US First Lady presents Sandya Eknaligoda with the “International Women of Courage” Award

US First Lady presents Sandya Eknaligoda with the “International Women of Courage” Award

US First Lady presents Sandya Eknaligoda with the “International Women of Courage” Award

Written by Staff Writer

30 Mar, 2017 | 10:49 am

Sandya Eknaligoda, the wife of missing journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda has been honoured with the International ‘Women of Courage’ award, presented by the U.S State Department.

The International Women of Courage Award is an American award presented annually to women around the world who have shown courage and leadership, while advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment — often at personal risk.

This is the second time that a Sri Lankan has been honoured with the award. Jansila Majeed was presented with the award in 2010 by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her activism on behalf of displaced Muslim and Tamil citizens, with particular focus on life skills, health, and women’s empowerment.

The 2017 award was presented to Sandya Eknaligoda and the other recipients by the First Lady of the United States Melania Trump, at a ceremony held yesterday.

Sandya’s Story

Sandya is the wife of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda who mysteriously disappeared in January 2010, just a few days prior to the 2010 presidential election. Prageeth was a very public critic of the perceived violations of human rights that had taken place during the Rajapaksa regime and was said to have been putting together a book on the nepotism that ran rampant within that administration.

After his disappearance, Sandya, a 53-year-old mother of two,  has diligently and tirelessly worked to find her husband and bring him home. When she took her case to the police at that time, she was told that her husband would probably return soon and “to go home and wait.”

Sandya wrote countless letters to local and international human rights organisations, including the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), seeking their help. In addition she petitioned then president, Mahinda Rajapakse and numerous officials in his administration, to no avail.

Rumours began to circulate about how Prageeth was spotted in France and was living under political asylum. Darker rumours emerged when certain underworld characters claimed that they had disposed of Prageeth’s body by throwing it into the sea.

Despite all this, and in defiance of the threats made against her for her perceived unpatriotic behaviour, Sandya kept her head up and kept searching for her husband. Although it has been over 7 years since his disappearance, Sandya still holds out hope for the father of her children.

When asked about her remarkable journey to activism, in an interview with Cartoonists Rights Network International, she said “I participated in human rights activities when I was young. But after I married Prageeth my focus was on Prageeth and my two children. Prageeth and I had one political priority, peace. We are both against violence and war. We are both for peace. The love and affection I had for Prageeth and our ideals I felt, I had to continue”.

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