22 September, 2020

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Maligawatte Tragedy; Indicators Of A Systemic Failure

By Mass L. Usuf

Mass Usuf

Condemned to poverty by birth and condemned to death by destiny. This is the long and short tale of the three women who fell victim to a human stampede. They were part of the sudden surge of people who rushed to receive the give-away by a charity minded person. Their quest was not for self-aggrandisement or extravagance but to seek temporary relief from damned poverty. Several others also had been injured in this incident which was reported to have taken place on 21st May 2020, in Maligawatte, a locality with a high population density, in the District of Colombo.

The timing and the manner in which this charity hand out had been organized is a matter for the law enforcement authorities to pursue. This column is aimed only at examining the causal background for this disaster. The stampede being the proximate cause.

‘Forcible’ Confinement

In political philosophy, there is this hypothesis called, the social contract. Historically, a compact between the ruled and their ruler, defining the rights and duties of each – in today’s terms the government and the citizens. The latter voluntarily trading obedience and, to some extent their freedom, in return for being taken care by the State.  

The social contract idea has jurisprudential implications wherein the concept of rights and the limitations that may be legitimately placed on them assume relevance. An interesting analysis can be made in this context vis a vis the continuing state of lockdown. The confinement of a people against their wishes and the consequential fallout socially, economically, mentally and the general wellbeing. Of course, no one discounts the fact that it is of utmost importance to take appropriate measures to wipe out the pandemic. 

Successive Government Failure

Apparently, an evaluation of the micro-economic resilience of the people when under lockdown has not taken place especially, of those who are self-employed, daily wage earners etc. The action plan of the Authorities should have considered the economic vulnerability of such people and, those bordering on destitution? Proper planning would have addressed the issue of how they were going to cope, self-organise and adapt to this new situation?

As is seen in many other countries, we too have a State system which is welfare based. Therefore, as a responsible government it should ensure proper health, education, employment and most importantly, the social security of its citizens. Special focus has to be given to the citizenry who are unable to avail themselves of the minimal provision for a decent life. Again, an opportunity for a critical analysis of the impact of the lockdown on the meaningful functioning of a welfare state.

What is Social security? One description is “any government system that provides monetary assistance to people with an inadequate or no income”. If adequate monetary assistance had been provided during the lockdown, people would not have suffered financial constraints. Moreover, they would not have gone to receive the tuppence that was given as charity? 

Sri Lanka embraced the welfare state concept way before independence providing food subsidies, free rice, free education, and free healthcare to all. Due to inefficiency and persistent corrupt practices an effective system failed to take root. This systemic failure is not the responsibility of this government alone but of all previous governments too.

Truth About Maligawatte

To properly understand the Maligawatte incident it has to be seen in this background. It will be an understatement of the truth and an undermining of intelligence to superficially examine this event from an ethnic angle or only as violation of curfew laws or as irresponsible behaviour at a time of pandemic.

The problem of not providing the citizens their basic necessities for a reasonable living knocks hard on the door of this failure. Let’s defer for the moment the other areas of health, education, transport, infrastructure etc. for which it is responsible. The public is reasonable in asking, to what extent has the responsibility of the State been discharged?

Moral Conflict

Which reigns supreme, necessity or the law? Consider the priority of a person whose stomach is burning in hunger or the grief-stricken mother who gives the teat instead of food to satisfy hunger of her crying baby because there is no baby food. Would not they say, “damn the exalted law?” Where does one strike the equilibrium in this moral conflict? Consider the humanitarian issues faced by the people who are deprived of their living under locked down. Unable to venture out for work to earn their daily bread to feed themselves and their families. This condition has been continuing for nearly two months.

They ask, “what do you expect us to do?  Are we to die at home along with the family or look for whatever possibilities that will satisfy our hunger?” How will the mother whose breasts are dried of milk because of lack of food, breastfeed the crying infant? What does one expect from that mother other than finding some means to feed herself and the infant? If Covid 19 may kill, hunger certainly kills. Of what concern is the law for those in this predicament. How reasonable is it to stringently enforce the laws on such people without adequately providing for them? To hell with social contract and welfare state, the sufferers would say.

Financial Pressure

The local grocer has ceased giving groceries because the outstanding had not been settled for over a month. The loan shark is demanding his interest for the loan taken for consumption. The landlord is abusing the tenant for non-payment of the house rent. The sick is struggling to buy his compulsory medications. The fear of the accumulated water and electricity bills. What does one expect these people to do?

Studies have found that financial-related stress can increase anxiety, depression and physical issues such as headaches, backaches, ulcers, increased blood pressure and more. 

Is it not reasonable for a person who is shackled by poverty, burdened by responsibilities and deprived of livelihood because of the lockdown to rush at anything that will relieve him? It would be like seeing a flicker of light when in absolute darkness. The public questions if the responsibility of this calamity falls squarely on the government for its failure to holistically address the issues attendant to a lockdown.

