By Emil van der Poorten –
I make no apologies for the fact that this piece is less concerned about “rural perspectives” than it is about being on someone’s “hit list!”
It is now a considerable time since I was first accosted on the streets of Kandy and threatened for “writing against the President.” While it was not the first occasion that a shot was “fired across my bows,” it was the first overt threat. Prior to that incident, I had had frantic messages from Colombo friends “close to the seats of power” warning me against criticising certain Cabinet members in print because they had a track record of (let’s not indulge in euphemisms here!) killing those who had crossed their paths. I must admit, that considering the source of these warnings, they did have something akin to a chilling effect on me, particularly since I was relatively naïve in the ways of the Sri Lankan political establishment, having been brainwashed, I suppose, by being very politically active in another part of the world where the biggest threat to one’s person would have been a dog who objected to a political canvasser knocking on his master’s door!
Some of the stuff that has gone on around us belongs in the category of the crass and unsophisticated. However, I must admit that a couple of the initiatives have been slicker and more difficult to deal with in the absence of money to burn, the difficulty attendant on organizing publicity campaigns, or seeking recourse to a legal system that exists only in name and is regularly subverted by those with the appropriate “connections.”
I have written on more than one occasion about the matter of noise pollution towards which the police continue to turn a deaf ear (no pun intended), despite several years having elapsed and several appeals being made to them. The fact that an appeal for investigation by a very senior Minister of State has been completely ignored, says one of two things (or both) The Minister’s request was a token one and known to be such by the Guardians of the Law or that the police chose to ignore the request because they felt no compulsion to act on it. In case you think this is an inconsequential matter, let me assure that a 4 a.m. reveille every day for six years is no laughing matter! I will put this issue in an even more serious context a little later in this piece.
Where the local (and national?) politicians seem to think they really have us by the “short & curlies” is in the matter of destroying our access. Literally. A significant part of the road that serves us (and a substantial rural population) has been devastated by a local Pradeshiya Sabhawa hauling loads of garbage on it in a trailer drawn by an agricultural tractor (with “mud tires”) at least six times a day. While the balance of this road is not exactly the Le Mans circuit, it is motorable. The kicker here is that the part of the road that has been destroyed is very close to where it leaves the main highway, making the closure of access very significant to a large number of people even if intended purely to take revenge on someone seen as a political dissident.
I have for several months past, phoned the personal secretary to the Senior Minister who is my MP and who happens to have been a schoolmate as well. I keep getting a never-ending series of assurances and, recently, even some “activity.”
This “activity” took the form of a new spur off this road, allegedly intended to provide additional access to their garbage dump. The only glitch here is that the “spur” is in fact a collector for all the runoff coming down a not-inconsiderable hill, which is now diverted on to a road that is already being wrecked by the garbage-hauling! The “spur” cannot be used by the tractor as I write this because, in fact, it is one large drain! We have had enough time to evaluate this new activity and it is now the consensus of opinion that this was simply a ploy to hasten the complete destruction of this road, making it accessible only to the garbage-hauling tractor and “teaching (us) a lesson.” As bizarre as this is (and paranoid to boot!) how else does one explain a totally senseless excavation of a hillside to divert a significant quantity of rain water on to a road along which it then forms a stream? I know this exercise provided “commissions” and other goodies to friends of those in power but the motivation begs an explanation beyond even that.
Incidentally, apart from my own calls to the Minister’s brother, emails attaching photographic evidence of what is happening etc., the local residents drafted, signed and forwarded a petition to this Minister explaining their desperate plight.
To no avail.
It is self-evident that destroying a citizens’ existing right of access to their home is a criminal act, but the sequence of events suggests an attempt to kill two birds with one stone in that it effectively destroys our efforts to run what has already proven to be a very well-received paying guest operation, geared to tourists who are looking for peace and quiet in surroundings that have been treated with ecological sensitivity.
“Blast them with amplified Calls to Prayer and chanting long before sunrise and, if that doesn’t work, make sure that they have no motorable access to their destination,” seems to be the watchword.
Rommel would have been proud indeed of our local politicians even though they might not be confronting the might of the British Empire!
My major personal regret in all this is that a man with whom I shared an alma mater and whom I’ve respected as somebody of personal integrity and decency should be an unwitting participant in this tawdry exercise. But then, I suppose, such is the nature of Sri Lankan politics today!