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Monday, July 22, 2024

STANDING TALL: Sandhya, Lanka’s First Lady of courage

STAND BY YOUR MAN, DEAD OR ALIVE: Sandhya Ekneligoda receives international recognition for her relentless search to discover the fate that befell her husband, newspaper cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, seven years ago

Though she appears diminutive next to Melania Trump, the lanky First Lady of the United States, Lanka’s Sandhya Ekneligoda stands tall and packs a meaty punch when it comes to measuring her stature in terms of courage and resolve.

Sandaya with Melania Trump

For the last seven years, ever since the day her husband, newspaper cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, failed to come home on that fateful January 24th 2010 and remained missing thereafter, she has dedicated her life to discover the whereabouts of the man she loved and married who suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth; who, in mysterious circumstances, vanished without trace.

For the last seven years, she has waged a lone one woman battle in a quest to find the truth about her husband’s disappearance – whether he is still alive or whether he is dead. But even after such a lapse of time, even after a change in government, even after more than 90 court appearances, her relentless search for truth has brought her no nearer to her destination today than when she first embarked upon it seven years ago.

On the hard and rugged streets of Lanka’s politics, her relentless pursuit to learn the fate that befell her husband had often been met with a stony silence from government authorities. Stones of vilification had been thrown at her. Attacks on her husband’s patriotism have been cast to blacken his reputation; and she herself has been accused by those with a vested interest in ensuring that her search meets a dead end and leave the mystery of Ekneligoda unsolved for all time, of being motivated by pecuniary reasons. But through it all, she has weathered the storms that had rained down on her; and proceeded with her task with singular purpose: The fundamental right of a woman to know what happened to her husband, the father of her children.

This Wednesday she was in Washington to accept the ‘International Women of Courage Award for 2017’ which the US State Department awards each year to ‘women of exceptional courage and commitment of women who serve as advocates for human rights, justice, peace, and gender equality.’ Probably the first Lankan to meet America’s new First Lady, the award was presented to her by Melania Trump “for her tireless pursuit of justice for her husband, and on behalf of missing families from across Sri Lanka’s diverse ethnic and religious communities.”

In the words of the American Ambassador to Lanka, Atul Keshap, “Sandhya represents the dedication and perseverance of women from all ethnicities across Sri Lanka who are seeking information about their missing loved ones. The American people support their efforts as a step towards a brighter future of truth, reconciliation, and lasting peace for all Sri Lankans.”

The award and the words may not have brought her husband back nor led her any closer to discover his fate but, on her trail of discovery, it would certainly have poured more oil to her lamp to refuel the fire and light the flame of perseverance to burn more bright and for much longer. Along with 13 other women who had shown exceptional courage in their respective countries, she presented a picture of women the world’s sole superpower honours and their own native countries ignore.

As Sandhya, Lanka’s woman of courage said after the presentation, “It’s all about never giving up. No matter what difficulties you face now, know that something positive is in store for you.”

Take a bow, Sandhya. You have done Lanka’s women proud. And struck a blow for all Lankans who believe vigilance is the price of liberty and that each must contribute to keep the flame of democracy in this country burning bright, when you said: “Pursuing the truth is not a crime. Protecting the perpetrators is.”

Courtesy of The Sunday Times.


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