What Will Become of Selvamalar?

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The story of Selvamalar is the story of our nation: Poverty-ridden, consumed by debt, begging on the streets to feed her five children while her drug-addict husband squanders what little income she brings home. The resident of Colombo’s biggest slum lost all her belongings in a fire that engulfed a section of Kajimawatta last Friday (25). 

Speaking to a Ceylon Today journalist, the devastated mother lamented, “I don’t steal… I beg to feed my five children. The only protection we had from the elements was the tin roof above our heads and the walls made of wooden planks, but now we have lost it all to the fire. Though I’m a beggar, I made sure to send all five of my children to school. I bought them books from the money that I begged in the scorching sun, but now all their uniforms and books are nothing but ashes on the ground. Education, food and shelter were the only thing that I could provide for my children, but now, I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to provide these things to them ever again.” 

Selvamalar is a symbol of what has become of our nation, once prosperous, even self-sufficient when it came to some consumables; it has now been reduced to a humiliating fate where the country’s politicians are running to friendly countries with a begging bowl, just to feed the nation’s populace with basic necessities. 

The country is teetering on the edge of a massive economic catastrophe, fuelled by decades of fiscal mismanagement, vision-less policies, rampant corruption and monumental waste at public institutions, and there is no telling when and how we can come out of this crisis.

Seeing no future in this country for them or their children, those in the middle class are fast migrating to prosperous western nations, while a number of destitute families in northern Sri Lanka are fleeing by boat to Tamil Nadu. Some of them are those who had fled to India to escape the three decades of war but returned to the country once the war was over, with the renewed hope of starting over. But now, the economic crunch is forcing them back into refugee status, while Tamil Nadu is planning the repatriation of thousands of Lankan war refugees still stranded there over a decade after the war. 

Unfortunately for the thousands of Selvamalars, who are battling every single day in every corner of this country, to provide bare necessities of food, shelter and education for their children, there is no hope of migration to greener pastures or paying for a boat to seek asylum in a neighbouring nation. 

They will have to carry on, while the out-of-control dollar is shooting up prices of every single consumable in the country, making a daily meal a luxury for many people. 

When will the decision makers of this nation, in both Government and Opposition, realise that their bounden duty is to ensure a dignified life for the people of this country, on whose shoulders they come to power? When will it dawn on them that they are nothing but servants of the people and all the perks and privileges they enjoy after being elected to office are paid for by the blood, sweat and tears of the ordinary citizens of this country? 

It must be stated that no politician, no public official genuinely cares for the wellbeing of the backbone of this country – its people. While the ordinary citizens are falling dead at long queues near fuel stations, waiting in the scorching sun to buy a few litres of kerosene, the so-called public servants are travelling in patrol-guzzling luxury vehicles, with no care for the suffering of the masses. 

Perhaps it is time for all the Selvamalars in this country to rise up and reclaim what it rightfully theirs: Safe shelters, sufficient food to feed their families, a proper education for the children, and mostly a dignified life!