How is this Development?

Originally published on Groundviews on 6th January 2014.

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A few months ago, I travelled to Jaffna.

I saw a very different, ‘developed’ Jaffna than the one I had visited just a few years previously in 2011; a mall, 3D cinema, new buildings and many other new developments in the process of construction.

The people of Jaffna however, seem to be unchanged.

They dress the same, they talk the same. There are no denim clad females; instead they still opt to wear sari & salwar khameez. Who I saw, met and spoke with in depth everywhere I went, were people unchanged by the ways of so called development and post-war abundance.

I met people to whom the internet is just beginning to feel familiar to. I met people who believe that only bad girls wear jeans. I met people who told me that besides the city wide splendor, the rest of the peninsula, the Vanni and many other areas are still suffering from malnutrition, disease and a lack of education. Go see for yourself, they told me.

How is this development?

The people of the peninsula are possibly slightly less afraid, but still equally suspicious of the many despotic, controlling factions that seem to have taken little account of what the people and the arid lands across Jaffna actually needed or wanted at any point, be it the LTTE, the Sri Lanka army or the current political monarchy.

To the outside world, post-war Jaffna is becoming a booming hub of activity. A large portrait of Mahinda Rajapakse stands over the destroyed remains of the Kachcheri, authoritatively insisting that this destruction will never happen again. Oh, and the new Ninja Turtles movie was playing on a brand new 3D cinema complex.

Somehow the actual construction and rapid development plans happening in the peninsula seem to have little positive effect on the people there. They seem terrified, if anything. They have learned the fine art of being quiet, subservient souls so they go along with that which is new or strange, but do not revel in it – do not enjoy it. They are, in fact miserable.

How is this development?

I would like to think the government myopic but I think it’s more a case of megalomania than anything else. Who cares what Jaffna needs, what Sri Lanka needs is to show the world we are booming. So let’s build big buildings and monuments and war memorials. After all that’s what the rest of the developed world has done, have they not? From Trafalgar Square to the Arc de Triomphe to the giant monument now erected at Elephant Pass, bringing in thousands of visiting tourists from all over the country who stop by to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers of only one side of this battle.

We are not a developing nation. How can we claim to be one when we do nothing but erect structures, especially in peninsula that has known nothing but a three decade long war, little or outside communication and no electricity for a decade?

How is this development?

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The pictures that accompany this piece are what spurred me onto to write it in the first place. Drive a few kilometers out of the town, heading towards Casurina Beach and you will settle on the nearly 10 km radius garbage dump. A gargantuan one, with layers of dust and rubble and dirt, with moving figures of humans, tractors and animals, I would liken to the setting of a fantasy epic if not for the stench that rises from it. Wild life, livestock, birds and other stray animals feed on this garbage and drink the water leaking out of the bags and piles collected over years. Squatters in the area dig through the mountains of garbage, looking for forgotten items they could use or nearly edible food to fill their stomachs.

How the hell is this development?

The concept of development goes beyond construction. It takes into account many other factors from irrigation systems to efficient waste management and sustainable living. At the most banal level of defining development – if we aren’t living clean, we are just a partially good looking island, otherwise drowning in our own shit. Do the powers that be even understand the concept of longevity when it comes to designing a national development formula? It’s all a little more simple really; they want to look good now.

An unprecedented presidential election happens this week in Sri Lanka, but it’s also one that starts to finally give this island the idea that the power lies with her people, where it should have been all along.

Maybe for the first time ever, we need to set precedent, get off our opinionated derrieres and exercise our fundamental right and requirement to vote.

Don’t vote for a candidate.

Vote for the possibility that we can actually step out from this very stench that we have been placed within for generations, from riots to bombs to wars and a national facelift under the guise of post-war development.

I will not vote for a man that has done little to really develop a nation beyond highways, harbors and pretty little street lights.

I will not vote for garbage.

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