Saturday, 3 August 2013 00:27
Images of army and police fully armoured and holding sticks surrounding an old woman and driving her away, hit front pages in the latest demonstration of Government excess. Media personnel were attacked and 29 people were hospitalised as a result of the clashes that brought brutality to the fore.
Come the next day morning, residents in Weliweriya were collecting casings of live bullets after they were used to quell civilian protesters demanding clean water on Thursday evening. The allegations point at a heinous act that has to be condemned in the most vehement of terms. Such actions pull any vestige of decency from the Government and show its true attitude towards dissenting public.
The use of excess force by Government forces has been documented before in previous tragedies. Whether it is shooting a youth working in an apparel factory for protesting against a private sector pension plan or a fisherman who campaigned for a subsidy following a crippling fuel hike the response has been the same.
Just weeks ago residents that protested the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) dumping waste in their backyard and diseasing an entire neighbourhood were dragged away screaming. Under duress the Government rescinded the private sector pension bill but has repeatedly hinted that it could be brought back. In the other instances the pleas of the public were ignored.
On Friday the shops in Weliweriya were closed and a stifling army and police presence had taken over. Trucks were berthed at the fuel station where an angry mod had allegedly set fire to an army vehicle and remainders of burnt tires and refuse littered the side of the main junction. A winding road festooned the banners and posters calling for the Government to act led the way to the factory that is at the center of the controversy. Residents nearby told media personnel in interviews that the factory, which provides employment to about 600 people, had been established 19 years ago and the water pollution had been gradually noticed.
The people in the area gathered together and took legal action against the factory but the authorities chose not to intervene and find out the accurate source of the pollution. Factory spokesman have insisted that all required certification have been obtained. Yet the pollution issue persists. Fed up with the inaction of authorities, residents of about a dozen villages finally decided to take matters into their own hands. Such action would not have been necessary if public health officials had done their job.
Eye witnesses insisted that when the army first entered the town and told protesters to disperse they had stated their case to the officials and asked for them to understand their plight. The answer was beatings, tear gas and if the wounded are to be believed bullets. Residents were gathering in angry knots along the road to the home of the deceased and many felt that they had been hard done by the army and the police.
The Government was elected by the people to solve their problems. Instead what is on view is a group of people that use public money to buy weapons that are used on the people. The thousands of people that gathered in Weliweriya were asking for clean water to drink, not for a separate state, but for a basic right. The Government owes these people that right and should know it as their duty.