The humanitarian polymath with the Midas touch and multifaceted personality known for his decades long peerless and tireless activism on behalf of the rights of the disabled, Dr. Ajith Chrysantha Stephen Perera passed away on 29 October following a brief period of hospitalization for an illness.
Born on 29 February 1956, he was 64-years-old at the time of passing.
His remains will lie at a ground floor parlour of the Jayaratne Funeral Directors (Private) Limited, 2B, Elvitigala Mawatha, Colombo 08, from the morning of 2 November. The cortege will leave Borella at 4 p.m. on the same day for the General Cemetery, Mount Lavinia, A2, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, and the cremation will commence at 5 p.m.
After passing out of his alma mater, Royal College, Colombo, he pursued academic excellence, obtaining a Bachelor of Science (Honours) Degree from the University of Colombo and a joint Masters in Science from the University of Colombo and the University of Birmingham, England.
He then went on to train professionally in the field of analytical chemistry and became a Chartered Chemist, specializing in quality assurance. Having commenced his professional career in the academia as an Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Colombo, Dr. Perera then went on to the multinational pharmaceutical manufacturing industry and the cosmetics and healthcare industry, in the capacity of a Production Executive, and later as both a Senior Manager and Director in charge of Quality Assurance, Analytical Control, Technical Services and Product Development.
Not satisfied with learning from “books and men” alone, he sought to “learn to play the game” as the School song of Royal College would have it, by parallelly training and eventually becoming a Test Match Panel Umpire of the gentleman’s game. Dr. Perera also held all offices of the Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers, England.
It was at the peak of his dual careers, at this juncture, that a tragic accident that occurred when a large tree fell onto the vehicle he was travelling in, killed his driver, and instantaneously paralyzed him waist down, thus rendering him a wheelchair bound paraplegic for the rest of his life.
Undeterred from what might have easily spelled the end for most, and armed with the constant pain of personal experience, he then voluntarily took on the cause of disability rights. His achievements in this field, are many. Among them, being the sole petitioner and advocate in several landmark Court cases, stands out. Through the public interest fundamental rights applications – SCFR 221/2009 and SCFR 273/2018 – he sought, among other reliefs, redress for physically disabled persons to access all key parts of new public buildings. In these cases, the Supreme Court, whilst acknowledging other reliefs, held that all authorities empowered to approve building plans or issue certificates of conformity for public buildings should refrain from doing so in respect of any new buildings which were in violation of accessibility related legal requirements – laws and regulations, and that non-compliance constitutes a violation of the FRs of equality before the law and equal protection of the law, and the freedom of movement, while State agencies were obliged to ensure that those of them who are disabled or with restricted ability should be given every opportunity to integrate freely with the community.
However, his most enduring legacy as the brightest flagbearer of this most worthy cause would concern his expansion of the definition of ‘disabled’ from the term being construed in a narrow sense to attest to a minority afflicted by such, to instead include all living beings, whom at one time or another in their life, would all experience some form of disability, specifically limited mobility or restricted ability in attending to normal day to day activities, for a short period or a lengthier period or for the entirety of one’s lifetime. When seen from this perspective, disability rights and in particular, inclusion and safety through accessibility via the design of built environments, should be the concern of all instead of the travails of a few.
Perera was also instrumental in the establishment of the first Sri Lanka Standard for design guidelines in building construction and the needs of disabled people in buildings – SLS ISO TR 9527 : 2006. A Justice of the Peace, he also contested as an independent candidate at the August 2015 Parliamentary Poll in order to champion the cause.
He was also the Founder, Chief Executive and Secretary General of the not-for-profit humanitarian service organization, Idiriya.
Being a scholar, he was also the author of multiple books on multifarious topics including on cricket, accessibility and a biography of his father.
He was the son of the Founder and First Commandant of the Naval and Maritime Academy of Trincomalee and the First Director of Naval Training of the Royal Ceylon Navy, the late Instructor Commodore M.G.S. Perera and the late Maureen Johanna Perera. He leaves behind a sister, Deepthi C.J. Guneratne. (RLJ)