By Waruni Karunarathne
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Shanthi Sriskandharaja who was appointed to parliament through the national list is a newbie in the Sri Lanka parliament. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, MP Sriskandharaja said that she believes it to be a rewarding opportunity for her to serve the people in the north, especially, with the war affected, vulnerable groups.
Sriskandharaja contested the last general election under the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) ticket from the Wanni District yet failed to secure enough votes to enter parliament. While some main political parties in the country ignored the need to give even a single slot of their national list to a woman, the TNA made an inspiring decision to allocate at least one out of the two slots they received for their national list to a woman as a conscious decision to ensure female parliamentary representation in the legislature.
“This is the first time I contested an election. Even though I failed to secure a seat, the TNA nominated me to parliament through the national list. I believe I am an eligible nominee to parliament. I wish to focus mainly on assisting vulnerable people in the north affected by the war, especially widows, female headed single parent families, disabled people, and orphans,” she said.
Sriskantharajah is a member of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service and a former Deputy Director of Planning of the Thunukkai Divisional Secretariat. She has been working as a government servant up until she started her political career. She was born and brought up in Mulliyawalai-Mullaitivu and has completed her school education in Mulliyawalai Nithiyanantha College in Mullaitivu. She holds a Bachelor of Arts honours degree from the University of Jaffna and a Post Graduate Diploma in Planning from the University of Colombo.
She has also completed her Masters Degree in Sociology from Madurai Kamaraj University in India. “I have two sons – the eldest is 20 years old and the youngest is 17 years old. My husband is also a government servant. He is also very interested in politics. I have also been doing a lot of social and voluntary work. My family encouraged me to a great extent to start this political career,” she added.
She highlights the need to have a parliamentary representative of women affected by the war because such a person understands their requirements and is capable of raising their concerns in parliament. “It is indeed necessary to get the attention of the government to address the concerns of the vulnerable groups in the north, especially widows and disabled.
“I myself am a war victim. I lost my left leg because of a shell bomb attack during the last phase of the war. At that point, we lived in Vanni since I was working in Vanni. I was on duty when I was hit by a shell bomb in February 2009. That was the time I was serving as the Deputy Director of Planning at the Thunukkai Divisional Secretariat. Following the attack, my left leg had to be amputated. I was glad that my family was safe,” she told The Sunday Leader her story.
She added that she as a student has faced great many challenges in her life to complete her studies successfully and later as a war victim.
Sriskantharajah further noted that there have been development in Vanni in terms of roads, but there has not been any assistance provided to the war victims. Giving an example, she pointed out the issue of insufficient toilet facilities accessible for the disabled community in the north despite the fact that a huge population of disabled community in the country live in the north.
“The war left many people in the north disabled. Roads have been built and the resettlement may have happened but no assistance has been provided to improve the lives of the disabled or women who were affected by the war,” she raised her concerns. She added that in addition to providing necessary assistance for the disabled community, sustainable livelihood opportunities should also be created, especially for single female headed families to uplift their lifestyles and to ensure a sustainable income source for them.
According to Sriskantharajah, her mission in parliament is humanitarian. She expects to get the attention of the government and other stakeholders to address the concerns of the vulnerable groups in the war affected areas. She said parliament would be a better place to voice those concerns. “I am already preparing some proposals to be given to relevant authorities and Non-Government organizations who are keen to assist the northern war affected people,” she said.
She also pointed out that after the war, the north is also facing various challenges related to cultural degradation where youth is misdirected to consume alcohol and use of other drugs. “There is massive degradation of moral and cultural values which is further victimizing women and making environment more unsafe for women,” she stated.
She pledged to voice in order to ensure the rights of those vulnerable groups and expressed her eagerness to finding assistance to improve the lives of the affected groups.