The Sunday Leader

Digiliya – A Village That Politicos Forgot

  • Politics supersedes people every time

By Camelia Nathaniel - Reporting from Digiliya in the Kurunegala district

While millions of rupees are being wasted on posters, banners and other election propaganda paraphernalia in the Kurunegala district, there are still areas that have not seen any development and do not even have the most basic human requirement, water. While according to government estimates an average family needs over Rs 20,000, most of these residents barely survive on incomes earned through manual labour amounting to around only Rs 2000 per month.

The Sunday Leader visited a little village called Digiliya, in the Polpithigama DS division in Ravaela that seems to have escaped the attention of politicians in the area from both the ruling party and the opposition.

These villages have been denied their most basic of requirements such as water and electricity. Speaking to The Sunday Leader one of the residents in the village W. M. Podimahaththaya said, that he takes care of his two grandchildren Binguni and Shashini with the meagre earnings he makes by milking his two cows. Their mother had passed away due to an illness, and their father is suffering from a spinal injury that has left him paralysed. Podimahaththaya is himself suffering from an illness. Together with his wife Kumarihamy, he has faced untold hardships in order to keep the family from starving.

“These two cows are our only means of survival, but there is nothing to even feed these animals. I ride my bicycle around four kilometres to get them some grass and other leaves just to prevent them from starving and dying. We have repeatedly made many appeals to the authorities to kindly look into our grievances but no one seems to care about what happens to us. The roads in the main areas are being carpeted and reconstructed, which we are very glad about, yet what’s the point in having such nice roads while people like us in this village are suffering so much just to survive. The authorities seem to have their priorities so mixed up that for them it is the roads that are the greatest priority simply to show the world. We never even had a proper roadway to our village until just about two months ago,” he said in disgust.

Being a patient himself Podimahaththaya and his wife Kumarihamy like the other fifteen families in the village have to walk miles to obtain drinking water and they have to trudge another four kilometres or so to the tank to wash their clothes and bathe. In addition to the hardships these people are forced to endure, the Wildlife Department authorities have further compounded their grievances by unleashing a whole troop of wild monkeys in the forest reserve surrounding this little village. The monkeys had been removed from other areas due to the destruction they were causing there.

“These monkeys are eating all our produce from the jak trees and they even destroy the coconuts that are on these trees. If we are not vigilant these monkeys even carry away the food that we cook along with the utensils. This land is so dry and without water we are unable to plant anything, as you can see the whole place is so arid and hostile,” he said.

As if the hardships these innocent people are forced to endure is not enough, the surrounding jungle area in the forest reserve is set fire to every dry season, endangering the lives of these people. When we asked Podimahaththaya who sets fire to the reserve he said, “We don’t know who sets fire to the dry forest, but the fire takes place every dry season, where the fire spreads from the upper region of the forest and burns everything in sight. The winds aid the fire to spread and during this period we have to be very vigilant, as the roofs of our houses too are made up of straw and can easily catch fire”.

Meanwhile Kumarihamy said that in spite of their hardships the school that her grandchildren attend also demands money almost every week for numerous requirements.
“Although the uniforms and text books are given by the government, we still have to meet every other requirement. The school demands that these children bring money for various projects, invariably amounting to between Rs 80 and Rs 100 per week. My husband can only make around Rs 500 per day if the cows yield around 10 to 12 litres of milk per day. However with that Rs 500 he has to maintain the cows, the household and our other needs. It is very difficult as he too is a patient and has to go to the hospital every month. We feel that we are a group of unfortunate people that have been born to this land just to suffer. We can’t even die peacefully as we have to see to these two innocent children, for without us they would be left homeless,” she sobbed.

Main income source of quarrying stopped by authorities

Another villager who works in the quarry S. Francis speaking to The Sunday Leader said that while he and several other residents have been making a living thanks to the stone quarry all this time, the authorities have now ordered them to stop.