Mental Stress

In the United States, the Washington Post screams with the headline, “Coronavirus is harming the mental health of tens of millions of people in U.S.,” (02.04.2020). In May, the tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, reported that more than 56% of Americans say the pandemic has affected their mental health. The report states of negative mental health effect including trouble with eating or sleeping, drinking alcohol, headaches or stomach aches, shorter tempers, etc.

We have no such institutions to conduct tracking polls on the mental state of our citizens. The Americans live a decent life compared to the quality of life of the Maligawatte residents. The latter live in heavily congested surroundings, large families in confined spaces, with no proper access to water, sanitation, etc. Add to this the impact of the lockdown and consider what their mental state must be.

Cosmopolitan Maligawatte

This issue relates not only to Muslims of Maligawatte but, also, to all others who have been deprived of livelihood. If someone wants to see co-existence and tolerance in practise, here is the place. There is a mixture of Sinhalese, Muslims, Tamils, Malays etc. in this locality. There are the inevitable occasional neighbourhood quarrels but, in general, they live in harmony.  Maligawatte is a cosmopolitan area.  

It is necessary to create the proper environment for people to live in, before expecting them to be civic minded citizens.

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Latest comments

  • 5
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    In Sinhala there is a saying ‘Okkoma Kunu Beruwal Bokkata’ (all garbage ends up in Beruwala Bay).
    Put the whole blame on the Government. Our people are not to be blamed.

    We can expect another article on the attack of Derana Local reporter.

    • 6
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      Usuf, there is no systemic failure here. It happened purely due to disrespect of law by one person and greediness of others. When there is a rule that people should not congregate in one place in order not to spread the disease, why he did not follow it. Did he not know that any disbursing of money will attract several poor people. There are reports that when Christians did not come out during Easter celebrations and Buddhists did not come out during Vesak celebrations, it is only Muslims who have violated it. Secondly there are poor people in all communities. Have they behaved like this. So do not blame poverty to cover up greediness of these Muslims.

  • 1
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    The pitch darkness up above on the sky in the clouds tells how heavy it is with is tears. If it starts to pour, even Noah’s Ark will not stand up this time. Sinhala Intellectuals took over the government in 1948. It then the frustration too started. Certainly, May, 2020- Maligawatte should have to be marked as poor men rebellion in Lankawe’s history. This scene is reminding “a Jacques throwing a penny towards the crowd for the dead child under the lordship’s cartwheel and when the wine barrel broke they cleaned the street”.
    1953 (Hartal) Labor union action tried to send the arrogant government a message. 1956 people overturned the ruling UNP. They did it again in 1970 more majorities. They repeated in 1977 even more majority. 1994 they brought Chandrika with lot of hope. Two more time they voted to Old overwhelmingly in 2015 &2010 and again with high hope, in 2015, to Ranil and New King. Finally a 7 million voters d voted to bring the King. After 1953 General strike, an equivalent of attempted workers’ revolution, JVP tried to over throw the government; LTTE tried to break away from the country. There was good chance Muslim youths would have followed the same. But, bad or good, ISIS got involved and has made the parents more vigilant. The Governments have been running formality elections seeking 2/3 and beyond, without practicing democracy, only to evade economic sections against the governments from IC for their dictatorial governance. This government has employed about twenty War Crime accused Military personal in government’s’ key positions. Nobody is now sure if a military junta is in the power or any iota of democracy is still left out there in Colombo.

  • 1
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    It is described democracy is the worst form of government. But if you want people’s government at this time that is all what we have. So by education, experience, culture, civility, decency, maturity, statesmanship, and by practicing of law and ethics, devolved nations has made it reasonably working well for them while have made it extremely complex form to be dealt with. So most part of the of the world is suffering by democracy as much as the Chinese suffering by communism. Entire Africa is failing with democracy. Middle still has not learned that word yet. South America limping. Russia is still struggling to break out of its cocoon. On the ruling side, though the economy a little bit liberated, China still a full communist country. Then what is democracy or freedom means in these country? But Lankawe is the world worst failed democracy, because it was the only country, which’s founder PM disenfranchised its people on the same year it received its freedom. Britain fooled Lankawe mass, when it was not even have to learn to crawl, add it as Asia’s first democracy and let it to run for its Olympic Medal. Sad, now Lankawe is admitted in the hospital, the tiny legs are broken. So, now economy, education, health, social well-being, law and order, racial unity, religious freedom, media freedom, International relation………. every aspect of the country is in limbo.

