Sunday, August 04, 2013

People asked water- they gave them bullets

Hemantha Withanage

The brutal military attack on the nightfall of 1st August 2013, against the unarmed peaceful protestors in Welivariya who demanded water, ended killing a 17 year old school boy, Akila Dinesh (who was the only child in the family) and wounding many others. They were demonstrating against the Venigross Gloves Factory, located in Rathupaswela ( about 17 km from Colombo, Sri Lanka), which is responsible for the water contamination in more that 3 km radius and for 12 villages.

It reminds me the ending to the demonstration in Cochabamba in Bolivia in year 2000 which Victor Hugo Daza was killed. It was against the privatization of public water in Cochabamba.

The incident is Sri Lanka is a warning to the people, how they will act if people go against the neo liberal and corporate interests. It is shameful how some politicians are painting a wrong picture on the incident when the media footages and people’s testimonies clearly shows how the attack was done.

As media reported “About 1,000 soldiers wearing flak jackets and armed with T-56 assault rifles were deployed to the area. Members of the army’s motorcycle brigade arrived in Belummahara at about 2 p.m. and immediately began harassing demonstrators, demanding they disperse.

About two hours later another group of soldiers were mobilised to Weliweriya to break up the demonstration. While the protestors eventually agreed to a directive from an army brigadier to disperse within five minutes, in the ensuing commotion, commandoes suddenly started firing live rounds. Protestors were also attacked with long batons, tear gas and water cannon.” 

On the surface, the protest is a water conflict. People were just demanding clean water for their daily consumption and to close down the factory. When go deeper, it is an issues of exploitation of a common good by a corporate giant and a business tycoon for corporate interest. The military was serving the businesses indirectly against the public interest.

The affected people are living in the rural villages, who totally depend on the well water. There are no pipe water facilities and no monthly bills. Factory has released acidic effluent and given the untreated sludge as the manure to the local people, which also made the groundwater acidic.

Farming families now cannot go to the paddy fields due to factory pollution. Even they cannot drink own well water. Therefore, people those who have setup a polluting factory in such as a pristine place should be blamed for destroying the traditional life and livelihood. 

Affected people have a legitimate right to oppose to the polluting factory. They also have a right to demand clean water, which is a basic need and a human right. However, their new water will come with a bill. Their lands cannot grow uncontaminated foods anymore. The water table will not be recovered next 2-3 decades. The factory, which they thought a solution for their jobs, become a burden for the next few decades. 


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