I, Umachandraa Pragash, was born in a small village called Madduvil in the Jaffna District. I completed my primary education at the Madduvil Chandramouleesa Vidyalayam and my secondary education at the Chavakachcheri Ladies’ College. I was compelled to relocate to Colombo in 1996 due to the war that raged in the North. I later completed a Diploma course on media at the University of Colombo. Currently I am following ‘Law and Governance’ course at the University of Colombo. Between 2001 abd 2018, I have worked int several media institutions including Shakthi radio, Virakesari newspaper and Shakthi TV News First. As far as the media field is concerned, I have had the opportunity of working in the web, magazines, newspaper, radio and television.
In 2018, after the bill to allocate 25% for women in local government bodies was passed by the Good Governance government, I contested the Local Government election for the Colombo Municipal Council, representing Pamankada West division on behalf of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Even though I could not be victorious in the division, the then president Maithripala Sirisena appointed me to the Municipal Council on proportional system as I had obtained the highest votes for the party in Colombo South, and due to the 25% allocation for women.
Subsequently, I was also appointed as the party’s organizer for Colombo District and as the Coordinating Secretary to the Chief Minister of the Western Province. I lost the membership of the Colombo Municipal Council after I extended my support to Sajith Premadasa at the last Presidential Election, on the advice of former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. However, I contested the General Election in 2020 on behalf of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya from the Jaffna District. I was not successful at the General Election. Subsequently, the current Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa appointed me as his Coordinating Secretary. I was also appointed as the Deputy Secretary of the party and as one of the Vice president of the Vanitha Balawegaya (Women’s wing of the party).
During my school days, my principal and teachers nurtured excellent leadership skills within me. In addition, the experiences I faced in Jaffna during the time of war also taught me valuable leadership skills. The war taught me how to succeed in life with the available resources. The two Managing Directors, Mr. R. Rajamahendran and Mr. Kumar Nadesan, under whom I worked in the media field, also recognized my abilities. Soon after the end of the war in 2009, I participated in an exhibition ‘Jaffna life’ which was jointly organized by Virakesari and the University of Jaffna. I took part in the exhibition on the guidance provided to me by former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna, Prof. Vasanthy Arasaratnam, Head of the History Department, Prof. Paramu Pushparatnam, and Editor of Kalaikesari, Mrs. Annalatchumi Rajadurai. In addition, I was also presented with the Kalai Sudar award given by the government for my research books ‘Pettagam’, ‘Nallur Kandaswamy Perunkoyil’, ‘Yaalpaanathaith thedi’ and ‘Anikalan’. I see this as a recognition for my research on my community.
Ever since I commenced my political journey in 2018, I have initiated several activities to encourage women on self-employment, while being based in Colombo. I was able to carry out the initiatives through the funds that were allocated by the Western Provincial Council and the Colombo Municipal Council. Currently, Rs. 3 million has been allocated to Jaffna and Kilinochchi Districts through the multi-faceted budget presented by Eran Wickramaratne. Therefore, as Assistant Secretary of the party and one of the deputy leaders of its women’s wing, I have commenced developmental activities in Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts. Most importantly, I have given prominence to projects that are targeted toward the welfare of women. In addition, beyond my political activities, I work with the History Department of the University of Jaffna by contributing towards aspects such as art, culture, and tradition to ensure the sustenance and existence of our community.
Men view the 25% representation of women in local government bodies as an accident or a mishap. However, as far as women are concerned, it is a fortunate opportunity. The general perception is that women need families with political backing, should have been educated in popular schools, should be proficient in English and should have financial backing if they are to enter into politics. Another common perception is that women who belong to middle class families, or ordinary women do not venture into politics, and even if they do, they do not get opportunities. In this context, 25% representation is a political boon.
I would like to highlight aspects such as; the lack of interest on politics among women, the violent culture and negative aspects such as bribery which is prevalent in today’s politics, changes in political culture, most importantly the mistrust among the people on politics and politicians, degeneration of social responsibility and discipline, discrepancies which have arisen due to the proportional representation system, lack of democracy within political parties, lack of interest to provide nominations to women, and election related frauds as factors as fundamental obstacles in politics.
I did not have any knowledge or experience regarding politics before I embarked on my political journey. However, I was presented with opportunities to take part in workshops conducted by governmental, non-governmental and voluntary organisations after becoming a member of the Colombo Municipal Council. These workshops not only guided me on my political journey, but also played a role in achieving political successes. Among the above, One Text is one of the organisations which plays a crucial role.
My politics is based on ensuring the rights of my community. We should win the rights of our community through democratic means. We should throw away political parties which use women like curry leaves. We should be aware of those who use women only during the election period to garner votes, and then throw them away.
I am in the process of carrying out many initiatives that are targeted towards the 2025 General Election. In that context, I have initiated several welfare projects for the benefit of the people. However, there needs to be a change within the people as well. They still expect personal benefits. Politicians should understand how to use resources such as the parliament structure and the resources available in provincial councils and local government bodies for the benefit of the people. They should take steps to solve administrative issues that affect people. I anticipate the establishment of a transparent governance, which is devoid of bribery and corruption. I continue my political journey with the hope that one day we will touch the skies.
This was prepared as part of the Female Councillor’s Capacity Development Project of One Text – with the permission of the councillor to publish the document.