leave. Yet those on death row can only receive items such as soap, tooth paste and white cloth to sew our prison clothes,” she said.
However, Chandrawathie says that she is treated humanely by the authorities and they do everything possible for them. Yet with the limited resources it is no easy task. Those who have been handed the death sentence and life imprisonment are housed in cells, where six prisoners have to occupy one room. “We have been provided a TV which is on during the day, but when the rooms are locked between 5.30 pm to 5.30 am, we are battling with our demons of guilt and repentance. I truly wish that the death sentence would be implemented and I would be put out of this misery, and my family too be spared this humiliation and pain. If I was hanged, my pain would have ended in a matter of seconds. Yet this way I die a million times every day and no court could ever hand down any punishment greater than the punishment I put myself through.”
Another woman on death row is 70 year old. Thambipullai Leelawathie who hails from Kalawanchikudy, had also been exploited by her lawyer and asked to accept accusations of killing her husband with the guarantee that she would be given a mild sentence and released.
“My husband used to drink heavily and was not employed, but he never abused me in any way. Yet I sold vegetables in the market place and kept the family fed. On this particular day too my husband went out to drink in the evening and I went to bed. Around 4am the next morning when I woke up, realising that my husband was not in the room, I went out. I saw him near the well and tried to wake him but since he was motionless, I assumed he was drunk and sleeping. However, the next thing I knew was that I was hauled into a police jeep and taken away, saying that I had murdered my husband. However, a lawyer came forward to represent me and told me that he would charge Rs. 25,000 and my son and daughter somehow managed to come up with the money. That was the last I saw of him, as according to instructions I admitted that I killed my husband and on the day of the hearing, the lawyer was nowhere to be seen. I have been in the Batticaloa prison for over six years and seven months ago I was transferred to Welikada, and that is where I was told that I am on death row,” she said.
Ever since she was transferred to Colombo she has not seen any of her children and she has no brothers or sisters either as her three siblings had died in the tsunami. “I have no one to even bring me my basic requirements and it is the prison officials that provide me with all my needs. Here in prison, we get our meals and other recreational activities, and the prison officers too are sympathetic and compassionate toward us. Yet what can they do, as they are carrying out their duties too. Why is there no law to deal with these lawyers who are a mockery to the entire law profession?” she lamented.
Leelawathie suffers in silence every moment she is alive and pines for even a glimpse of her two children. “They are married and have their own lives now and for them I am already dead. I want the authorities to implement the death sentence so that I would be put out of my misery. Death is my only path to freedom as I will never be able to go back home to see my children before I die. It is difficult for me to even walk and ever since the terrible incident, I still can’t figure out what happened. It is better for me to die because I can’t suffer this mental agony anymore. I am being punished for a crime that I never committed because of the wrong advice of an unethical lawyer,” she sobbed.
According to the chief female jailor in charge of the female prison Priyani Mallika, there are two females on death row at Welikada prison, while another 23 prisoners who have been handed the death sentence are appealing their cases. Fifteen women are serving life imprisonment while another ten have appealed against their sentences. As of April 30, there were 556 prisoners at the Welikada female prison. However although there are two women on death row, no female has been executed in the history of Sri Lanka’s prison system.
In total there are 360 male prisoners on death row in the Welikada, Bogambara and Mahara prisons, while 211 males and 15 females are serving life sentences.