Aiyo! What can we do sir?
The usual back-verandah chat with the writer’s labour supervisor and “sounding board” moved on to the subject of Sri Lanka’s current political climate and what the average citizen has available to him or her in the immediate future.
My philosophy of “Don’t support any of them, it only encourages the rascals,” was not shared by the other party to the conversation. He believed that any new government that follows the incumbents could not but be better in the area of law and order. The status quo, he felt, was the epitome of lawlessness with no one free to go about their business without being embroiled in bribery, corruption and worse.
He reminded me of a recent request by one of the workers on our land who wanted to buy a giant (green) bamboo to use in the construction of her lodging. This use of bamboo in house construction was restricted to the very poor who were still building wattle and daub abodes where giant green bamboo was used as pillars to support the roof structure. The more affluent would build walls with brick and cement mortar, using sawn timber and would not use bamboo in any part of the structure.
To get this one bamboo I would have to get a permit to cut one bamboo out of a dense stand that desperately needed thinning. Then she had to get a permit to transport this bamboo to the building site. Both of these needed to be obtained subsequent to an application being made to the relevant authority, the offices of which was many miles away, requiring taking two buses and spending, to all intents and purposes, a whole working day to do so.
Apart from the loss of a day’s wages by this poor woman, she would probably have to bribe whoever was responsible for issuing the permits. Also, someone with the requisite authority would have to inspect the site and vouch for the fact that extensive environmental damage would not result from cutting down this one bamboo! Bizarre to say the least!
The practical solution? “Someone” came down to my bamboo grove and removed a bamboo while I was not looking and that seemed to be the end of that story! However, if some busybody had chosen to make a complaint to the police or some other authority, all of us could probably have been accused of a criminal offence of some description!
In the meantime, down at the bottom of the hill is a garbage dump, a “regional land fill site” to give it the grandiose title that it certainly doesn’t deserve. This has been in existence for some years, despite the environmental authorities having stated, in writing, that it is totally unacceptable and should be shut down and in spite of protests from local residents that their health and well-being is adversely affected by it. There have been several cases of malaria as a result of the swarms of mosquitoes breeding in the stagnant water there and this in an area that is officially “malaria free.”
People in the vicinity have to cover their plates of rice with plastic film and then insert their hands between the film and the rice to start eating it to protect their meal from swarms of flies. Above all, this dump is located on a knoll below which are two springs which form a little stream at their confluence and from which several families draw their drinking water supply.
If one needs proof of the contamination of this drinking water supply all that is needed is a viewing of the little dam on this water source where cans, plastic bags and other flotsam and jetsam from the land fill collect. Disgusting, to say the least, particularly when one considers that people drink this water.
Every effort to do something about this menace has resulted in stone-walling by the Pradeshiya Sabha, the Medical Officer of Health etc. etc. Not even an appeal to the Minister of Health and his colleague in Environment has seen any action. As my friend says, “Sir, those who have authority can do as they please even if it means our health and that of our children are placed at risk. What can we do short of obstructing the tractor and trailer that brings the garbage and then they’ll put us in the “koodoowa” in the police station.”
As my ‘sounding board’ said, “Sir, the current situation does nothing to maintain law and order or to keep us safe. All it does is make us, poor people, into criminals.” He has a simple hope: that a regime will emerge that will, simply, ensure that the laws of the land are observed and that fair play and decency will prevail once again, so that he and his family can live a life of peace and simple dignity. A simple hope and one that one expects possible of fulfilment in a land boasting 2551 years of Sinhala Buddhist civilization.