Disaster Management, Human Rights, Human Security, Kalutara, Peace and Conflict, Poverty

A Look Into A Village In Kalutara

My recent visits to the coastal village of Nalarua in the district of Kalutara, about 5 kilometres from Kalutara town, got me thinking about life in the south. 450 families live in that village. I spoke to eight men and seven women on a Tuesday morning.

Religion-wise 97% of them were Buddhist, 2% Catholic and 1% Muslim. They work as masons, carpenters, craftsmen working with coconut fibre to make ropes and small boats and others as garment factory workers. Their political affiliations are with parties such as the SLFP, UNP, JVP and JHU.
I asked one of the middle-aged men asked whether there were any caste issues in their village.

“We don’t have any caste issues, we are all Sinhalese living peacefully. For example one-day the temple was affected by an electric fire. We all got together and controlled the fire,” he said.

While the people seemed very keen to not talk about any caste issues, my inquiries in the village and the neighboring village led me to think that there was, nevertheless, friction and tension due to caste issues. But they didn’t show an interest in talking about it.

One of them said they got together to help each other during times of disaster as well as common celebrations. For example floods, tsunami, Perahera, New-Year celebrations, Dhansal etc, they told me.

When I asked if any priority was given to certain people to show leadership in community events, they said no they didn’t. “However they sometimes try to out do each other,” said P.H.Dias who had previously worked at the Rupavahini TV as a program producer and was now self employed.
“I decorated half of the temple road during Dhansal time. Next time the other person who got responsibility for that decorated till the Galle road from the temple,” he said.

What they wanted to highlight was that the village was healthy and its members were satisfied with the environment within it. But when prompted, they were willing to talk about some problems such as discrepancies in post-tsunami assistance and worries about underworld gangs.

All of them said that their children were innocent and had a good attitude.

“Sometimes they get neglected by elders. For example there was a road race arranged for the New Year celebration. When a small boy came first, the organizers gave first place to the second one who was older than the other,” one of the ladies said. She added that they had inquired from the organizers but hadn’t received a proper response.

As I delved further into life in the village, a villager said that the people were worried about underworld gangs and people using illegal arms.

“Some times we face common threats from outside villagers. We face such threats together. We never allow them to dominate us. We will fight against them. We are keeping our unity,” Dias said.

“I arranged a ‘Road Drama’ in Nalurua for over ten years where people could come and see without any fear night or day. But during the last two years some armed men came from outside our village and made trouble, especially for women. Now I have stopped the Road Drama.”

A 13-year old girl said, “a Pinwatta person (from the neighboring village) exploded a grenade in front of our house in Nalurua and our house was damaged.” They feel that the people in Pinwatta were arrogant and they were worried about their behaviour.

Some of them spoke to me about their worries after the Tsunami and concerns about security in the area due to vacated homes and unknown people and drug users now occupying some of them. “People are now afraid to travel and cross the road after nine in the night.”

Regarding NGOs working there, they said they earlier had suspicions about them but now they were working in coordination with the temple monk, so there were not many issues.
World Vision, Caritas and the Italian Red Cross are among the NGOs working there.
The head monk for the village told me that the Norwegian government had given 35 lakhs to build a temple compound with accommodation for monks for a 2-storey structure, but the local NGO had only completed the basement and had gone away.
“I don’t know what has happened, maybe the contractors have taken the money,” he said.
“I don’t like to talk about this issue because this NGO is reconstructing temples in coastal belt areas.”

The people in the village also spoke about other issues like alcoholism and childrens’ issues.
“A boy came from Pinwaththa and complained to me that his father would take alcohol, come home and have intercourse with his wife in front of the boy.” “Psychologically some children from these families face problems,” he said.

When I asked about what needs the people in the village had, they said they needed a common hall and more educational facilities and a vocational training center for youth.

On the ethnic conflict, they said they didn’t want to see the country divided and that they believed the LTTE was an inhuman organization due to the acts of terrorism. They said they wanted to see more devolution of power to the North and East to meet the needs of the people in the North and East.

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  • What I find interesting is the triviality of their problems. A little boy not winning the village race and a jealous neighbour trying to outdo your temple decorations! Wouldn’t it make some people angry how little they are affected by the war and how normal and uneventful their lives are. This applies to most of the rural and suburban Sinhalese. Tamil cessationists must not believe that they could force the South to grant their demands by acts of terrorism or war. The war would never go beyond the Tamil majority provinces and Tamils suffer most of the consequences. Sinhalese have little to lose by continuing the war. The economy is resilient enough to withstand occassional terrorist attacks. Just as the Tamils have not been susceptible to the carrot, the Sinhalese do not take too kindly to the stick.

  • Des

    What I understand is that a downturn in the economy is not going to affect people in Southern Villages materially. They don’t have much wealth and so they don’t have much to loose. What they cherish is their village life, values and traditions. What the author may not have gathered are views on what they see as threats to their way of life.

    And from their point of view, Colombo must look like a circus, which it is!

  • inflation affects the poor most. and that is the main economic problem. otherwise sl is in fact growing very fast 7.5%

  • Des

    On economic growth I would love to see how Sri Lanka is doing in dollar terms. I am told its not very flattering, compared with even neighboring countries such as India which are maintaining the strength of their currency and growing in real terms. The purchasing power of Sri Lankans is not growing, but may even be deteriorating when compared internationally.