Prageeth was devastated by Lasantha's death - Sandya | Sunday Observer

Prageeth was devastated by Lasantha's death - Sandya

The white board signed by well-wishers and supporters on January 26, 2015, next to the large photograph  of a thoughtful Prageeth
The white board signed by well-wishers and supporters on January 26, 2015, next to the large photograph of a thoughtful Prageeth

“He was devastated when he heard the news. It really upset him.” Sandya Eknaligoda recalls how her husband reacted to the death of the late editor Lasantha Wickrematunge who was gunned down exactly a year before Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared and never returned.

January 8, 2009 is one of those days Sandya remembers as clear as a whistle. Her husband, cartoonists and journalist for the website LankaeNews Prageeth, had that worried look on his face.

“Balannako mung karala thiyana wadey (look at what they have done),” he told her.

‘They’ are the Rajapaksas, the family that ruled the country before the current government came into power.

Prageeth


Sandya Eknaligoda

Sandya told the Sunday Observer the incident unnerved her husband. Several months after Wickrematunga’s death, on August 27, 2009 Prageeth was abducted by an unidentified group for the first time and released the next day. On January 24, 2010 he was abducted again and hasn’t come back home since then.

Sandya said that both Prageeth and Wickrematunge were invoved in exposing Rajapaksas’ corruption.

Sandya says that her husband lives through his disappearance, he lives through his work and he lives through her activism till justice is served for her, her family and the people who stand for democracy, but she has given up seeking his body because ‘most probably’ she won’t find it.

When Prageeth left his house on that ill-fated day he was planning to go to a funeral after work before coming home. Since he did not have a white shirt he had worn his son’s new uniform shirt.

“After wearing our son’s shirt he said that our son has grown,” Sandya says. Prageeth was proud that his son has grown as big as him.

“When he left through that door he said he’ll help me with my work from the next day because the election campaigns were coming to an end,” Sandya recalls looking at the very door-way where Prageeth had stood as he said this. She stared blankly at the open door that opened out to their small garden as the morning sun flooded the room. “He never came back,” she said.However, the missing journalist’s presence can be still felt in their humble lodging in Pannipitiya. Prageeth’s photographs and work are hung on the walls, placed on tables and balanced against cupboards.

A white board signed by well-wishers and supporters on January 26, 2015 lies next to a large photograph of a thoughtful Prageeth. “Prageeth - we remember you,” one person had signed.

Sandya’s fight

Ever since her husband disappeared, Sandya has organised over 15 campaigns, appeared in about 150 court hearings, and followed every lead - like the one where Dematagoda Chaminda claimed to have thrown Prageeth’s body into the sea, but to no avail. Apart from that the mother of two young boys has become a target by organised cyber bullies on social media. Sandya has a Facebook page dedicated to her husband and where she is constantly accused of working against ‘war heroes’ or the ‘Rajapaksas’ who rid the country of the LTTE’. “I get scared sometimes. People know where I live. I am being followed all the time. My sons say that they will do something to me too,” Sandya says.

What keeps her from continuing her struggle for justice for the cases of Prageeth, Lasantha and many others who went through similar cases are her family and people who encourage her to keep fighting.Nearly two decades later, the journey to achieving justice is as bleak as it was back then.

Responsibility

“The President and Prime Minister of this country have a responsibility to solve these cases. They are not doing it,” Sandya says.

Her husband’s abduction and Lasantha’s assassination were used during election campaigns to win votes.

However, when the same people came into power the family members of missing or killed persons were brushed aside. To make ends meet, Sandya sells packets of rice or takes up other jobs to support her sons and pay for her degree in Social Sciences at the Open University.

“In our country justice is something we have to fight for. It is not given to us free. I will continue to do that,” Sandya says adding “I know in my heart that even before I breathe my last I will have the strength to get justice for Prageeth.”

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