Jayanthi Dandeniya

Ashoka Fellow
Sri Lanka
Fellow Since 2005


This profile was prepared when Jayanthi Dandeniya was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.
The New Idea
Jayanthi sees the families of those who disappeared during the “terror” of 1988 to 1992 as an important missing link in Sri Lanka’s human rights effort. These are the people with the greatest personal stake in ensuring that the country neither forgets the past nor allows another total collapse of law. Relatives of the disappeared bring an important asset to the human rights movement: a sustained interest in revealing the truth and genuine desire for justice. Jayanthi is seeking out the families, linking them together into a national network, and transforming their grief and hardship from a private burden to a public search for justice and legal reform.
This delicate process requires time and patience, as shame, fear, and isolation have kept the families from speaking about their loss. Jayanthi brings families together and helps create a public space where they can remember the dead. Because of her efforts, the first Monument to the Disappeared honoring those who died has been erected at a prominent intersection, compelling new families to come forth and share their experiences. Jayanthi is planning a series of similar monuments throughout the country.
Building a community and providing a space for public expression are means to a larger end: strengthening society to resist another episode of violence. Janyanthi is mobilizing families as a much needed citizen base for the human rights movement. In addition to pressuring the government to create a law officially making kidnapping a crime, she is connecting them to campaigns against torture, groups that monitor the effectiveness of the National Human Rights Commission, and organizations that work to improve conditions in the free trade zones where abuse with impunity continues unabated.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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