6 July, 2022


Plight Of The Poorest Of The Poor; Is It Getting Better Or Worse?

By Lankamithra

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” – Confucius

In a desolate landscape, orphaned by any promise of rain or wind, in a still gloomy surrounding of trees and shrub, a lone farmer is tilling his land until sunset. Sunset in this arid zone is a spectacle of rioting colors, all the colors of the rainbow, from crimson red to violet and orange and blue, all dancing to a riotous order. But our farmer is woefully oblivious of that brilliant splendor. Far out on the horizon, a hazy column of clouds deters any human eye from seeing the fine line that divides land and the skies. But the hoeing goes on for it is the season for preparation of the soil before rains arrive, filling the manmade tank allowing the field channels to gush along the precious waters to the land of the farmer. Bare-bodied and exposing a half-starved, an almost emaciated figure of man, our farmer’s daily life is made up of physically tiring tasks. Whether driving a heavy digging hoe into a hardened earth and turning it around, one hammering after another, with sweat pouring down from his frail shoulders to his hollow parts of the outer stomach, or finishing flimsy repairs to a worn-out thatched roof of his old shack of home, he is not impeded by rain or shine. Demands on his labor are not foreclosed.

We have not yet arrived at the doorstep of a total disarray of our economic life. We hope that where administration of governmental affairs is in tatters, the economy collapsing, where all vital indices are showing an alarming downward trend, men, women and children drifting on the streets like ants without a queen-ant, will not arrive soon. Today there is no foreign enemy to point the finger at or as against a target to galvanize a hapless army of unarmed men; instead we have wretched politicians taking credit for an unknown accomplishment. The farmer had gone through this worthless terrain of early-twenty-first-century-politics. Snaking from one selfish leader to another, he has gone weary of the journey. The social burden he carries is enormous and his knees are buckling down- one physically and the other spiritually. Physically it’s emaciating him beyond recognition. The strapper of a man at the time he married his village sweetheart, is now a mere skeleton with some occasional flesh here and there. Our farmer was never affiliated to any political school of thought nor was he attached to any political organization at village level.

This great human odyssey is being played in every corner of our rural hamlets and villages. Their inhabitants’ inexorable struggle to keep their families contended and their stomachs full and spirit breathing is a hard daily routine. To relieve their melee of cruel hardships imposed by their own lack of education, their being born with no bequest of land from their parents and with many mouths to feed, their being exploited by the village lender and a heartless system that keeps trampling the poor and rewarding the rich and avaricious is a great story to tell. It is a great tale to chronicle.

Successive governments have failed to do the bare minimal for the poor, except perhaps the exception of R Premadasa, despite his dubious record in the exercise of governmental power, somewhat dictatorially- as argued by some, in a Stalinist-fashion. Premadasa is one political leader who has no match when determining to accomplish quite difficult tasks for the poorest of the poor. When Premadasa spoke for the poor, no political leader doubted his commitment. No organization doubted his authenticity.

Ransinghe Premadasa did not hail from those exalted halls of urban sophistication. In fact he did not pay any respect for that class which was rich in snobbery and miserably deficient in real commitment to alleviation of poverty. Classified as belonging to déclassé, Premadasa is one leader who commanded the respect of those so-called sophisticated class to an infinite degree and at the same time treated them like mere mortals whose riches were mainly owing to the closeness of connection they enjoyed with those in power. I have written extensively on the subject of ‘Premadasa Exceptionalism’, but that was principally limited to his social and political milieu. Premadasa’s accomplishments in the field of economic development are creditworthy to say the least. Although his Executive Presidential tenure was slashed down way before he completed his full term, his term as Prime Minister, as second-in-command in the J R Jayewardene-government was the one that brought much fame and praise. As Minister of Local Government, Housing and Construction, Premadasa’s contribution to the massive development program undertaken during that time was not second to the stupendous accomplishments of Gamini Dissanayake in the Lands and Mahaweli field and Lalith Athulathmudali’s achievements in the development of the Port.

