25 May, 2024

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The Story, Untold, Ignored & Forgotten

By Lalith Dhammika Mendis

Lalith Dhammika Mendis

Sri Lanka is facing the biggest ever economic crisis in the post-independent history. Cost of living is sky rocketing at breakneck speed by the hour. Prices of a whole spectrum of basic necessities have escalated becoming outrageously prohibitive. Grassroots, low income segments and the self-employed are some of the hardest hit, as rapidly collapsing rupee has triggered drastic shrinkage of disposable incomes and purchasing power making it increasingly difficult for people to make ends meet. A vast majority of households from island wide are struggling hard to meet the needs of many mouths to feed in consequence. Livelihoods of people from many walks to life are already shattered beyond retrieval with some facing imminent catastrophe. 

Intension of the writer is not to dwell upon: divisive party politics, political thievery, colossal profligacy, outrageous misuse, massive waste, mammoth scale embezzlements & downright mismanagement of public funds as well as crass extravagance, bureaucratic apathy, administrative failures and policy bungling alleged to have taken place at varying scales under successive dispensations in post independent Sri Lanka giving rise to the unprecedented calamity that has afflicted this nation and the resultant mammoth mass agitation witnessed in the recent past throughout the country and in many parts of the world clamoring for a genuine system change.

In the midst of the ongoing crisis and hurried action underway to seek financial assistance and other forms of economic relief from global funding institutions, multilateral aid agencies and friendly governments, it is pertinent to give much needed voice to the heartrending tragedy of the down-trodden, marginalized, unserved, and underserved poorest of the poor living under wretched  conditions in shanties, far flung villages, isolated remote hamlets, backwoods bordering forestlands lying exposed to ravages of human elephant conflict and sparsely populated secluded localities dotting vast swathes of desolate land not accessible by motorable roads. Their stories have hitherto remained ignored, untold and uncared for and deplorably neglected. Their persistent loud cries have fallen on deaf ears. Their miseries and agonies have heartlessly been overlooked and mercilessly kept under hat for far too long. 

These communities overwhelmed by endless misfortunes have been living in ramshackle, rickety temporary shacks, sheds and huts with barely adequate roofing, proper walls or any decent flooring totally unfit for human occupation. Everyone in a family including children are forced to share cramped up space available for all purposes from sleeping to cooking and resting. None of these dwellings have proper furniture. Roofing sheets with gaping holes not at all provide adequate shelter. People are forced to endure hardships especially when leaking roofs make lives miserable during showers. Lack of basic flooring causes floors to get wet and mucky preventing the use of mats for sleeping.  Heavy showers accompanying sleepless nights and endless agonies spell nightmare for hapless ones. Homesteads scattered with dirt and garbage become filthy stinking quagmires during downpours. 

Wooden planks, polythene sheets clumsily fixed to partially built clay structures make up the walls of these shoddy dwellings. Some families are forced to share cramped up spaces of dilapidated sheds with extended families and live under subhuman conditions. Kerosene lamps provide lighting and children have to depend on them for studies if at all possible due to lack of electricity. Young ones have no proper place to keep books and study materials due to severe space restrictions. So education naturally becomes one of the first casualties of abject poverty.  Lack of electricity, tap borne water, ventilation and basic sanitary facilities are some of the burning issues faced by poor segments and shanti dwellers from rural as well as urban localities. Urban shanti dwellers often face the unavoidable and unbearable discomfort due to acute inadequacy of sanitary facilities as large number of people are dependent on limited substandard malodorous amenities for ablutions and basic sanitary needs. Lack of proper sanitation, evil-smelling surroundings, holes, canals and drains clogged with stagnant dirty water containing filthy faecal matter form fertile breeding grounds for fast spreading diseases and health problems. 

Many remote hamlets predominantly suffer due to lack of basic public infrastructure like motorable roads, bridges, electricity and water supply. People are forced to trek miles and miles through alleys, foot paths, jungle tracks, mountain ridges and ravines to find scarce drinking water. Conditions become dire during prolonged droughts causing acute scarcity of drinking water as could be seen nowadays. It is pathetic that in times of torrid weather people have to walk miles and miles enduring unbearable heat under scorching sun to fetch water from mud holes dotting parched lands, the only remnant source of some water hardly fit for human consumption. People are compelled to depend on dirty water disregarding serious health concerns that it may contain unsafe levels of contaminants causing gastrointestinal illnesses and other waterborne diseases including chronic cancers and renal disorders. Children got to walk miles through backwoods to reach nearest schools every day. Such daily treks could prove hazardous due to unexpected encounters that may crop up with marauding wild beasts resulting in life threatening adversities. People living in some wet zone outback areas experience perennial plight of pathways and tracks going underwater almost throughout the year. This compels everyone including children to endure day to day ordeal of having to wade through knee deep muddy water to get out of villages for schooling, employment and other important needs. It is particularly nightmarish for school going young ones having to carry bags, shoes and study paraphernalia through dirty water and clean dirty wet muddy feet before reaching schools as part of daily routine. 

