Fri, 24 May 2024 Today's Paper

“If we’re to forgive, those who committed abductions should come forward and apologise” - Sandya Ekneligoda

30 December 2022 12:01 am - 3     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A A A

Sandya Ekneligoda also chose to worship Goddess Kali in her attempts to seek justice for her missing husband 

 

  • Those who obey the Rajapaksas and their orders continue to label both Prageeth and myself as terrorists
  • As a law abiding citizen I have to place my trust in the country’s judicial mechanisms
  • I would like to thank the media fraternity for standing with me and for giving me a space to speak
  • When solving a crime there has to be some political support when seeking justice
  • Sri Lanka is a cursed nation and it has been cursed by women ever since the time of Kuweni

 

Sandya Ekneligoda, wife of missing journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, has been fighting a lone battle for 12 long years to seek justice for her husband. In January 2022, Sandya made a vow to Goddess Kali, following which several major changes took place in Sri Lanka’s political landscape. Her efforts to seek justice for her husband have been acknowledged both locally and internationally. Apart from being the recipient of the International Woman of Courage award in 2017, Sandya was recently listed in BBC’s 100 most influential women 
for 2022. 
In a candid interview with the Daily Mirror, Mrs. Ekneligoda spoke about the progress of investigations regarding her husband’s disappearance, how it is like to seek justice for a loved one as a woman in this country, her vow to Goddess Kali and her own aragalaya (Struggle).

Excerpts: 

Q   Let’s talk about the progress made relating to the investigations with regard to your husband’s disappearance

There is one case filed against nine suspects at the Colombo Permanent High Court Trial-at-bar. On the final day of the hearing, Shani Abeysekara- who was the chief investigating officer in this case- was not included as a witness. But my lawyer requested his presence. Now, the Attorney General is in the process of preparing documents to produce Abeysekara as a witness. In the other case, according to the initial evidence, the third and fourth accused had seen Prageeth last. One of them is a former LTTE supporter and has provided intelligence services to the Army Intelligence Unit. He is the intervener in this case. However he has changed his evidence which he provided in 2015 and said that he did that due to pressure from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The third accused is allegedly the person who handed over Prageeth to the Giritale camp and he too has gone back on his evidence.

Q   Then, who is Gamini Perera?

Prageeth believed that these people were coming to get some help from him. Prageeth has called Gamini and said that there are some people who are coming to Colombo and that they don’t know the city much. Therefore he had requested Gamini to find a three-wheeler to accompany them. Between 8-8.30pm on January 24, 2010, when Gamini had called Prageeth, he had responded to the call and said that his ‘friends’ had come and that he is with them.Gamini had overheard them saying that this is not the route to reach Koswatte. Prageeth worked closely with Gamini during that period for Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka’s campaign. The court hearings have been postponed to February and March. 

 

Prageeth exposed corruption taking place among the Rajapaksa family. I heard them recently saying that Army intelligence units have found that he’s a terrorist and that I’m also a terrorist. There are 12 institutions responsible for the country’s national security. All institutions have given statements saying that Prageeth has never worked with any terrorist organization

 

Q   How is it like to seek justice (as a woman) for a loved one who has been forcibly disappeared in a country like Sri Lanka?

It is not a bed of roses. Sri Lankans harbour the mentality that I’m not the only person who has experienced a situation like this. There are many other women whose husbands have been forcibly disappeared. So how come it’s a problem only for me? That is how they perceive this issue. When solving a crime there has to be some political support when seeking justice. Even in that case they think that the disappeared person is no more. So for the families of disappeared persons, seeking justice is an uphill task. In most instances, families of disappeared persons are sometimes deprived of their basic fundamental rights as well. Those who have been victims of the ethnic conflict may receive various compensation schemes from governments, but families of the disappeared are ignored in these schemes. They justify these actions by throwing false claims such as families of disappeared persons are entitled to dollars. They don’t care how these people survive or the discrimination they face. 

Q   There were several mechanisms introduced by previous governments - such as the Office of Missing Persons (OMP)- to ensure that justice is served for families of disappeared. Have these been successful attempts or were they a farce on the eyes of the public?

