In Memory Of Mr Shyamon Jayasinghe


By Lionel Bopage

Dr. Lionel Bopage

We are saddened by the passing of Mr Shyamon Jayasinghe, a strong-willed and well-known community activist in Melbourne. Shyamon was much senior to us at the University of Peradeniya. He was multi-talented as a stage artist, senior administrator, writer, author, political analyst and community and social worker. He has held executive positions in many community organisations in Victoria. Everyone knows him as an accomplished person both in Sri Lanka and as an expatriate. From what we have heard from other sources, his talents and interests extend beyond the realms of arts and philosophy.

I knew him as the first narrator (Pothe Gura) of the famous Sinhala play (theatre) “Maname” directed and produced by the well-known Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra during a time when the art world was not as commercialised as it is today. When I was living in Canberra in the nineties, I heard of Shyamon as a founding member of SPUR, with which I have had a long, bitter, and disputed political history.

When I moved to Melbourne, I came to understand that some of the founding members of SPUR had resigned due to their dissatisfaction with some of the work that organisation was involved in. I thought it would be good to catch up with some of them, including Shyamon Jayasinghe and Mr Upa Upadasa. I took the initiative to catch up with Shyamon and had the opportunity to meet up with Upa later on.

Shyamon was residing off Stud Road in Dandenong, Victoria. When I rang him, probably in the mid-2000s, he willingly agreed to meet up with me. When I visited him, his wife the late Malini Jayasinghe was also there. We conversed for nearly two hours. We spoke about our personal stories and politics. Shyamon revealed that he was a supporter of the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) during his university days. He had also served as an Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in Sri Lanka during a turbulent period in the country’s history. In Australia he ran his own bookstore, ‘Turamali (Australia)’, providing books to Australian educational institutions.

Shyamon revealed himself to be a strong supporter of the United National Party (UNP). Nevertheless, we were in agreement on many issues, like the need for safeguarding fundamental rights, law and order, the secular nature of the state, and addressing the issues affecting the non-majoritarian communities, etc. Malini was respected for her marvellous community work within the Sri Lankan community in Victoria. She did not speak much about politics, though she listened well. Later on, Shyamon told me that Malini told him that she never expected a person like me to have been a revolutionary, let alone a leader of the JVP.

Thereafter we tried to work together on certain community issues about which we had common interest. Initially, he supported the work of People for Human Rights and Equality (PHRE)  a Melbourne based organisation, but he differed on the issue of the national question in Sri Lanka, particularly on devolution of power and a solution based on federalism. 

In 2008-9, Shyamon attended the first couple of discussions held in the La Trobe University between the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities in Victoria, initiated by PHRE and the Darebin Ethnic Communities Council (DECC), and facilitated by Professor Joseph Camilleri and Dr Michalis S. Michael of the Centre for Dialogue (CfD). 

I clearly recall Shyamon’s involvement in the work done in Sri Lanka and Australia in 2013 and 2014 by the Melbourne based group Global Reconciliation (GR) . He spoke in support of the Gardens of Remembrance project, whereby the GR team tried to establish common places for all people to commemorate their loved ones lost during the many conflicts in Sri Lanka. He also publicly supported the ‘Ancient Cultures, New Futures’ – a Photography Exhibition for Sri Lankan Reconciliation that GR held in Melbourne the same year.

In October 2014, Shyamon joined as a founder member of  the Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka (AAGGSL) aimed at creating awareness of the lack of democracy, accountability and good governance in Sri Lanka. The organisation is committed to the establishment of practicing democracy and rule of law in Sri Lanka, respecting the rights and will of all its peoples. Again, despite differences of opinion on the National Question, we worked together until 2022. 

In doing all this, we still maintained our personal friendship. In fact, we were trying to organise a community get-together named “An Evening with Shyamon” to appreciate and recognise the contribution he has made to the Sri Lankan and multicultural community in Victoria. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic that was spreading in Victoria since early 2020, and the restrictions imposed, did not allow us to go ahead with the planed event.

After the Aragalaya protests in 2022, Mr Ranil Wickramasinghe was appointed Prime Minister and later the President of Sri Lanka. Shyamon was a strong supporter of Ranil and did not like an iota of criticism against Ranil. Unfortunately, our considered criticism of the regime led Shyamon to disengage from our political activities. Needless to say, we were disappointed about this development.

Till the end of April this year, my wife Chitra and I wanted to visit Shyamon. However, he was unwell and wanted the visit to occur later. Sadly, in early May I had to undergo certain medical procedures, which prevented us from visiting friends or participating in any public activities. We very much regret the missed opportunity to meet up with Shyamon before his passing.

Shyamon was a secular and non-religious person. Yet, his outlook for making Sri Lanka a better place for its citizens remained bedrock. Honouring and saying goodbye to a friend who has passed is about honouring his life. Friendship transcends death. A friend can never leave, as their memories will not be forgotten by those he left behind.

Shyamon’s passing will definitely leave a huge gap that no one else could single-handedly fill. As friends, we take this opportunity to pay our tribute and honour him. Our deepest sympathies extend to his children – Ashok and Vindi, his relatives, and many friends.

The post In Memory Of Mr Shyamon Jayasinghe appeared first on Colombo Telegraph.

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