By Ranee Mohamed
The story of one woman who took the law into her own hands and went in search of her young sons. It was not merely a story that The Sunday Leader published on February 21, 2010 : it was a heartbreaking appeal by a young mother who begged us to get her sons back. “I am complete now,” she said last week as she held close her most cherished possessions, as if never to let them go…
The ordeal of bruised and battered Fathima Faika moved the nation when we published her story eight months ago. The response was overwhelming. Everyone wanted to know how they can help. Faika who had only her mother and ailing father for comfort soon found out that she had a whole support group who were moved by the article. Letters and emails flowed from Muslim support groups, individuals, professionals, housewives and mothers from everywhere.
Losing a child is the most painful loss and to experience it with Fathima Faika were several people who cried with her.
“My mother was ailing too. She could not bear to hear me cry every day and every night. But there was nothing she could do. We looked for my sons in every corner in Colombo. I was told that they were taken out of Colombo and I travelled far and wide, but I could not find my sons,” recalled Fathima Faika.
After The Sunday Leader published “Prayers For My Sons” in its issue of February 21, several wellwishers were in the forefront in the life of Fathima Faika. Dr. Mareena Thaha Reffai, Dr. M.G.M.S Zurfick who is a president of the Lions Club and Coordinator for Niyaz Moulavi, Advisor to the President on Muslim Affairs, Dr. Jeewan Thiyagarajah of the Human Rights Commission, Women in Need, several lawyers and women’s groups and Former Deputy Mayor of Colombo and presently a member of the Sri Lanka Haj Mission Azad Sally, despite all his public duties, were key people in her ‘support group.’ Azad Sally found time to personally take Faika accompanied by her mother to several authorities in her search for justice.
Ask any mother and she will tell you that it is impossible to live when her children have been snatched away from her bosom. And the agony that Faika endured made her lips swell, her face tear-stained and her eyes – pools of misery. She could not remember when she had last eaten a square meal.
“Sometimes I used to walk the streets like a zombie. I went to every corner in Colombo, peered into every house and looked in every police station. I covered myself with an abaya and stood outside several boys’ schools and studied the face of each and every child till they left the school premises in a desperate search for my dear little sons. Then I would return home and throw myself on the pillow and cry till my whole body was wracked with pain and my chest was heavy and aching,” recalled Faika. She lay almost lifeless, through the night, waiting for the break of dawn to begin her long search again.
Fathima Faika says that she has endured much. “I endured the torture, endured the beatings and endured the endless cooking and cleaning and fetching because of my sons who are ten and five years of age,” she said.
Fathima Faika had made 17 complaints to various authorities over the disappearance of her young sons. She however said that she wishes to pay a tribute to the Women and Children’s Bureau in Fort at the way they handled her complaints. “Their inquiries regarding my blood-splattered face were done in a professional manner. Even today, I can reach out to them, visit them and know that justice will always be meted out, the way it ought to be,” she said in confidence.
But though complaints about the disappearance of her sons were made to every authority in Sri Lanka, there was little or no progress.
“It was then that I decided that I could not wait anymore. I had waited over seven months. I had to know where my babies were. Were they eating? Were they comfortable? Were they ill?” she had worried.
“For two Ramazan festivals and one Haj festival I had only tears for myself – tears while others ate biryani and wore new clothes. I only felt the taste of salt in my mouth. I could not celebrate anything without my sons. My family members could not bear to see me cry this way and they were crying too. We were all praying and crying…. praying that I got my sons back,” said Faika.
Fathima Faika’s sons disappeared from her life when she was at her mother’s house. She never saw a trace of them again.
Her prayers were answered when she received news that her sons were taken to Malaysia. According to a top police source at the Women and Children’s Bureau, consent from both parents was necessary before the names of children were entered into either passport for them to be taken overseas. But Faika was looking for them in Sri Lanka.
“During the Ramazan fasting period I prayed Thhajath and cried out asking for my sons back. And it was at this time that I received a call from Dr. Mareena Thaha Reffai and got a contact number. It was then that I decided that I must go to Malaysia. I went to Interpol and then got the contact of a lawyer – Nirma Karunaratne who had experience in cases relating to child abduction. She did not talk to me about a fee, but wanted to get my children back for me,” said Faika, wiping tears of sorrow and joy. The first day in Malaysia was not good for Faika. She misplaced her jewellery. But nothing could slow her down. Everyone around her was shopping but this young woman’s focus was on her sons. Her life was about her sons. “Pursuing the matter with Interpol, I was also in contact with Shanika Wijesuriya, the lawyer from Women in Need who was helped me in a way I will always remember,” said Faika.
Faika trudged from the Bukit Aman Police Headquarters to meeting Malaysian lawyers. It is not that Faika is a wealthy young woman, but her search was for her most cherished possessions and she did not spare any pains and made every possible sacrifice.
When she reached the place where her sons were, she could not stop herself from crying. The tension had been too much to bear. The expected happiness, too much to grasp or think about.
“The High Commissioner Dr. Ranasinghe, Major Uditha and Third Secretary Oceani de Silva were very professional in handling the issue. With guidance from Sri Lanka’s Controller for Immigration and Emigration, W.A. Chulananda Perera I was able to bring my children back to Sri Lanka,” said Faika in relief.
When she returned to Sri Lanka last week, her sons safely tucked in her arms, there was a small crowd of well wishers, among them was Dr. M.G.M.S Zurfick. “He had come to the airport very early in the morning. He is not a relative. I met him after The Sunday Leader article, but he stood by me like a rock,” she smiled.
“I was determined to help her because I saw the injustice that had been meted out to her. I am one who has experienced injustice,” said Dr. Zurfick, speaking to The Sunday Leader. “Faika need not have gone to Malaysia. She need not have gone in search of her children, but complacency in certain sectors made her take the ‘law into her own hands’,” said Dr. Zurfick with a smile.
But Fathima Faika confessed that it was neither law nor justice that spurred her to forge ahead, but the boundless love that filled her heart and mind each time she saw the smiles of her sons, who appeared before her morning, noon and night.
And now they sit together, hugging and huddling. There is much cooing and cuddling — and giggling is rampant among this happy threesome. “This is the best place we can be mother,” they say and as she smiles and brushes the hair from their foreheads.
Truly, there is no greater warmth than the love that radiates from one’s mother.