Marking ‘Missing Lovers Day’ | Sunday Observer

Marking ‘Missing Lovers Day’

Dharamathi Palliyaguru (in yellow dress) and other  women  who wait endlessly
Dharamathi Palliyaguru (in yellow dress) and other women who wait endlessly

I lost our house,
Your friends became foes,
I lost you too,
This was my fate.
Our children question me now,
‘Where is our father?’ They ask,
My heart aches in pain,
What can I tell them?

This is a rough translation of the love song S. H. Nandaseeli, from Hambanthota, wrote and sang in Sinhala to the tune of a popular Sri Lankan ballad on Thursday - Valentine’s Day. She was one of the 56 women who came to Colombo from areas such as Galle, Matara and Batticaloa to celebrate Lovers’ Day, and here is why their journey was special.

The sun was almost setting, sea breeze from the Galle Face Green- a popular lovers’ terrain - settled over the Dutch Hospital Precinct. Roses and fairy lights on tables with white tablecloths, love songs sung live made it a perfect atmosphere to celebrate the union of two lovers.

For the 56 women who boarded buses from the North and South early that morning it was a day to commemorate the much-anticipated event too, but without their spouses and loved ones.

‘Missing Lovers Day’ was organised by the Families of the Disappeared for the second consecutive year, to provide a platform for the women who were deprived of love and left to share their stories. Their spouses have gone missing, in most cases as a result of political a vendetta, leaving no trace or closure. One message resonated throughout that evening- ‘something like this should not happen to another woman or lover’. Holding a framed or laminated photograph or a keepsake from their loved ones the women sat with others, occasionally being drawn into an emotional conversation with a young woman or man.

Disappearance

“It was on November 26 in 1989 that my husband was taken away from me,” 64-year-old Dharamathi Palliyaguru from Baddegama, Galle, told the Sunday Observer.

They (her husband and she) were sleeping when three armed men came into their house and dragged her Grama Niladhari husband, Lionel, out of the house. She was 35 and he was 39. To date Dharamathi has not seen Lionel or his body, nor does she know what has happened to him.

“I looked for him continuously for four years and finally came to terms with the fact that he has died,” she said. And that is when she gave the first alms giving on behalf of Lionel.

Dharamathi and Lionel’s love story began 10 years before they tied the nuptial knot. Her love for him was innocent and pure. When their first child was born, they knew they had to expand their little nest. Three children followed. They were happy till tragedy struck. “When Lionel was taken away no one looked for him. No one cared. It was not easy to bring our four children up but I did everything I can because that is what my Lionel would want me to do,” she said holding his picture and brushing away the tears rolling down her face. Next to her was a laminated, black and white picture of a young, handsome man. Lionel’s smile was haunting. The stories are grim, but the organisers made it as joyous as any Valentine’s event. Emerging musical groups Side Walk, Music Oven, Pettah Effect and Calypso performed that evening free.

Hiran Seram of Side Walk said they performed free because it was a special event. They have never been a part of an event of this nature, and for them it was eye-opening and humbling to perform acoustic versions of popular love songs to a special group of women, to commemorate their eternal love.

That is what Families of the Disappeared aimed to do - create awareness among youth of how grave the issue is in Sri Lanka. President of the organisation Brinto Fernando said that most young people are quick to assume that disappearance is only an issue faced by the people in the North. “But we want to show that it is island wide. We want to create awareness to stop something like this from reoccurring.”

He said it is essential that the promises made through the Government’s ‘Transitional Justice Program’ to ensure justice for the disappeared are fulfilled.

The young

Young persons were invited through their social media campaigns to join hands with them in a journey towards justice, with the simple foundation of love.

Sandya Ekneligoda, human rights activist and wife of missing cartoonist Prageeth, saw the social media posts and came to share the evening with others who are still awaiting justice.

“This is just another day for us. We have to keep demanding for answers,” she said.

Sandya is a pinnacle of hope for women such as Nandaseeli who keep writing songs for her missing love- Ananda. Nandaseeli is a mother of two. She had three children but her second daughter died following a snake bite, not long after her husband went missing on December 7, 1989. She has written songs for her daughter too.

Fifty-four-year-old Padmanadan Susiladevi of Batticaloa also lost her husband and daughter too, but in a different way. When soldiers from the Sri Lanka Army arrived, her husband was working in his paddy field.

The military was feared by the villagers. Her then 42-year-old husband, got scared when he saw them and had started to run back home when the soldiers shot at him.

Susiladevi learnt that he was alive when he was taken away by the soldiers but he never returned.

She doesn’t know what happened to him. Her daughter and son-in-law were taken away by soldiers several years later. “The younger generation has to hear these stories. Most think that disappearances are related only to war, but when you hear more stories you realise that it is not the case,” said volunteer Ralston Joseph.

He said disappearances should not plague the country again, while justice is ensured to those who have gone missing. This is the key premise on which the public event ‘Missing Lovers Day’ was held.

Later that evening, the 56 women handed over roses to young persons asking them to give it to the love of their lives and ensure he or she is not unfairly snatched away from them without rhyme or reason.

 

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