There had been many horrifying instances when people had experienced unexpected encounters with marauding wild elephants suddenly emerging from wilderness forcing them to desperately run for dear lives chased by ferociously charging beasts. There are many sad stories of many sorrowfully ending up paying with their precious lives. No proper solution has to date been found for the longstanding issue of Man vs Elephant conflict brought about by bureaucratic apathy and unplanned action on the pretext of so-called development that has persisted for years under successive regimes. It is a vexed problem that has claimed scores of innocent lives over the years depriving near and dear of many unfortunate ones. Not a day passes without an incident involving either houses, cultivations or farmlands being ravaged by wild elephants causing immeasurable losses to farming communities already overpowered by despondency and despair due to many of their burning issues sadly remaining unresolved.

Lack of bridges and motorable roads require people living in many outback hamlets to perilously cross gushing waters through makeshift structures and platforms made of wood often not supported by protective rails serving as bridges, as can be witnessed even today. Sick as well as old people find it is extremely difficult, painful and frightening when they have to negotiate dilapidated improvised structures serving as bridges to attend to emergencies such as urgent medical needs due to obvious perils involved. 

Long years of suffering the marginalized have undergone in extremely wretched conditions has been further exacerbated by the unprecedented economic calamity prevailing today, which no doubt is a huge double whammy that has practically prolonged the miseries and agonies of the poorest of the poor with no end in sight. In today’s context of skyrocketing cost of living most of them could hardly afford even one square meal a day. Majority of them are not stably employed and are forced to make ends meet by engaging in menial work earning meagre incomes barely sufficient to meet daily household needs. 

Covid outbreak and resultant lengthy lock-downs witnessed livelihoods of scores of low income segments falling apart catastrophically. Lack of social safety nets, support mechanisms and stable sources of income or employment have made them exceedingly vulnerable to vicissitudes of harsh economic realities. Colossal economic collapse has added insult to injury by aggravating their already worsening woes. Whilst fast piling up economic miseries engulfing the nation make it hard for them to feed their families, they find it practically impossible to sustain the education and skills development of their children who are resultantly compelled to face perilous prospects of falling prey to social vices. This has a profound impact on the future of the young ones as well as the society. Schooling and other avenues of education and skills development disrupted in the aftermath of Covid outbreak have gone further downhill through unfavourable socio economic and political climate prevailing today and given rise to multitude of burning issues.   

Incessant please of the poor seeking redress, relief and solutions to deep-seated woes, difficulties, and years’ long suffering have fallen on deaf ears, although copious lip service has been craftily paid from elevated podiums time and again promising ever elusive prosperity to the gullible ones. Their pathetic stories may have proven expedient and elegant tools of propaganda and formed strong taglines & slogans in the campaigns of many in the garbs of body politic hell bent on relentless pursuit of power and wealth. Regrettably, today’s ground reality reveals only precious little has been done tangibly to alleviate the perennial unbearable suffering this forgotten lot have been going through for decades. 

The lot of the poor and needy has remained practically unchanged. Their years’ long cries, wails and grievances imploring relief for ever snowballing agonies have gone unheard of. Callous disregard of the wellbeing of a lower layer of society neglected through apathy or deliberate inconsiderateness is bound take its toll in the years ahead although it may not seem ominous at present yet.

A generation of unfed, undernourished and undereducated young from different social backgrounds is going to be a significant unavoidable element of mainstream socio economic dynamics having a profound impact on the progress of this country several years from now. This country battered bruised and maimed by lack of public spirited wisdom, absence of insightful foresight and decades long persistent mismanagement and policy bungling cannot afford the relapse of another round of debilitating mass agitations or social uprising arising from a segment of unserved and underserved social layer vying for social rights, economic justice & wellbeing.

