The sad plight of the Kandyan peasantry


The Island last week carried a letter captioned "Govt silent on the plight of the Kandyan peasants", how true; we need to thank Sudath Gunasekera for bringing this sad situation to public attention. What is most unfortunate and unforgiving is that the Members of Parliament representing the Kandyan areas, who depend on the Kandyan peasantry for the votes, have forgotten what these unfortunate people have gone through ever since the British Colonialists expropriated their land in the 19th Century and rendered them homeless. Prime Ministers D. S. Senanayake and his son Dudley must be thanked for giving them land in new irrigation schemes they established.

Not every Kandyan peasant moved to the new ‘Colonies’. Many remained in the Hill Country which was their ‘Home Country’. It is these people who have been ‘abandoned’ by us; we owe them a deep debt for it was their ancestors who helped to keep the Portuguese, the Dutch and even the British from conquering our country. The British were able to take over only because the King was a South Indian and our Chiefs decided to betray the Kingdom and handed over the country to the British. We should not forget that the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch or the British, were able to conquer the whole country, and much of the credit for this should go to the Kandyan peasantry who gave their lives to beat back these western invaders. Let us not forget how the British quelled the Matale rebellion, how that British butcher General Brownrigg, put down the Wellasa revolt and the crimes committed by Gen John Wilson; hundreds of Kandyan peasants laid down their lives when they revolted against cruel rule.

Is it not a shame that we as Buddhists, who value gratitude as the highest blessing, following the fact that the Buddha even showed his gratitude to the Pipal tree (which we now refer to and show reverence to as the Bodhi); have abandoned the Kandyan peasantry whose ancestors fought and died for our country. Let us reach out to the poor Kandyan peasants and show them the care they deserve.

Let us hope that the new ministry, which is to be set up for hill country infrastructure development, will ensure that the poor peasantry will benefit the most from its establishment. My contribution will not be complete unless I not only thank but also re-state at least some of the valuable issues Sudath Gunasekera has mentioned in his contribution:

"1) Not an inch of over 600, 000 acres taken over by the British has been returned to the Kandyan peasantry.

2) There is no government institution to care for the over six million Kandyan peasants living in the 16 Districts in the Hill country.

3) The Kandyan Areas Development Authority proposed in 1951 to compensate those who lost their ancestral land was never established.

4) The Kandyan Peasantry Commission was closed down in Jan 2015 after forty years, as it had not achieved anything!

5) Those who lost land as a consequence of the Kothmale project were settled downstream in ‘System C’ in ‘marginal lands’, where they seek out a living.

Sudath Gunasekera states that he wrote to the President under registered cover in December 2015, but did not receive even an acknowledgement. He states that Yahapalanaya has delivered nothing to the Kandyan peasantry. Heres hoping that Ministers S. B. Dissanayake, Amunugama, Champika Ranawaka and Kiriella, amongst others, will have a new Committee appointed to report back in three months to inquire into the plight of these unfortunate peasants; Sudath Gunasekera should also be appointed to that Committee.

K Godage

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