From the shadows to the limelight

Having taken on the mantle of running the political campaign of her remanded husband, the wife of General (retd.) Sarath Fonseka, Anoma Fonseka talks of her new found strength
By Chandani Kirinde, Pic by J. Weerasekera

Anoma Fonseka has been thrust into the hurly-burly world of politics, not out of choice but due to circumstances. Today, while her husband, former Army Commander, General (retd.) Sarath Fonseka languishes in custody facing possible court martial, she is emerging as his proxy campaigner, determined to do all she can to ensure he wins a seat in the country’s next Parliament.

Seated at the table in the office at Rajakeeya Mawatha in Colombo which once served as the campaign headquarters for General Fonseka during his presidential election campaign, she is busy meeting supporters of her husband and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), the Party from which he is contesting the election.A few visitors trickle into the office now, a marked difference from the scenes at the office before the end of the presidential election when the place was a hive of political activity with hundreds of followers of General Fonseka gathering regularly to support his election bid.

Ms Fonseka preparing a meal to take for her husband.

It’s a far cry for a woman who met her future husband at the age of 15 years, back in 1972 and married him seven years later when he was 2nd Lieutenant in the Sri Lanka Army.

“We first met when he came to my house with a friend of another family friend to dinner. He had just joined the Army at the time. Our dinner at home was reciprocated by an invitation to the Officer‘s Mess which was at Echelon Square then and our relationship developed thereafter,” she recalled.

It’s a relationship that has faced many trying times with her husband being twice injured in battle and once gravely injured in a suicide bomb attack. But their present experiences are proving to be the most difficult. “When my husband was injured in the suicide attack, the whole country was with us, the government was with us but today we are being harassed so much. People are afraid to come forward and support us openly,” she said.

Being an army wife for nearly three decades, Anoma Fonseka is familiar with visits to military camps but the ones of the past are filled with fond memories that she likes to recall. But these days her daily visits to the Navy Headquarters in Colombo, restricted to two hours a day-- an hour in the afternoon and an hour in the evening-- are ones she would like to put behind her. “I visit my husband at the Navy Headquarters daily to take him lunch and dinner,” she said adding she takes a simple meal of red rice and curry for lunch and a light dinner for him. “He enjoys traditional Sinhalese foods such as “kos’ and “polos” with rice while for dinner it is string hoppers or “pittu”, she added. It’s a routine she has fitted into her growing busy schedule with her political activities increasing daily.

“I go up to the gate of the Navy Headquarters in my vehicle and from there I am accompanied by at least three army personnel and a female naval rating in one of their vehicles to where my husband is being kept. My handbag and food items are examined before I am allowed in but I am not subject to body search. Once inside too there are at least three army personnel watching us so we have very little privacy even to converse,” she said.

However, despite the presence of others in the room she says she doesn’t hold back what she has to tell him. “I pass onto him all the news I have and am not deterred by those listening to us,” she said.
He is attended to by a Navy doctor with her consent and even though she is allowed to take a doctor and a lawyer with her during the visits, she says it entails a long procedure including getting Defence Ministry clearance.

With little or no access to newspapers other than state-owned publications as well as television or radio her husband depends on her to relay information on what is happening outside. “I am not allowed to take newspapers to him and he does not read the state run newspapers. They (the state run newspapers) are meant to brain wash people,” she added defiantly.

And in spite of the restrictions imposed on him; she says the former military heavyweight is in high spirits. “He is an extraordinary man. He kept his sprits up when fighting the war. He is the same even now,” she said.

Despite several serious allegations being levelled at the retired General and the government on the threshold of framing charges against him, Mrs.Fonskea maintains that he and her son-in-law Danuna Tillakartna are being framed for crimes they did not commit.

Asked why Danuna is absconding if he is not guilty, she maintains that she does not know his whereabouts and that his parents would look into his welfare as she is preoccupied with numerous matters relating to her husband’s predicament.

“I am a religious person and I know they are both innocent. I also know that the truth will prevail in the end,” she said.

So how did Anoma Fonseka who has so far lived in her husband’s shadow emerge as a strong woman now on the verge of getting on the political platform to woo voters on his behalf ? “Because every woman has a hidden strength. We may not show it all the time but when we need to be strong, we can be,” she said.

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