  • 1
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    (First, I just passed Usuf’s easy thinking that he is just back with his Islam preaching propaganda, after some time. But still changed my mind and read as I wanted to know more about the Maligawatte incident as it was hurting from the time I came to know about the poor ants waited in line for their death to be gifted by stomping. Thank god Usuf had avoided his preaching but came out with some facts.) Here: ” To properly understand the Maligawatte incident it has to be seen in this background. It will be an understatement of the truth and an undermining of intelligence to superficially examine this event from an ethnic angle or only as violation of curfew laws or as irresponsible behavior at a time of pandemic.
    ……………………….
    Which reigns supreme, necessity or the law? Consider the priority of a person whose stomach is burning in hunger or the grief-stricken mother who gives the teat instead of food to satisfy hunger of her crying baby because there is no baby food. Would not they say, “damn the exalted law?”
    ………………………
    How will the mother whose breasts are dried of milk because of lack of food, breastfeed the crying infant? What does one expect from that mother other than finding some means to feed herself and the infant?

  • 1
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    Whenever a country is wallowing in the mire of corruption, and corruption rules supreme in mother Lanka, the corrupt politicians will look for scapegoats, often the minorities. The mindless masses are often driven by the incitement of corrupt politicians and are willing to go on riots and a killing spree, as it often happens in India. The communal mentality and hate is engulfing mother Lanka, and there is a chance mother Lanka herself may be incinerated, along with the minorities and the majority. There is a drunken stupor of having defeated the LTTE in the fogged minds of the majority, having forgotten all the pains, insecurity, the destruction and devastation… yellow robed bikkhus are now fanning hate against yet another minority. One who uses the flame to burn the other is likely to be burned himself… You are either a true Buddhist, committed to the enlightened teachings of the Buddha and the cardinal principles of ahimsa or a fake disguised as a Buddhist.It is only a united Sri Lanka, the country that is dear and close to the heart of every citizen, that will bring prosperity to all; hate and racism will only take us back to the dark ages… all will suffer. Have no doubt. The Chinese proverb says:”Even a cat forced into a corner, will fight back”. The LTTE has given that example with extreme clarity.

  • 1
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    Brother Mass. L. Yusuf
    What you have written in your article under Quote: “Truth About Maligawatte – para: The problem of not providing the citizens their basic necessities for a reasonable living knocks hard on the door of this failure. Let’s defer for the moment the other areas of health, education, transport, infrastructure etc. for which it is responsible. The public is reasonable in asking, to what extent has the responsibility of the State been discharged?” is journalistic “JARGON”. Reading through your content, it is very clear that you are trying to create metaphors which are “anti-government and meaningless in the context of comparative studies made regarding “Viz-a-viz” COVID19 and it’s management by the Sri Lankan government, especially that by the Health Ministry and the COVID19 presidential task force, including the Tri Forces and the police. The Maligawatte incident is not about “POVERTY” but it is about the “respect of law and order and the violation of regulations” laid down to contain the spead of the “COVID19” among the people. The incident also has to be a lesson to the Muslim community to understand the reality and act accordingly, Insha Allah.
    “இனியாவது சமூகம் விழிப்புடன் செயற்பட வேண்டும்” Insha Allah.

    • 0
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      Noor Nizam ,

      Ali Sabre also coming to try in CT in support of your government. You two appears better than Hakeem and Rishard. If I meet any UNP ministers I will recommend them to keep in touch with you too place you in the next time election.

      Is that Thajudeen is dead because he did not respect the Law and Order, not killed by your bosses to snatch his girl friend? His body was burned in the car because he had Covid-19? Sorry man, it was my mistake asking you questions. If you had brain answer those would you have sought refugee in the enemy’s house? But Sabre still smart enough to know that, that is why he is waiting for nominated MP post.

  • 0
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    AGAIN THE MUSLIMS HAVE ACTED ARROGANTLY UNDER THE DISGUISE OF TRYING TO SHOW THAT THEY ARE MORE PIOUS AND DEDICATED IN RELIGION/ISLAM. THE INCIDENT OF CONDUCTING CONREGATIONAL EID PRAYERS AT A MOSQUE IN CHETTI STREET, FORT/PETTAH AREA AND THE ARRESTS MADE BY THE POLICE AND PUBLISHED/BROADCASTED BY THE ELECTRONIC MEDIA/TV STATIONS ON PRIMETIME NEWS EXPOSES OUR ADAMANCY NOT TO HEED TO THE GOVERNMENTS INSTRUCTIONS/SOCIAL DISTANCING RULES AND REGULATIONS LAID DOWN BY THE AUTHORITIES.
    Are the Muslims “NOT AT FAULT” on this matter? ARE WE NOT AT CONFLICT WITH THE MAJORITY COMMUNITY THAT GOVERNS THE COUNTRY and why try to create a senario in the media of an apparent allegation to bring “MORE” aggony to the Muslim Community at the end of this Holy Month of Ramadan. When Laws are in force and the Wakf Board has made certain announcements how to handle the distribution of ZAKAT, why did this “ARROGANT” Muslim businessman from Dehiwela go to Maligawatte to commit this henious crime and “SUBJECT” 3 poor Muslim women to die as a result? Why did our Muslim bretheren violate the social distancing rules announced for Edi prayers on Eid festival day at Chetti Street? Untill we change God AllMighty Allah cannot (also) help us, Alhamdulillah, Insha Allah.

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