When one looks at the present set of politicians, one does not find another R Premadasa. R Premadasa’s rivals were not limited to the traditional Opposition. Late in his career they came from within. And he did not handle that with prudence and wisdom. With the departure of Premadasa, the destiny of the United National Party also took a nasty twist. Seventeen years in power is too long for any party to be holding reins of power.

The governments that succeeded did everything for their cronies and friends in the upper class of society and neglected the poor. That is one reason, among many, that our farmer is in this trifling cycle of poverty, whose constant struggle for survival is just another sad chapter in the worsening human saga in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

This is the broad overview of Sri Lanka’s plight today. Politician on the one hand and bureaucrat on the other have played out the common man. Farmers, manual laborers, office peons and clerks who are now known as management assistants, all low and middle level workers both in the public and private sectors have become collectively subordinated to the massive mega-deals the politicians and officials are trapped in.

In a land totally barren of decent cultural practices and creative art, completely devoid of financial integrity yet thirsting for accountability and transparency from the government sector which was the promise that was held in the hustings, the people’s wishes have taken a back seat. It is not because the government is otherwise engaged in massive development undertakings. There is a palpable feeling especially among the business leaders and academics that the government is not competent. That is a very shameful badge to wear.

Whether it is incompetence or lack of motivation or even deliberate disregard for the promises held out during an election campaign, masses cannot be patient beyond average human endurance. Why the Rajapaksas score all points in the media is directly ascribed to this lack of action by those in power. How can anyone justify Mahinda Rajapaksa’s criticizing the current government’s and writing to the media under the heading, ‘irregular Appointment of High Court judge Threatens Independence of the Judiciary’? What does he think about the voter public? True, our people have a very short memory. Yet for the person who abused the country’s judiciary to such an unprecedented degree by removing the then Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in the most disrespectful manner, sending the real war hero General Sarath Fonseka behind bars under the most flimsy charges, after using the then Chief Justice Mohan Pieris like a doormat, to hurl stones at the current regime is laughable.

The real issue with the current rulers, among others, is their lack or inability of fighting back in the pages of print media or on the wide screens of television. Strong criticism, in the most severe form and fashion without any mercy is the only answer. Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Donald Trump in the USA is living in his own universe of alternative facts. Mahinda Rajapaksa simply cannot relate to the reality of being out of power. His daily routine of getting ready in the morning, setting his red shawl (satakaya) around his neck, arriving at his ornate Presidential desk and shouting orders at his security staff, receiving visiting foreign dignitaries etc. is irreversibly changed. His present routine might be totally different. But getting used to that routine where there is no ‘power’ is a very hard thing to digest. But his unlimited wealth apparently has the capacity as well as enormity to sustain a planned campaign against a ‘media-unsavvy’ administration.

But in the midst of this brutal conflict between two antagonists, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithri/Ranil combination, we should not forget our farmer who was sweating it out far out in the lost land of the arid zone. His day is not yet over. After finishing day’s work in the field, he is eagerly trekking towards his home where his wife and child await, not particularly with any hope or optimism. Yet when the family’s breadwinner reaches home in his usual depressed state of mind, the whole panorama of the human drama becomes visible to the discriminating eye. Now his landscape is a shack of home. The roof is leaking and the cow-dung-floor is uneven and rough to the feet of his little child. His plight is terrible and his future is gloomy. This is the story of our rural folks. It is more cruel than sad.

*The writer is available on lankamithra1955@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 1

    It looks Mr. Ranil Wickrams singhe is Pi$$ed off. Two others are ganged up. On lookers are stunned.

    It looks even in the Central Bank scam Ranil was caught and blind sided.

  • 2

    It is the same old stuff and recycling. Politicans are no different. they get drunk because it is dog eat dog environment all at the expenses of funds earned by those maids working middle east. They are familioes broken down. they themselves getting kileld at a rate of 500 a year.

    voters never learn because they are not alllowed. No one teaches them.

  • 3

    Which country is this?..

    It can’t be my motherland Srilanka.

    The” great” Uncle Junius turned it into a Dharmishta Samajaya a long time ago, according to my Elders..

    And gave our inhabitants Pirahaparan, Pottu Amman and Pottu Naufer.

