ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 08

A born fighter who stood up for her principles

~ Kusuma Rajarathna

She was a teacher by profession, a doting mother and dutiful housewife. Politics was not a subject in her agenda. But it was a subject she could not avoid for her husband was a veteran politician and Member of Parliament. K. M. P. Rajarathna of Welimada is a name that no Sri Lankan can forget. He was a true son of our country who sacrificed so much even his seat in Parliament for the principles which he cherished more than his life.

Kusuma was his wife. She herself was a Member of Parliament. She entered Parliament as the member of Welimada and then Uva-Paranagama, representing this seat for 15 years. She was the first woman who gave up the prestigious post of being a Member of Parliament for the principles she upheld.

Kusuma hailed from the ancient kingdom of Kotte. Her father was Awis Perera, a respected Ayurvedic Physician. Her mother was Caroline Hamine. Kusuma was the second in a family of four. Her schooling began at Ananda Sastralaya but having studied up to her O/Ls she joined Anula Vidyalaya to offer Pali and Sanskrit for her A/Ls. Kusuma then entered the University of Colombo.

Kusuma met Konar Mudiyanselage Podiappuhamy Rajarathna while she was a student at Ananda Sastralaya. Rajarathna was a fair handsome youth from the cold climes of upcountry tea estates. He won the heart of the pretty damsel from Kotte. They met, fell in love, studied together and entered the Colombo University. They chose teaching as their profession. They married on August 24, 1950 and they had four children, Suhashan, Bhawanthi, Nalaka and Pramada.

Rajarathna had the good fortune to meet S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike while he was at the University. As the president of the students’ council Rajarathna invited Mr. Bandaranaike to deliver a keynote address. Their friendship was strong. Ultimately Rajarathna joined the SLFP and contested Welimada, his home town. He lost his seat as a result of an election petition. According to the unwritten law and custom prevalent at the time Kusuma was the next choice. While going from house to house canvassing for votes Kusuma learned politics the hard way.

Kusuma was a born fighter. Sri Lankan women, especially the women of the village were her main focus when campaigning. She carried on until her husband was eligible to contest. He contested Welimada. Kusuma was shifted to Uva Paranagama the adjoining seat. Both husband and wife won their seats. Kusuma was made a junior minister.

Welimada and Uva-Paranagama are electorates in the upcountry hills. Election campaigning was not what it is today. In the days gone by, candidates had to go from house to house canvassing for votes. I remember Kusuma the woman from the capital city going down hills amongst tea bushes on narrow stony path ways. The icy cold water of the streams acted as a soothing balm to the aching feet. Kusuma, soaking your feet in the cold water you spoke of so many things. Your plans to uplift the living standards of the village women. The children were your main concern.

Your husband was a radical thinker. He always stood by his principles. Once he started a fast on the steps of the Parliament building when Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the Prime Minister. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke was the Governor General. Your pleadings on behalf of your fasting husband went unheeded. You decided to go and meet the Governor General. I remember you walking in to the palatial mansion like a lioness. You were not afraid to speak. I was there when you presented your case. You always stood by your husband and the principles he upheld in his life. You gave up your seat upholding your principles. Both you and your husband gave up politics. You became a housewife devoting your time to your children. Your husband took up law. He became one of the outstanding lawyers of the country.

Kusuma your life was not a bed of roses. But you were happy and contented. You became more and more absorbed in the Dhamma. You never had your meals without offering the first meal to the Buddha. Next came your husband, then the family. Your end was so serene. You prepared the food. The offering was done as usual. Then you bathed, changed and lay down on the bed with folded hands. Thus you breathed your last on the morning hours of June 24.

Kusuma your name has entered the chapters of our history. May you attain Nibbana!

By Sriya Ratnakara

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.