By Kumar Rupesighe –
I had the privilege of having known Shanthi Sachithanandam since about the 1980s when she and her husband Mano would attend the many meetings and discussion circles which were going on about the crisis in the country as result of the pogroms unleashed by President Jayewardene after his massive election victory in 1977. JR. Jayewardene had won the elections with a four fifths majority and his first act as the President was to unleash a reign of terror on the SLFP and the left movement who had been defeated with only 8 seats in Parliament. True to form, he had given a promise that if he won he would give the police two weeks leave, so that revenge would be turned against the opposition.
Next in this sequel of events was when Jayewardene, turned on the leader of the Opposition, Mr. Amirthalingam, challenging him that “If you want war we will give you war and if you want peace we will give you peace! This clarion call by Jayewardene was an invitation to looters and thugs to create a reign of terror against the Tamil until 1983, when organized thugs in the guise of a curfew marked Tamil houses, the other set fire to them and the rest scavengers looted the property.
Widow’s Charter – She brought the issues of War widows and Female Headed House Holds (FHHH) to the notice of the Government (nearly 85,000) and prepared the Draft Memorandum for a Widows Charter with the inputs of the affected women. The draft was submitted to the and Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Provincial Councils of the North and East and North Western Provinces, NOGOO and to the UN offices in Colombo and Batticaloa.
A Nutrition program (One dish meal) – Introduced a Nutrition program (One dish meal) in collaboration with Ms. Visakha Tillekeratne, Nutrition Consultant. This has led to the establishment of “Sanjeevi” organic Food stalls in Muthur, Puttalam and some other places. This program has accepted and recognized as a model meal in South Asian Countries and the World Bank brought a group of persons from Bangladesh, Bhutan and India to understand the process. (Visaka has written about this in the Colombo Telegraph 29th August 2015). Women’s voices on War were compiled and Exhibitions were held in Colombo, Galle, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Moneragala, UK, Afghanistan, USA and Canada.
Women Representations in the Mediation Boards – Introduced Mediation Board concept through the Study Circle / Readers and helped the Mediation Boards Commission to increase the percentage of women taking part in the Mediation Boards in the North and Eastern provinces and Puttalam District. The all island average in 2012 was only 5%.
A cartoon booklet on Local Government was designed by her in Tamil to be used in the Training Programs. This has enabled women to approach Local government organizations and fulfill their needs. Example Thirumalpuram Village in Trincomalee district obtained their electricity connection. In 2014 the women who were thus empowered has collected approximately Rs. 70 million on their own in Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Puttalam Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Mannar to meet their needs
Activating the appointment of Advisory Committees in LG System – Some of the local governments have included the people’s advisory committees into their systems with women’s participation. Voter Education – Documentary “Speak through your Vote” in Tamil. “Vaakkuhalal Pesuwom” was prepared. These efforts led to the increase on voter turnout in the areas where they conducted the programs.
Political Participation. Joining hands with several women organizations she attempted to increase the women representations in Politics. Coached women on propaganda, getting organized and advertising etc. The name lists of willing women were sent to all political parties to choose them.
“One Billion Rising” of women in 2012 – Joint hands on “One Billion Rising” of women in 2012, A song in Tamil sung by Selvy her sister and Shanti at the “One Billion Rising” Rally is in the You Tube.
Advocacy program “No Run Tell” on Child Abuse.
Over the years I remember with nostalgia the many dinners and conversations our family had with Shanthi. Shanthi would always have her point of view. She lived amongst the Sinhalese but throughout her years she remained a Tamil, a radical to the core. She had differences with the LTTE but also with the old guard Tamil National Movement. Over time her intellectual curiosity grew to explore many dimensions of Spirituality which she explored with commitment and vigor. Her spiritual journey and meditation stood her in good stead to weather the storm and anguish which confronted her in her last phase of her life.
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