Sandya Eknaligoda, Courage, and The Right to The Truth

24th January 2010, journalist and cartoonist Pradeep Eknaligoda went missing. He was 50 years old, and is one of thousands of missing people in Sri Lanka. In fact, Sri Lanka ranks second in the list of countries after Iraq to record the largest number of disappearances, and enforced or involuntary disappearances are reported to be around 65,000.

Yesterday, 29th March 2017 - Pradeep's wife, Sandya Eknaligoda received the International Women of Courage Award, presented annually to women who have shown leadership, courage, resourcefulness and willingness to sacrifice for others, from around the world. Handed to her by Melania Trump, First Lady of the United States of America amidst flashing cameras and photo-op smiles, Sandya is the second Sri Lankan to have ever have won this award, Jansila Majeed received it in 2010.

In 7 years, Sandya appeared in court over 90 times. Her struggle, her courage and her fight has been hijacked and used by opportunists both claiming to stand with and against her. She has watched a government fall, a regime change, fresh promises made and broken. She has not heard a word from her husband since the day he vanished. Sandya has refused in the face of all this, to back down or give up. She has evolved and grown - from a wife searching for the truth about her husband, to a symbol of the thousands of people who continue to this day searching for information about their loved ones who vanished without a trace.

I have followed Sandya's journey and struggle for justice, for the truth for years now - and she never fails to astound me or to humble me. From the sidelines I watched and marveled at this incredible woman and her resilience. Mostly I have been awed at her courage. I was raised in an country of self-censorship and fear, before I even could understand what that even meant. It was normal for us to close our eyes and mouths, to keep our heads down and not be the cause of ripples. Perhaps that is why actions of women and people like Sandya strike me so powerfully. What she and others are asking for is simple - they want the truth. It is really that simple. They are asking to know what happened to they people they loved. Are they not owed at least that much?

All too often, people who demand the truth, who demand justice, who demand that the State do what we have elected them to do - protect its citizens and their rights - are accused of being anti-patriotic. For wanting to destroy our country. For not loving Sri Lanka, for wanting to cause problems - and are called traitors.

This is not the truth. These people more often than not - love this country. They love this country so much they are willing to risk their lives to make it better. To make it safe, free and fair for all. They love Sri Lanka even when Sri Lanka doesn't love them back, they love it enough to never stop fighting for justice. That is to me - true patriotism. That is courage. That is the truth.
We  - the people are this country. From the man wading into waters that become more polluted everyday to fish, to the girl in the North cycling through dusty road to get to school. We will decide what it will become. Through our votes, our voices, and our perusal of what is right - what becomes of Sri Lanka is in our hands. And it is women like Sandya, people like her that even in the most fearful, the most terrifying of circumstances that will drive us forward and keep our soul in tact. That will make us truly great.

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