“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”
The culvert has gone into neglect for a long time. The government civil engineer had promised the villagers that repairs would be effected soon but that ‘soon’ does not seem to have any definite timeframe. The dilapidated condition has rendered the culvert worthless; its primary function of circumventing the gushing of water from the tertiary canal and inundating the gravel path that leads up to the homesteads of the settlement seems to have been abandoned. The presence of the engineer is urgently required and in fact, awaited by many soon; otherwise the hamlet consisting of fifty to sixty homes, some complete and others still in construction but dwelling condition and their home gardens, would soon become virtually inaccessible by any motorized vehicle, agricultural or otherwise. The hustle and bustle of activities that was observed during the early days of settlement is now gone.The coming-in and going-out of busy land officers, community development officers, irrigation engineers, unit managers and block managers and other staff who belonged to the Authority that was in charge of the downstream settlement programme had brought a vibrancy to the new environment, raising hopes and aspirations of a people, who up to the time of uprooting from their traditional habitat, had led lives on the level of subsistence farmers.
And it was believed that those days would be gone forever. No more subsistence farming, no more glaring at the empty skies for rain and no more perpetual indebtedness to the boutique keeper. The shackles that bound each family to an unmerciful cycle of revolving debt, to an existence of mere breathing, eating and sleeping without any glimmer of hope for children’s education were to be broken. A full meal, an occasional entertainment at the closest illicit liquor waadiya, a new jacket and cloth for the beloved better-half and fresh garments for the school-going children were supposed to be the new order of the day. A life of stalemate and stagnancy was promised to be reversed and substituted by one of vibrancy, hope and pride. A long journey into a land -- Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa -- which was once made abundant and luxuriant by their ancient ancestors who pioneered the effort to transform Lanka into the “Granary of the East”, posed many new challenges to these peasants whose daily lives, prior to their uprooting from where they dwelled, were mostly dictated to and shaped by the rainfall that intermittently visited their ‘Chena’ cultivations. At times driven to the edge of starvation and want and having no claim whatsoever to even a measly piece of freehold land, their miserable existence and wretched social standing had not come into any serious reckoning by any governmental statistical table or investigation.
"The settler community in the hamlet described at the beginning of this column has no option but relate all their lifelong anguish"
Yet, with the ushering in of the new government in the late 1970s, the massive multipurpose irrigation scheme was launched with the well-defined goals of irrigating so many acres of land, settling so many people on the downstream areas with so much of social and irrigation infrastructure to be built in place and so many megawatts of hydro power to be produced to feed the national grid and illuminate the dark corners of remote villages but the promised prosperity and plenty has not lasted for more than two decades -- just one generation.
The second generation issues ranging from employment, land fragmentation, marketing of cash crops, proportional development of social infrastructure such as schools, crèches, banks, police stations, post offices to all other attendant socio-economic problems needed to be addressed, yet they remained unaddressed and unattended.
The emphasis apportioned by the previous regime to agricultural development of the country was relegated to a backburner. Instead of administering the country on a sound and steady strategic premise, the governments that followed, first of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunge and later of the Rajapaksas, essentially governed the country on a crisis-management basis on the one hand and a deal-making basis on the other. Absence of a carefully-crafted economic strategy, well-spelt out socio-economic goals, a congruent approach to national economic issues, seemingly consistent attack on recurrent economic problems and agreement before implementation which calls for collective responsibility on the part of the entire Cabinet of Ministers are gravely felt by the country and its international lenders.
Total non-existence of accountability highlighted by commission-taking by all Ministers and their staff, open accusations of drug-trafficking and drug-dealing, tolerance of mafia-style law-enforcement on selected criminals, discriminatory treatment of non-Sinhalese Buddhists, allegations of consistently regular rape and vandalism, taking the law into their own hands, dictating dos and don’ts to a community that is more educated and erudite than they are and resorting to the most uncouth manner when dealing with government servants and other stakeholders of community-related work are the features that are salient when describing a government politician, whether a Minister, a Deputy Minister or just an ordinary Parliamentarian, Provincial Councillor or a Pradeshiya Sabha Member.
"The emphasis apportioned by the previous regime to agricultural development of the country was relegated to a backburner"
The settler community in the hamlet described at the beginning of this column has no option but relate all their lifelong anguish, day-to-day anxieties, anger and their lamentable plight to the presence of the dishonourable lifestyles of these corrupt government politicians who in a matter of few years have grown in finance and social acceptance by leaps and bounds. These politicians, some of whom did not have even the bus fare to travel from point A to point B before they got elected through this bizarre Proportional Representation (PR) system are now travelling in Defenders and Land Cruisers and Nissan Prados, all expensive vehicles whose weekly fuel bill alone would suffice to feed a whole family for a month.
While pontificating from their comfortable drawing rooms, the merits of thrifty living and virtues of saving, these hooligans who have got elected to administer the matters pertaining to the lives of millions of rural villagers, are spending lavishly on their offsprings’ weddings and homecoming parties like filthy-rich Emirs in the Middle East. Their spouses’ saris are bought in India and jewellery in the Netherlands and whatever is excess is wasted on the casino tables in Colombo’s dens of sin and vulgarity.
So what is the plight of Mudiyanse who was settled in a remote hamlet in the North Central Province in an alpha-named downstream development zone (System H, B, C or G)? His jealousies, his anger, his frustrations are all pent up; they are waiting to burst open but no valve is provided by any quarter.
Conventional methods of Parliamentary opposition have not worked against a non-conventional ruling cabal. When education and decency are replaced by violence and character-assassination of opponents through State-controlled media outlets, the subject people become resigned to an unsavoury set of rules and schemes.
They begin to look at the picture only through the prism so chosen by the ruler; instead of the whole forest only trees are highlighted; interpretation of rights and privileges ensured to all citizens has become the sole monopoly of the Government politicians. Those politicians who are not academically qualified even at a very elementary level have now begun to teach and preach to a more educated and yet uninformed public on the dos and don’ts of moral life and ethical behaviour.
Reminding us of another Head of State and Government of yesteryear, these new messiahs of politicians come before State-run broadcasting channels and set forth rules and regulations about good life and pious living; engaging in the diametrical opposite of the equation, they preach Karuna, Mettha, Muditha and Upeksha, while practising just the opposite.
Mudiyanse in our hamlet has no time for this preaching of the local or national politicians; he has no time to waste attending State-sponsored tamashas. His worries are much more basic and demanding; he has to find alternative work if the drought threatens to continue, and he has to make his ends meet; a new pair of slippers for his school-going son, a new school uniform for the younger daughter and cloth for his wife but nothing for himself.
Torn between conflicting political ideologies, Mudiyanse seeks not a socialist utopia on earth or a paradise that gives everything and takes nothing.
He is literally looking for a place in the sun. The Chief Monk at his village temple is now busy attending meetings organized by the Senas and Balakayes. Abandoned by the system and exploited by its creators, this is the sad saga of the damned and condemned. Their voice needs to be heard and their cries answered. The forthcoming elections in the Uva Province may well be an ideally suitable ground for such a cleansing.
Mudiyanse needs to be listened to.
The writer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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