I met Sunila a little less than a year ago in Nepal, where she was doing a session for us on conflict and feminism. I remember seeing her sitting in that circle of incredible women and being so proud that she was one of our own, the finest example of a Sri Lankan woman. We ate our meals in the shadow of the Himalayas and we talked about the women's movement in Sri Lanka, about activism, about choices.Today, a little less than a year after I met this incredible woman, she has passed on, leaving behind her great sorrow and loss for those who were lucky enough to have known her, even if just for a moment.
It seems superfluous to wish that she rest in peace; I have never met someone who was so at peace while she was alive. Kindness and love fairly radiated from her. I saw her less than a month ago at an exhibition, and remember thinking how beautiful she looked even as she was fighting this terrible battle against cancer. As tired as she was, she made the effort to speak with everyone who stopped to talk to her. There are some women who make the world a better place just by being in it. She was one of them.
I have two lasting memories of Sunila. One of her singing us a song, a resistance song, she called it; she had a beautiful voice. The last, and strongest, is of a friend of mine from Jaffna, meeting Sunila for the first time, holding her hand and with tears in her eyes saying, madam, I just wanted to say thank you for everything you've done for us.
As an activist, human rights defender, feminist and scholar, among so many other things, Sunila has left behind a void that will never quite be filled. Over the last few years as I've gotten involved in the women's movement, I've begun to realise just what a large role she played in it, and how much more difficult our task is now without her support. But that burden is for later. For now, I simply grieve for one of the best women I've ever had the honour of knowing.