It’s utterly shameful to brag about world class highways when some of our own people have still got to trudge miles and miles through rustic alleys, pathways and jungle tracks as they are yet to be provided with at least basic tarred roads for travelling. There is no point waxing eloquent about construction marvel like modern overhead, suspension and arch bridges of Singaporean scale when some of own brethren have still got to perilously negotiate rustic makeshift structures or “Edandas” to cross gushing water streams risking their lives to go about daily routines. Highfalutin rhetoric and grandiose pronouncements in high fluent language trotting out pompous bombastic statistics on so-called development and prosperity that have remained elusive in the post independent Sri Lanka to date ring hollow when scores our people are compelled to stomach endless agonies of abject poverty deprived of at least one square meal a day, a proper roof over their heads and decent way of living.  

It is about time the eyes of those calling shots open to the glaring indifference, injustice, apathy, negligence, and callousness that persisted over the years contributing to years’ long deliberate undoing of the lives of poorest of the poor pushing them from frying pan to fire. Inordinately stringent policy measures on the cards as part of the economic revival strategy are bound to prove extremely agonizing for vulnerable communities already battered and bruised consistently over the years. No doubt, blueprints of economic recovery and roadmap for hitherto elusive prosperity are impressive and appealing to the white collar elites of affluent circles. Whilst complex projections, statistics and prognostications provide platforms for bombastic grandiose talk shows, presentations and deliberations, the whole saga may prove another round crass deception unless the execution of grand scheme do not result in accomplishment of hyped up goals. It is only time will reveal if those who talk today are really sincere and are capable of walking their own pompous talks. 

It is sad those struggling in deep deprivation for decades are going to be forced to bear the full brunt of the severest possible hardships expected to crop up through drastic austerity and fiscal measures underway to steer the country out of calamity it is facing today caused by deplorable and reprehensible actions of the ruling elites who mercilessly relished vulgar riches whilst turning blind eyes to the predicament of the poor and needy languishing in wretched conditions. Poor will be compelled to face a whole heap of excruciatingly painful agonies due to no fault of theirs and forced to pay dearly for the sins of dishonest, crafty, unprincipled political masters who have maliciously hoodwinked and avariciously devoured the public purse over several decades.

It is imperative that those ruling the roost wake up to prevailing ground truth without further ado, pull up socks and get their acts together and speedily come up with a strategic constructive action plan with short to midterm and long term remedies as times ahead are going to be extremely painful. There are already strong signs that proposed economic revival measures are going to be unbearably burdensome. Poverty stricken masses would find it impossible to meet even their basic human needs. Their lives would inevitably fall to unimaginable levels of deprivation. In the face of a looming catastrophe of unprecedented scale one of the most important priorities is to have sound socio economic safety and relief mechanisms in place to shield the most vulnerable segments from harsh economic adversities lying ahead until some light appears at the end of the long arduous tunnel. That is what is sorely needed before it is too late. There is absolutely no further room whatsoever for wheeler dealing, political bickering, costly wasteful extravagance or fraudulent deception for selfish gains by whoever choosing to don the garb of body politic and occupy hot seats of authority from now on in the name of public service. They surely have a duty to prove that genuine sacrifices start from the top by foregoing the plums of offices which weigh heavily on the public purse. 

*Lalith Dhammika Mendis – a Chartered Accountant by profession with over 34 years of post qualifying experience.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    1

    I read the article, ‘The Story, Untold, Ignored & Forgotten’, with intent attention, hoping that Lalith Dhammika Mendis, would hit the nail on the head. Why do you all miss your buses!!
    During my schooldays, I had missed buses deliberately when the girl I was wanting to see was not there!
    You heard a lot of cries. Yet, the loudest of them all failed to strike a chord with you.
    What a pity!

  • 0
    0

    A Five Star (*****) article!

    • 0
      0

      CM
      Out of how many stars maximum? Say a score?

  • 1
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    SJ
    I can’t say exactly but it describes peoples’ hardships and sufferings more comprehensively and graphically than any other article I have read to date on CT.

    • 0
      0

      “underserved poorest of the poor living under wretched conditions in shanties, far flung villages, isolated remote hamlets, backwoods bordering forestlands”
      Sounds like a good description of the people who produce a third of our export income. Why doesn’t the author say so explicitly? Is he a part of the problem?

    • 0
      0

      CM
      I found it to be very average and lacking in fresh insight.

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