    The dear nephew Dr Ranil came in with the ex Gramasevaka and cranked it went up a step further to dispense Yahapalanya to Dharmista folks.

    Have you ever seen any Yahapalana suckers here talking about poverty, plouging paddy fields , applying cow dung on Yahapalana Abode floors.

    Now it is all about Assembling VWs,

    Jailing SL Army Soldiers

    ,Expunging Buddhism,


    ,Homelands for Ethnics,

    English Education in Private Universities

    ,Pop concerts, ,Pills for girls,

    Largest X Mas Trees,

    Car Permits for the faithful MPs ,

    Free land to Yahapalana supporters,

    Dual Passports to the Diaspora,

    Pleasing the Bedouin Prince

    Selling Airlanka and the list goes on and on.

    Never seen the word POVERTY coming from any of those big ass Yahapalana Ministers.

    Yahapalana 2015 CB report says our inhabitants on average earn 846 Ruppiah a day. So why do they need Cow Dung?.

    Sadly the CB report didn’t say what Dr Ranil’s family friends and his ex Gramasevake ‘s family earns.

    Wonder what happened to Preme’s son Keselwatta Kid ?..

    • 0

      English Education in Private Universities

      So, if the doctors can work both in Sinhala and English, pay them better.

  • 2

    The largest ever bipartisan Congressional delegation of the United States today called on Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena at the President’s Official Residence. Congressman Bob Goodlatte said that the United States is pleased with the steps taken by the consensual government to strengthen democracy, individual freedom, and reconciliation.

    Corruption is worse than ever in Sri Lanka and the rank of the country has slipped.
    US aid to Sri Lanka is supposed to be for good governance but is spent on trips for various US delegations and consultants. In fact corruption has increased while US projects are supposed to be strengthening governance in Parliament of Sri Lanka.

    Corrupt development aid is part of the political culture of corruption that is deepening the crisis in Sri Lanka.

  • 5

    The upper class of our society is embarassing. Even their children are playing the Montagues and Capulets in Colombo schools, for want of things to do. And when there is so much to do in helping the rural sectors, this is shameful. And our Sinhalese Elite are the worst offenders.Time to get tough!

    It is not a Ranil/Sirisena vs. Rajapaksa problem. It is a misplaced Capitalistic problem. No one knows how to handle our country’s money, other than to speculate with it on international markets and drive our people to fulfill extraneous needs.

    We need our entrepreneurs of course. But the level of disdain towards the poorer citizens of the country is amazing. One just would not find that kind of condescension in a place like Malaysia, for example. And certainly not in Buddhist countries like Myanmar and Indo-China.

    We need our government to give approval for worthy entrepreneurship projects. Selling our rice and other food items to other countries makes no sense if we have to reimport everything at a higher price. Getting our people to work to make trinkets and underwear to sell other places is so out of place for a country rich in agrarian and cultural history.

    And when one set of entrepreneurs get successful at what they do, others try to emulate the same skill. Indeed more such activity is needed to keep the value of the rupee productive. And then when places like Wilpattu gets razed down, and other such environmental disasters, there’s a lot of finger wagging by the very same set. Don’t they know that their laissez-faire ventures in a country such as ours can have dire consequences? Don’ t they know that their very enterprises have caused much inflationary misery in the country? Laissez-faire should start with one’s own country first, before venturing out.

    We should keep our foodstuff to ourselves, and use the local cottage industry to produce our own brands for local use. Trying to make our capital city on par with some Western place won’t impress any other nation other than our people to get a temporary high, before going back to depression of the reality of their situation.

    • 0

      Thanks for this comment, RTF. I agree 100%.

      I’m one who thought that this American woman existed only for us to make fun of. Sometimes the comments you make are hilarious because you don’t know the ground situation. However, I’m beginning to realise how decent, well read and sincere you are. And yo write very well.

      Thanks, although I know I’m making this comment too late for many to see it.

