SRI LANKA: Cry of three women and water canon in the streets 

Basil Fernando

During the last week, three women have tried to speak to their nation about the tragedy each of them faced. One is Sandya Eknaliyagoda, the wife of Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda, the disappeared journalist; another is Hemali Abeyratne , the wife of Chandana Sirimalwattha, the detained editor of Lanka E-News and the other is Anoma Fonseka, the wife of the popular politician, former military commander and the common candidate for the opposition in the last presidential election, Sarath Fonseka. They all call for respect for the basic rights of their husbands and ask the nation to assist them in finding justice.

These women are crying for justice in a background in which the incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapakse, has begun his second term. In the government camp there are celebrations and boundless boasts about their great victories. There is triumphalism exhibited in every possible way, and of course, the photographs appear of boundless joy in the families close to the president’s side.

Such is the way the nation is divided now. The three women reflect a reality shared by many thousands of others. There are widows, mothers and sisters of literally tens of thousands of others in the north and east who are also asking for their husbands, sons and brothers. They, too, have been crying for many years for justice and hardly anyone listens to them. There are also literally tens of thousands of others in the south who have also been demanding the same for a long time. Their lives have also been cut asunder by factors that are beyond their control and grasp.

What all of them are demanding is something very simple – observance of the legal process relating to the issues of their husbands. Sandya Eknaliyagoda demands that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) finds her missing husband. She fears that the reason for his sudden disappearance is the criticisms that her husband has made against the president in his writings. The IGP has demonstrated that there is nothing he can do in this matter. Hemali Abeyratne demands the release of her husband who is being detained only because he is the editor of a journal which was opposed to the president during the last election. She states that this is no offence, and if any crime was committed to deal with it under the normal process of law and not under the secret process of national security. Anoma Fonseka demands the same. She demands the observance of due process and asks the nation to assist her in preventing political revenge being taken on her husband simply because he dared to contest the election against the government. In short, all of them demand reasonable treatment for their loved ones.

Can the nation be of any assistance? Under the normal circumstances, it is the law that should come to their assistance. But the complaint of all the three is that there seems to be no law in the manner that their husbands have been treated. The issue of due process is, for these three women and many thousands like them, not some abstract issue. Their problem is also that they do not know where to turn to in order to have the law observed. The police cannot find a missing husband, particularly when the suspects behind his disappearance have the patronage of those in power. At that point, the police investigation system does not work. The law also does not work when national security is invoked to arrest somebody just for being an editor of a publication. The law of course does not work at all when the matter is taken away from the country’s courts and referred to a military tribunal, as is being done in the case of Sarath Fonseka.

How will the nation respond to the cry of these three women? When there is no law to turn to, what can any of the other citizens do by way of a response? Is that what all citizens are going to experience during Rajapakse’s second term?

Some citizens came to the street to respond to the call of their times and were met with tear gas. Will the Lorries carrying water canons and tear gas be the only response that the government will have to the cry of the citizens?

Those who went into the street also saw the armed thugs being protected by special police teams. The thugs were displaying sticks, chains, swords and iron rods openly but the police did not arrest them. They were transported by unknown groups (which appeared to be underworld with the support of the police). The pattern is that the thugs occupy a place among the peaceful protesters and at some point attack them. When the people retaliate the police come to the protection of the thugs and tear gas and baton charge the protesters. Then the police arrest a number of peaceful protesters but none of the thugs. Such is the way the citizens who go to answer the cry of those who demand justice are treated.

These three women like most women in Sri Lanka today, are capable of understanding in the abstract words like, law, constitutionalism, rule of law, due process and justice. But where do they see these things in real life. In their own homes their own husbands are being denied any of these things.

In a country where resorting to the law no longer brings reasonable relief, tear gas and even worse responses may be what is waiting for those who try to respond to the cry of their fellow citizens who demand justice.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-017-2010
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Women's rights,