Governments don’t have a need to solve these issues. The OMP was established as a result of people’s protests and the involvement of the United Nations. At its inception there was some progress made. The victims were satisfied with the appointments made and there was a report that was published during the first six months. But in 2019, after Gotabaya Rajapaksa became President, the OMP became a property of the Rajapaksas. The appointments were political and it became a place where their associates received employment. They forgot that they should work to serve justice to victims. They are even issuing press releases against victims. They should first read the OMP’s guidelines. 

Q   There are several narrations to Prageeth’s disappearance. But it is a known fact that he was abducted once before in 2009 and was released on the basis of ‘mistaken identity’. Do you think it was a politically motivated abduction or a personal grudge?

It’s becomes of a personal grudge because Prageeth wrote against the Rajapaksa’s and their nepotism. What happened in 2010 is a continuation of what happened in 2009. He was abducted in 2009 and released the next day. But I still don’t know why they released him and according to whose request they did it. What I know is that the Rajapaksas would release someone they abduct only if somebody else puts pressure on them. This was evident during the cases of Poddala Jayantha and Keith Noyahr. Therefore I don’t know who intervened initially. There were those who said that Prageeth was lying about an abduction in an attempt to seek political asylum in another country. Following the second incident there was an article on Dinamina which claimed that Prageeth was spotted in Dambulla and the fact that he was hiding. They continued with this claim till 2015. Then Mohan Pieris claimed that he had escaped to another country and was living as a refugee. Once investigations commenced he became a terrorist and a LTTE supporter. Prageeth is also being labeled as a traitor; someone who betrayed their ‘king’ who is Mahinda Rajapaksa. But now there are many Eknaligodas because people got together to chase away the royalty. 

 

Once investigations commenced he became a terrorist and a LTTE supporter. Prageeth is also being labeled as a traitor; someone who betrayed their ‘king’ who is Mahinda Rajapaksa. But now there are many Eknaligodas because people got together to chase away the royalty

 

Q   So you think that this is an act of political revenge?

Yes, because Prageeth exposed corruption taking place among the Rajapaksa family. I heard them recently saying that Army intelligence units have found that he’s a terrorist and that I’m also a terrorist. There are 12 institutions responsible for the country’s national security. All institutions have given statements saying that Prageeth has never worked with any terrorist organization and that he hasn’t obtained money from any such organisation. But they still label him as a terrorist and a traitor. Even though the security organizations denied Prageeth’s links to any terrorist organization, those who obey the Rajapaksas and their orders continue to label both Prageeth and myself as terrorists. 

Q   After 12 years of fighting you made a vow to Goddess Kali to seek justice for your husband. What made you resort to divine intervention? Is it that you cannot obtain justice from human intervention?

Not really. I have made vows on different occasions. As a law abiding citizen I have to place my trust in the country’s judicial mechanisms. Irrespective of what I believe in, there are various cultures, beliefs that exist in this world and therefore I decided to believe in divine interventions as well. Since I’m a woman, I have to chose a woman. According to religious legends Goddess Kali is considered to be the goddess of ultimate power. She embodies feminine energy. Therefore I went to Goddess Kali. According to Indian literature Goddess Paththini fought against the world in the name of her loved ones. She cursed everyone who spoke ill of her. I know that if we believe in something it will never bring us bad luck. We should believe in what we do and things will never go wrong.

 

Since I’m a woman, I have to chose a woman. According to religious legends Goddess Kali is considered to be the goddess of ultimate power. She embodies feminine energy. Therefore I went to Goddess Kali. According to Indian literature Goddess Paththini fought against the world in the name of her loved ones. She cursed everyone who spoke ill of her

 

Q   However, following your vow, major changes took place in the political landscape in the country. What do you have to say about the incidents that followed?

Yes. Many things changed in a matter of few weeks. By January the former President had Executive power and he had changed the constitution as well. People still feared him. But days after I made the vow, everything fell apart. People started coming on to the streets and protesting against the then regime. The aragalaya was a huge blow to all politicians in the country. Quite surprisingly, everything mentioned in the Vas Kaviya (Prayer chanting) came true. 

Q   More than a decade after the war abductions and disappearances are a major issue that is haunting this society. These were issues during several youth insurrections in SL. Can Sri Lanka ever get rid of these curses?