  • 1

    ‘irregular Appointment of High Court judge Threatens Independence of the Judiciary’

    I think Mahinda Rajapakse tried to score points among muslims by making this statement. It says, one muslim businessman with the help of a muslim politician from the east has cleared 428 acres of govt land and they tried to kill the land commissioner in that area by shooting at him in order to scare him. All this happened in the East. So, it is not rishad Bathiuddin who cleared lands in Mannaram – wilpattu area. This is naother muslims politician.

    Yahapalana govt is not taking action because they don’t want other muslim voters to misunderstand when the muslim politician accuse for discrmination based on ethnic grounds.

  • 1

    Read in the Sunday times this morning which led me to have no hopes of a sensitive leadership on the plight of the poor .A worthy Ministers answer as to the complaints of those living in the shadow of the coal Power plant in those fishing hamlets tell it all .He seem to conclude that all is well for ‘they’ are carrying on with their daily activity ….so the air pollution to be actually witnessed the poor fisher folk must stop all activity and sit forlorn in front of their homes ..is that the reckoning of those who travel in 4 wheel drives caring for people ? If they had drop all work and come in protests they could be washed off the coal grime with the water hoses and sent back clean may be

  • 0

    This is another case of corruption.

    It says, Ranil wickramsinghe is upset because his minister did not hide the case, instead went directly Maithripala sirisena.

    Cabinet shocked over cockpit deals by bankrupt SriLankan

    Subject Minister Hashim sidelined by national carrier, takes damning indictment directly to President; Sirisena and several ministers expressed disbelief
    Ravi denies clash, PM unhappy over why he was not consulted first; Minister tones down comment after meeting at Temple Trees
    Sirisena admits corruption charges against his government; insists that probes on major corruption cases will be continued

  • 0

    It looks Cabinet meetings are charie4d by idiots who do not read or know about what they are approving.

    Just think, if a Board meeting of big company where CEO, CFO and company executives are charing is a board meeting full of incompetaant idiots who just need the payment for attneding the meeting but do nothing.

    Cabinet chaired by Maithripala Sirisena had approved 175 million budget to Sri lankan Air lines. but, none knew what is in the proposal brought to the approval meeting.

    Proposal said Sri lankan had bought or leased some air buses but latter found that was a lie. Minister Jayarathne had brough ththe proposal but he did not know what he brought, or we don’t know whether he knew and he was cheating the other members of the cabinet.

    Some how, Kabir Hasim had found it complained it to the Maithtipala Sirisena directly.

    Ranil wickramasinghe was upset his own minister did not tell and hid it, instead told it to the preaident.

    Story is somethiong like that. What a tragecomedy Sri lankan executives are. Idiots and rats running the country.

  • 2

    Thanks to Premadasa there are 100000 job opportunities in the garment sector at all times. All garment factories carry adverts outside the factories giving salaries perks Etc. Even now I shed a tear for Premadasa but sad to recollect that some hooligans lit crackers on the news of his death a man who did so much for the poor. If not for Mahaweli, Free trade zones 300 garment factories, 1000000 houses for the poor our country would have drowned in the Indian ocean.

  • 2

    Until and unless we understand the importance of our own people we would remain to be poor and will get poorer over time ( except for 1%-2% of the population).

    There is no way Sri Lanka can come out of poverty unless we have a strong middle class which consist 50% -70% of the population. The current so call Sri Lankan middle class is very close or below the poverty level compare to other countries.

    The only way to accomplish is by investing in our human resource, specially the children who will have driven this country forward in the future. The leaders of our country must understand that by make few people rich ( including themselves) will not get us anywhere. If you looks at any developed or developing country, one thing they all have in common is their strong middle class, which drives their economy. This would require giving equal opportunities in education to all our children irrespective of social standing, class, race or religion. However education should not be restricted to sciences and math but all aspects of social needs. Since we always talk about Singapore, one thing Singapore did to get to where it’s today, was to provide all its children the best education is the world. These kids are today best doctors, engineers, professors, politicians in the world.

    Until such time Sri Lanka understand this and starts to do something about this situation Sri Lanka will very remain poor and will be overtaken by almost all the countries in the world.

    Sadly I don’t think will ever happen anytime in the future.

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