Cracks and tears: How the Shafi family’s lives turned upside down | Sunday Observer

Cracks and tears: How the Shafi family’s lives turned upside down

The time was 4.45pm on July 25. The message on her phone read, “Bail order at 5.45pm. No reason for bail refusal. Let’s hope for the best.”

But the clock ticked by and there was not much news. At 6.14pm the message read, “Magistrate yet to come to the bench. Heavy security around court premises.”

Again at 6.28pm, it read, “Make Dua”.

That was what Dr. Imara Shafi has been doing since the arrest of her husband Dr. Seigu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi who was a Senior House Officer (SHO) at the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital, 62 days ago. Dr. Imara never stopped praying.

The messages on her phone were from a lawyer who was part of Dr. Shafi’s legal team.

Meanwhile, her friends sent her screenshots of tweets from reporters following the proceedings in the Kurunegala Magistrate’s Court including Sunday Observer’s Anurangi Singh.

Dr. Imara desperately clung to her phone waiting for the lawyer to update her as she sat in her friend’s house in Kurunegala. Due to the threats she and her family had received since May, Dr. Shafi was too afraid to go to court to watch proceedings in her husband’s case. So she fasted and prayed the whole day instead.

Finally, she got the message she had been praying for all day. “Dr. Shafi granted bail now. He will be released after furnishing bail conditions.” The time was 6.59pm.

Her husband was released on Rs. 250,000 cash bail and four surety bail worth Rs. 2.5 million.

Dr. Imara recalls the moment as being the happiest since the Shafi family’s life was turned upside down after the publication of an article in a Sinhalese newspaper, on May 23, accusing a doctor of illegally sterilising 4000 ‘Sinhala’ mothers. Later the same day, the University of Rajarata’s Prof. Channa Jayasumana’s carefully dressed Facebook post that gave the accused doctor a name and a face. Life has not been the same for Dr.Imara and her three children since.

Several excruciating court hearings followed. Allegation after allegation was thrown against Dr. Shafi. Then came the reports from the CID investigations. Despite about a thousand mothers accusing her husband of crushing their fallopian tubes, the CID could not find enough evidence to keep the him behind bars.

Dr. Imara says this was all a politically motivated witch-hunt against her husband. Dr. Shafi had all the necessary factors to be the prey- he was a Muslim doctor, the country was already recovering from well-organised terrorist bombings and the environment was vulnerable for people of a certain community. Making matters worse, he had also contested the last general election on the UNP ticket and the underlined political machinations behind the fake controversy are widely known.

Also, for the first time she understood how the CID worked. “They did an unbiased investigation. I was really surprised,” she said.

Because there was no evidence to prove Dr. Shafi’s involvement in terrorist organisations or illegal sterilisation of mothers, Dr. Imara was hopeful about bail when the case was taken up on July 11.

“I wanted to be there with my husband in the court room. But I couldn’t. My brother and parents strongly advised me against it saying it was not safe,” Dr. Imara recalled.

Then the message came. “Bail not granted. Sending to the Kegalle Prison,” it read. Bail was not given on grounds of public reaction and a threat to a land broker.

Dr. Imara broke down and cried. “I was expecting him to come home (that day)”, she said.

She went with her brother to the Kurunegala police. It was dark and past 8.30pm. She was still crying but couldn’t say if Dr. Shafi was too. “It was too dark. He (Dr. Shafi) shouted and asked my brother to look after me”.

Now, two weeks after Dr. Shafi finally came home, she continues to be paralysed with fear about their safety. She will not tell a soul where they live. The entire family had to move out of Kurunegala after the witch-hunt intensified. Their three children had to be removed from a leading Buddhist school in the area.

Today,Dr. Imara, who also worked as a nephrologist at the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital has found a job elsewhere. At first, she was turned down at several places when she revealed her identity.

Soon after Dr. Shafi’s arrest her eldest daughter, a ninth grader, was diagnosed with depression. She went back to school, a state-run popular Sinhala school in Kurunegala, about a week after the arrest. During that time, she felt some of her classmates has changed.

Later, came another article from the same paper that accused Dr. Shafi of illegal sterilization of mothers. This time it targeted their daughter and accused her of giving poison laced sanitary napkins to fellow-students. Dr. Imara removed her three children from school.

The daughter was re-enrolled in a school in Colombo. Last Monday, after a lapse of about two months, she was able to put her other two children to school.

“My youngest daughter sat for the scholarship exam last week. She was able to sit through her old school. She said it was easy. She is like that. She doesn’t take things to heart,” Dr. Imara said.

Dr. Imara was also taking medicine for depression as the case against her husband heated up.

“I know God will ensure justice for what we went through. The people who accused my husband falsely will have to pay one day,” she said adding that she has no anger against the mothers who came forward to complain against her husband. “They were misled by the media,” she added.

Dr. Imara has a keepsake from that period. When she was running around meeting lawyer after lawyer, going from school to school, and apartment to apartment looking for a safe place for her family, her phone fell. The screen cracked in the middle.

“I tell my husband that these cracks signify what my life has been these past three months. How it was shattered by this case. I will not fix the phone. I am going to keep it as a reminder,” she said.