“We have been denied permission to break these stones now and that has dried up the only income for many of us in this village. What are we going to do now, and how are we going to feed our families? The point is that no one cares whether we all starve to death, as we have no worth for anyone.

The Grama Sevaka in the area knows our plight and has taken every effort to try and help us with this issue, but his hands are tied too and he is unable to do much. Now when we go to him with our grievances, he simply says there is nothing that he can do. So now who do we go to or who is willing to listen to our grievances? Are we not people of this country too? Just like every other person, we feel hunger and we feel thirst.

We are tormented every day by the sight of our children who have barely enough to eat. None of the 15 children in this village receive proper nourishment, and they are all so malnourished and thin,” he pointed out.

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Appeals for tube wells fall on deaf ears

Similarly D.M. Wijesinghe a father of six, also works in the quarry. He says he earns around Rs 80 per day if he can manage to collect two boxes of stone chips.
“We have made several appeals to the authorities to at least provide this village with tube wells so that we can grow something on this land to feed our children, but no one seems to be bothered.

What is the point in voting for anyone as they are all only interested in themselves and their supporters? None of these politicians are interested in people like us as they think we are of no use. They all come here during the election period and make all sorts of promises which we now realise they have no intention of fulfilling.”

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Suffering just to survive

As this village has no electricity, the people are forced to use kerosene oil for their light requirements. D. M. Sunil Piyasinghe who suffers from an illness that has affected his liver and his wife Surangani who can barely walk due to a problem affecting both her legs, like the rest of the village, suffer to survive and feed their 1 ½ year old daughter.

Due to her inability to walk long distances in the rugged terrain, her husband Sunil is forced to trudge the distance in order to obtain drinking water needed for their family.

“My husband is unable to carry many pots of water as he is a patient. So we simply manage our needs with just about three pots of water daily. Our roof is broken and our house is almost falling apart, but let alone repairing our house, we barely have enough to have three square meals daily,” she said with tears streaming down her face.

It is ironic that while billions of rupees are being allocated for many development projects and even larger sums are being wasted on projects that have turned out to be white elephants; innocent people such as the residents of Digiliya are being deprived of their most basic of needs.

The Deyata Kirula exhibition and development drive that is scheduled to be held in Kurunegala next year, promises many of the impoverished communities in the district with housing and development of their areas.

Yet these innocent people have been so conveniently ignored as they have neither the power nor the energy to protest or create enough commotion to have their grievances highlighted. However they too are citizens of this country and they too have a right to clean water, proper housing and equal opportunities just like the rest of us. It would be so much more productive and meritorious if all these politicians sacrifice just a fraction of the funds that they waste on all these propaganda activities, for the benefit of these deprived people.

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No staple mode of income for Digiliya villagers

S. Nihal who engages in inland fishing to sustain his family said that the government had provided him fishing gear at concessionary rates. “Provincial Councillors Ananda Chandralal and Lakshman Wendaruwa also donated fishing nets and chairs for our fishing committee. Furthermore last year former PC councillor and fisheries minister Shan Nishantha intervened and released fingerlings into the tank, which we are very grateful to him for.”

His wife Niroshini told The Sunday Leader that last August the Sanasa organisation had seen the plight of the villagers and voluntarily provided drinking water to the residents of Digiliya. “We are hopeful that this year too they will do the same for us, as we are in dire need of water as all the wells in the village has now almost dried up,” she added.

The biggest issue facing the people in this remote village is that they have no staple mode of income that brings them a steady monthly income.

“Politicians come to these areas only during elections, but once the elections are over and they are elected, then we are simply forgotten. To us it makes no difference which party or politician is elected to power, because whoever is in power, our plight will never be taken notice of. We are a group of people that have been forgotten by the rest of the country and left to suffer. When we go out of our village and closer to the town areas and see so much being done, we can’t but wonder why we have been forgotten by everyone,” lamented Niroshini.

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