Prison bars no bar­rier for true love

It will be a bit­ter sweet day for Shamila Bueque who after a year-long bat­tle against of­fi­cial ap­a­thy gains per­mis­sion to marry Se­narath Ban­dula Liya­narachchi serv­ing a long term jail sen­tence

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS/COMMENT - By Chan­dani Kirinde

Shamila Bueque is get­ting ready for her wed­ding fixed for Thurs­day ( De­cem­ber 7). She plans to drape a white sari in Kandyan style along with a neck­lace of agate stones. Like any bride to be she is ex­cited and anx­ious about the day but in her case, there is a lot more anx­i­ety than what most oth­ers in her shoes would ex­pe­ri­ence. For her wed­ding will not take place in a star class ho­tel, a wed­ding re­cep­tion hall or even at her house but in­stead in­side the Mag­a­zine Prison in Colombo. Her hus­band to be is 41- year- old Se­narath Ban­dula Liya­narachchi, a man who is serv­ing a 38-year jail term for a fi­nan­cial fraud. He is also a key wit­ness in the We­likada prison in­ci­dent of 2012.

Theirs is a re­la­tion­ship that has lasted for more than 10 years. The two had first met when Se­narath was a free man. “I first met him more than 20 years ago and re­mem­bered him as a kind and con­sid­er­ate per­sons but we lost touch and I moved on with my life. Around 2006, I met his mother and heard from her that he was in prison. It was then that I de­cided to visit him,” she said.

The vis­its soon be­came reg­u­lar and a re­la­tion­ship blos­somed. Al­though it was mainly con­fined to let­ters and brief monthly prison vis­its, their bond con­tin­ued to get stronger.

“The prison soon be­came as fa­mil­iar to me as my home. Dur­ing these monthly vis­its I re­alised there were many short­com­ings in the man­ner in which pris­on­ers were treated. This prompted me to get in­volved in the pris­on­ers' wel­fare as­so­ci­a­tion and speak out about their prob­lems,” she said.

In the past ten years, Se­narath has been trans­ferred to more than 10 pris­ons across the coun­try and is now serv­ing his sen­tence at the Anu­rad­ha­pura Prison. He will be brought down to the Mag­a­zine Prison for the reg­is­tra­tion of their mar­riage for two days and taken back soon after.

Shamila said their de­ci­sion to get mar­ried was not be­cause either of them felt the need to val­i­date their re­la­tion­ship by sign­ing a piece of pa­per and get­ting a Cer­tifi­cate of Mar­riage, but was has­tened by the ridicule and ha­rass­ment she was of­ten sub­jected to dur­ing her vis­its to see him.

They de­cided to get mar­ried the day a prison of­fi­cial asked her to show him the mar­riage cer­tifi­cate to prove she was his wife. “That was the day I made up my mind that what­ever the prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in get­ting mar­ried to a prison in­mate, I would some­how ar­range it,” Shamila said.

As a woman, she has had to face her share of ha­rass­ment by peo­ple at dif­fer­ent strata in the prison ad­min­is­tra­tion sys­tem. “I call my­self Se­narath’s wife and ful­fil the du­ties of a wife but in the eyes of many, such a re­la­tion­ship is not ac­cept­able,” she said.

It’s taken her close to a year to get the nec­es­sary of­fi­cial per­mis­sion. Prison au­thor­i­ties she ini­tially ap­proached were slow in pro­cess­ing her re­quest. After sev­eral months of wait­ing for an an­swer from them, she wrote to the Pres­i­dent as well as the Min­istry of Prison Re­forms to get the nec­es­sary au­tho­ri­sa­tion.

“Fi­nally when I vis­ited the Prison Re­forms Min­istry and spoke to an of­fi­cial there I got the let­ter giv­ing us per­mis­sion to get mar­ried on De­cem­ber 7. The let­ter also re­quested the prison au­thor­i­ties to make the nec­es­sary ar­range­ments to fa­cil­i­tate it,” she added.

At the age of 46, Shamila knows that get­ting mar­ried to man who is serv­ing a long term prison sen­tence means they would have to live sep­a­rately for many more years but it’s a price she is will­ing to pay.

"Once we are mar­ried, I will work to get clemency for him so that he can get an early pa­role. If he was a rapist or a child mo­lester or a mur­der, I would not do it. He has com­mit­ted a crime but dur­ing his time be­hind the bars Se­narath has re­alised his mis­takes and de­serves a sec­ond chance in life,” she added.

So come Thurs­day, the two will regis­ter their mar­riage at the wel­fare cen­ter premises in­side the Mag­a­zine prison. She has bought a gold band to put on his fin­ger while her mother’s wed­ding ring which she trea­sures will be the one he will place on her fin­ger.

“He will have to re­move the ring and re­turn it to me soon after I put it on as pris­on­ers are not al­lowed to wear jew­ellery,” she said.

The wit­nesses at the wed­ding are two lawyers who work for the wel­fare of pris­on­ers.

Lawyer Se­naka Per­era, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion for the Pro­tec­tion of Pris­on­ers Rights, will be one of them.

“Shamila is a coura­geous woman and has had to fight hard to get the nec­es­sary per­mis­sion for the wed­ding,” he said.

While many cou­ples will tie the knot on De­cem­ber 7, it be­ing an aus­pi­cious day, Shamila and Se­narath will ex­change their wows in­side the con­fines of a prison, which, though mi­nus the glam­our and glit­ter as­so­ci­ated with most wed­dings, will be a very spe­cial day for them.

Shamila's hus­band to be Se­narath Ban­dula Liya­narachchi was a key wit­ness in the We­likada prison in­ci­dent (file pic)

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