Sri Lanka is a cursed nation. The country has been cursed by women ever since the time of Kuweni. Those who assumed political power robbed women of their happiness. Thereafter those women cursed this country when they knew that there’s no justice served to them. This country will never be free of their curses. If the country is to be free of these curses, justice should be served to women. Even the present government doesn’t think that it’s their responsibility to serve justice to families of disappeared. In fact none of the governments thought that it was its responsibility to do so. They think they can cheat the UN and other countries and that nothing needs to be done at ground level. On top of that they say that they don’t agree with the UN resolutions. In that case they can leave the UN. But they also need the privileges. 

 

There were those who said that Prageeth was lying about an abduction in an attempt to seek political asylum in another country. Following the second incident there was an article on Dinamina which claimed that Prageeth was spotted in Dambulla and the fact that he was hiding. They continued with this claim till 2015

 

Q   Some families of the disappeared in the North and East have at least received a certificate to justify that their loved ones are either disappeared or dead.  But you have been continuing this battle for 12 long years without any such documentation. What do you have to say about that?

Sometimes the mothers in the North and East don’t like to receive certificates like that. What they have been told is that their loved ones were never seen anywhere. How can they be issued certificates without any wrongdoing? Justice is not a certificate. Here, victims should get a chance to speak with those who took their loved ones away. We talk about forgiving. But victims have lost everything. If we are to forgive, those who committed these crimes should firstly come forward and apologise. If they are not willing to apologise, how can we forgive? That should never be done. Forgiving is a virtue and we shouldn’t use it unnecessarily. If that is to happen, successive governments should prepare those who committed these crimes to apologise from us. These shouldn’t be mere media shows. But they should apologise from their heart. There’s no place to remember those who have disappeared. So how can we forgive those who committed these crimes? 

Q   You have received many awards and much recognition for your courage in seeking justice for your husband apart from being listed among other influential women in the world. Your thoughts?

I didn’t expect any such recognition. I wake up every  day with an intention to achieve my goal. I live for the sake of my own aragalaya. Therefore I’m happy that the world has seen my effort to seek justice. This is why they have awarded me with such recognition. That shows that I have travelled in the right path. And this satisfaction is indescribable. This journey wasn’t a bed of roses. I have faced many stones that were pelted at me. But several groups assisted me during various phases of my struggle. I made use of every opportunity I had. I extend my gratitude to everybody who assisted me in this journey. I would like to thank the media fraternity for standing with me and for giving me a space to speak in front of media. That is how the world saw me. 

 

For the families of disappeared persons, seeking justice is an uphill task. In most instances, families of disappeared persons are sometimes deprived of their basic fundamental rights as well. Those who have been victims of the ethnic conflict may receive various compensation schemes from governments, but families of the disappeared are ignored in these schemes

 

Sandya Ekneligoda stages a protest holding an image of her missing husband Prageeth while standing outside the United Nation’s office in Colombo
pics by Kithsiri De Mel

 


  Comments - 3

  • Tamils have no help And our Tamil Politicians Are Indian financed Friday, 30 December 2022 04:54 AM

    My heart goes out for this brave lady. We Tamils of Jaffna also suffered similarly but in large scale. So many Tamil men and women went missing during the brutal occupation of Jaffna by the Indian Army. All our Tamil political leaders are corrupt and selfish and they are sponsored by India and as such there are no Tamils to speak on behalf of the missing Tamil civilians.

    Robert Croos Wednesday, 04 January 2023 12:32 AM

    'What can I do?' is the average person's response for human abuses in Sri Lanka. i wouldn't blame them, because years of experiencing helplessness and tolerating injustice has lead to this. I am seventy years old and saw abductions and executions all my life in SL. It is my generation who talk big for the religious leaders and voted for openly known human right abusers over the past decades. My respect for people who are demanding justice today

    Roshan Friday, 06 January 2023 09:05 AM

    These same who carried out these abductions and executions do not want to admit their past atrocities. They are trying to whitewash their sins hoping that others will forget. They are still not ready for us to forgive them. Yet there are still people willing to worship them and be their willing partners. Karuna, Maithri is not in their vocabulary. But the wheels of justice will turn around and its in our hand to give it a push to be faster.


Add comment

Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.

Reply To:

Name - Reply Comment