Nine years later: A family’s quest for justice | Sunday Observer

Nine years later: A family’s quest for justice

Sandya Ekneligoda
Sandya Ekneligoda

Thursday, January 24 marks the ninth anniversary of the unexplained kidnapping and disappearance of cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, and in his honour his wife Sandya hopes to organise a religious event with the help of family and well-wishers.

Nearly a decade ago, Eknaligoda who was attached to website Lankaenews went missing under mysterious circumstances. According to Sandya, the last moments Eknaligoda was last seen alive can be traced to army camps in Akkaraipattu and Giritale.

Sandya says that the day her husband went missing, he was wearing a white shirt - his son’s school uniform he had borrowed to wear to a Bodi Pooja.

Tirelessly continuing her struggle to find justice and embarking each year hoping to find light in a case that has run cold, Sandya - most often clad in a white saree - has become a familiar sight at protests, demonstrations, exhibitions and media conferences dedicated to find disappeared persons of Sri Lanka.

The mother of two, now in her mid 50s, who rarely took part in protests before her husband’s disappearance has become a symbol of resilience today.

“When Prageeth left through this door that morning (January 24, 2010) he told me that his election campaigning work will end that night and he will help me with my work from the next day onwards,” Sandya said as she sat with the Sunday Observer, looking out her front door through which the cartoonist left, never to be seen again.

Ever since, the journey has been a constant battle to Sandya. Targeted by online bullies and shouted at by a prominent Buddhist monk, she appears calm and collected. “But I get scared sometimes. Online they scold me in filth. As if I am a bad woman. All I am doing is looking for my missing husband,” she said.

The shock appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister last October, Sandya says, was a time when she became particularly fearful.

“I was scared for my life. I was scared of my children’s wellbeing,” she said adding that the event would take several years off her struggle to find justice.

In January (this month) the ongoing investigations into Eknaligoda’s case was to end ‘naturally’ if the illegal government continued. And, during the brief period the unidentified individuals who stalk, even to date, Sandya increased. Her youngest son feared Sandya will also be abducted.

She participated in almost all pro-democracy protests she was invited to in the hope that the developments will change. When the court verdict rolled-back the 52-day government, Sandya felt relieved. She did not attend the victory rally held in Galle Face Green because ‘democracy won, not a political party’.

The Rajapaksa family, she said, is after a man who took a pen to his hands. “It is neither a gun nor a sword. Why can’t we find what happened to him even after so many years?” she asked. Just before Eknaligoda went missing he was working on his book ‘Pawul Gaha’ (The Family Tree), which was to contain most corruption the Rajapaksa family was involved in.

“Prageeth thought that it was his responsibility to reveal what the former regime did. Before he could finish it he was abducted,” Sandya said.

She said her husband got scared when a friend told him that he was the first on the killing list, and asked him to be more cautious.

Recalling the fateful night, the second time Eknaligoda was abducted - the first on August 27, 2009 and released the following day - she remembered calling everyone who was to meet and met the cartoonist that day. When he didn’t return she went to lodge a police complaint at the Homagama police, she was told that going missing is a fashion.

“The officer told me that Prageeth should be home, while I was at the police station. He refused to record my complaint,” she said. It was finally recorded. Her youngest son went into depression following the abduction. He had to be put on anti-depressants for four years till he got fairly better. But certain incidents still put pressure on the family.

One such instance is when, in 2016, Bodu Bala Sena’s Galagodatte Gnanasara shouted at Sandya accusing her of tarnishing the name of the armed forces.

“I thought he was coming to hit me. All I could do was run into the court room and tell the judge what was happening,” she said. The monk was found guilty of criminally intimidating Sandya in the court premises.

Today Sandya, who lost her job at an insurance company following the abduction, sells rice packets to make a living. Her family and well-wishers help her too.

“I urge the President and Prime Minister to get involved in this case more and expedite the investigations. They are deliberately avoiding it. We don’t have to live this way if the heads of this country do what they have to,” Sandya said. (AP)