Sri Lanka: Masturbating on Meethotomulla Tragedy!

Meethotumulla was different. The life of the slum dweller is not as sophisticated to demarcate between race and religion. From Kolonnawa to Hatey waththa to Kumbi Kale the slums are where race, religion, caste, and creed don’t have legitimacy. A list of the names affected by the tragedy would be symbolic of it.


by Hafeel Farisz

( April 21, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)  The recent tragedy at the immediate outskirts of Colombo has drawn wide and varied opinions. On the one hand, we have ire directed against the politicians who are perceived to be responsible for it, and on the other, there is a middle class which have insisted that it is they who are to blame- for the callousness with which they treat their waste.

But do such reductivist rationalisation really portray the much larger issues which the tragedy is really symbolic of?
Waste is no one’s fault. Rather it is an essential and inherent offshoot of the earth’s inhabitants, pre and post-industrialisation. Humans have devised various methods to dispose, recycle, and reuse this waste for the benefit of the very species responsible for its generation. But this isn’t the time for such philosophical meanderings. Meethotumulla killed.

The move to use Meethotumulla as a garbage dump, despite the fact that there lived a poverty ridden underclass around the area was a decision made in tandem with Colombo’s beautification exercise. Although the dump was used as one of many such sites for decades, the real decision to use it with state backing, paying no heed to the impact it had on the people living around it was a decision made in 2008. Despite, pleas, cries and protests. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and A.J.M Muzammil were the instigators. They represent the established political parties, which time and again have relied and doled out cash rewards for votes among this very underprivileged polity. The reductivism with which individuals are targeted in this ensuing debate is really the cause for concern, as much as Gotabaya and Muzammil have blood on their hands, and are directly implicated in the cries of Keerthirathne, who spearheaded the battle initially and ended up losing most of his family. But there was and is a much larger issue at play – the system.

For the issue of Garbage is an issue confined to the Municipality. The municipality is responsible to the provincial council and the land that the garbage was dumped is owned by the Urban Development Authority. It is the convergence and the resulting failure of all these institutions, led, administered and handled by the rich and the elite, which murdered these innocent dwellers. I am certain that none of the relatives or friends among the ruling elite, which include the bureaucrats lives around or even at the outskirts of these precincts. These were not people, and their fate was not their concern. Colombo needed beauty, and everyone was all too happy that the “slums” around it were taken away by force, and the people were given below par flats around designated areas by the rulers.

These are not things many of the English speaking elite are aware of. They are a part of the larger problem. Ignorance. The slums which were taken off in that beautification drive, which the two parties ably represented by Muzammil and Gotabaya were houses in which generations lived. They were symptomatic of a system which has failed the people, right in the heart of Colombo. On the one hand, there was the five-star hotel and right behind it thousands of people crammed into a tiny space. Some houses included 11- 14 people living in one room. Hate waththa, (thankfully the land wasn’t identified to be good enough for any material use) lies at the heart of Colombo-7. The living conditions are not much different.

On what basis was the relocation done though? Each house broken down was to be given another 400 – 1200 square feet house in one of the flats built for them. Colombo was happy. With utter disdain and disregard to the aspirations, livelihoods and everything else a locality brings to a human being- they were destroyed. A land is not just the material. A house is not just a building. It is a home, it is an abstract ideal of belonging, of security, of environment these environments bring. But all crushed, without a single voice of opposition save and except from the slum dwellers themselves. But this is meandering again.

Fast forward to Meethotumulla and the failure of a corrupt, inhuman and out of touch judiciary and legal system. The dumping of garbage was given the judicial sanction in 2008.It is easy to blame the person who issued a judgment, which went on to deny the right to protest. The government sought the corrupt Supreme Courts intervention and it obliged to like it always has when the protests against the dump grew. It is again, a symbol of the larger problem. The black-coated lawyers weren’t aghast, nor were they willing to take to the streets. They won’t. Nuwan Bopage was the sole fighter, fighting against a system heavily tilted against him. If at all he was and remains the only saving grace of a legal class that is caught up within an archaic, and arcane framework- which has really got nothing to do with justice in any sense of meaning.

For the elite lawyer, Nuw’s fight was looked at with either nonchalance, or they were patronising. ” We are lawyers they people have to come to us and they have to pay” is the base of the idea, if not the words. ” lawyers don’t cheapen themselves, we are not activists, you have heard of that cab rank rule haven’t you?” they may have said, while insisting on adhering to their colonial hangovers. Sri Lanka may be the only country in which there are “Lords and ladies”, 40 years after there was any need of these donkeys.

For the elite lawyer, the colonial hangover extends. Hulftsdorp is a circus for people calling each other “sir” and standing up and down in obeisance. Unlike the medical profession, which actually is about saving lives, the lawyer’s cartel portrays themselves to be on par. To be revered and respected. Many a time we witness clients bending into 22 before their lawyers, after paying them having pawned their jewellery. The disdain with which they are treated is another question altogether. This may be the only service, apart from medicine which is clearly distinct, in which the customer pays money and has to also pay obeisance with it.

That is of the elite lawyer walking through the upper courts.

Of the other genre, living in the lower courts, Magistrates and Traffic, who are looked at again with disdain by the elite, the portrayal and also the actions are just the same. The people see no distinction and the most frequent interaction the masses have with lawyers is through these lower courts. And the actions make any respectable human being cringe. The elite act like it does not happen. Any person on any given day could witness the same obeisance paid by people to these black coated hawks, who I have seen count coins.

To both genres, however, the likes of Nuwan and Udul Premarathne are as unimportant as the dwellers of Meethotumulla. Which is why there was never an uproar against a decision that was very clearly against the masses- there has never been. Unless and otherwise, it affects their little circles or the causes which affect them or these circles- there never is. And if there where they have been the exception and not the norm.

That is pre-disaster. Post-disaster, we have seen an opposition party in the country, show its true racist garb. If issuing a statement was the duty of the opposition, the public would rather not have one. The TNA throughout this time have failed to speak on behalf of the people, and it is no surprise that they are losing trust among their polity in the North. Wigneswaran jumped up and down when Meeriyabadda happened to offer land and housing to those affected- only because those affected were Tamil.

Meethotumulla was different. The life of the slum dweller is not as sophisticated to demarcate between race and religion. From Kolonnawa to Hatey waththa to Kumbi Kale the slums are where race, religion, caste, and creed don’t have legitimacy. A list of the names affected by the tragedy would be symbolic of it.

Masturbating on Meethotumulla can include blaming the upper middle class. But to go beyond, one must understand the failure of an entirely corrupt and elitist system. That is the sex. The ‘we are to blame’ rhetoric, deflects from this. Because of we aren’t. They are the system is. The who is to blame is it the previous or this Government, is a deflection. The more we do this, the more we relieve the system of the blame. The more we do this, the children buried in that dump would be failed. It is the time we understand, what a crooked and warped system we live under and it is the time we side with the people of Meethotumulla. The real people of this country who were willing to struggle, who had no option of a cosy environment to live in, but were compelled to struggle.

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.

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