By Chapa Madubhashini
This is a tragic story of a couple who live in a common latrine opposite Parakrama Samudraya adjoining the Paththini Devalaya in Polonnaruwa. A lady named Nala Mudiyanselage Kanchana Devi, who was the mother of one child, had related her tragic story with tear-filled eyes to the journalists as follows:
“We are in fear because our daughter will curse us some day when she grows up and comes to know that she lived in a public latrine like this. Our little daughter will feel sad when she comes to know that she had been brought to this place after her birth. But, some day we could explain our life story to her, and our life led without the help of anyone. We trust she will excuse us by that time.”
This family had been living in a public latrine for more than 3 years with their little daughter.
Kanchana Devi, a Tamil resident of Hatton, explained how she met her husband when she came to work in a textile shop in Colombo.
Mother and daughter spending their life in the toilet
“When I was working in this shop for some time, I met Dinesh who came to work in the same shop. He was a Sinhala youth. However, we were able to build-up a love affair without any racial differences. We got married with the blessings of all concerned. We came to the place called 2nd canal in Polonnaruwa after marriage. But we were compelled to live in a rented house there as we did not have a house to call our own. My husband had no permanent employment, but worked as a labourer to eke out our living. With the passage of time, I came to know that I was pregnant.”
In the meantime, the guardian of the Paththini Devale had helped them to earn a living when they had explained their plight to him.
When our daughter was six months of age, my husband had become almost blind due to the cataract
“When we explained our situation to the ‘Kapu Mahattaya’ (guardian of the devale), he asked us to live here by looking after the toilet as well. He said that a sum of Rs. 20 is charged from one person and that Rs. 10 can be used for our living and the balance for the maintenance of the Devale. Therefore, we came to this place because it was a great help for us. Then, I was after two months of my pregnancy.”
Kitchen utensils being used in the common toilet
As she was pregnant, her husband had gone to the Kachcheri in Polonnaruwa on several occasions to ask for a small block of land to make a shelter for themselves, but they had not got any land in spite of the fact that a heap of letters had been received by them from the Kachcheri to obtain a land.
“We came to this place with our newborn baby. As this latrine is used by so many people, it is not at all a suitable place to raise a child. The stench is unbearable and we feared that our daughter will be infected with all the germs in this place. But we remained here as we were helpless. After the birth of our child, my husband visited the Kachcheri once again requesting for a land. Even after informing the officers that we now had an infant to take care of, we did not receive a response,” Kanchana Devi said.
In the meantime, her husband suffered from cataract. “When our daughter was six months of age, my husband had become almost blind due to the cataract. I felt I was isolated in this world with the child, without the help of anyone. However, I went to the eye clinic of the Polonnaruwa Hospital with our child and my blind husband to get medical treatment. After being hospitalised for some time, he recovered from his eye disease.”
We wrote letters to the Ministers asking for a house or a land
“We wrote letters to the MPs and the Ministers asking for a house or a land. In response, we were given a letter after holding a meeting, in which it was mentioned that a house with all amenities will be given to us. We visited the Kachcheri again, and the officers there informed us that they could not give money, land and a house. They said that the house would have to be constructed by us. However, we did not receive a single rupee to date. They did not even tell when the money would be given to us. We do not have money to start the construction work. They agreed to give us money in stages, according to the work done.”
“We found that some other person had laid a foundation on the land that was allocated to us. When we informed the relevant authorities, they promised to bring down the foundation and give the land back to us. We do not need large houses. Even a small room would be sufficient for us. When there are large crowds, we can’t live here because of the bad smell. Then, one of us goes towards the tank with the child, and when the crowds decrease, we come back and clear the place so that we can live with the child.Nobody likes to live in a toilet with a child. We too wish to live like others. We cannot even cook our meals here. Passers-by refer to us as the people living in the toilet. Since we have a girl child, as she grows up, people will get used to calling her as ‘the girl in the toilet.’ We earnestly request to get at least a small house built, so that we could spend our life as normal humans do.”