Update August 20: Since this post was originally published earlier this month, the Dipped Products Glove factory, which had been the target of protests, has been ordered to relocate and may close pending further government investigations.
The events are starkly reminiscent of the final stages of the demonstration in Cochabamba in Bolivia in the year 2000, when Victor Hugo Daza was killed. That protest was also against the privatization of public water.
The incident in Sri Lanka is a warning to the people of the terrible consequences of protesting against neoliberal and corporate interests. It is shameful how some politicians are painting a misleading picture of this incident, while media footage and eye witness testimonies clearly tell a different story.
The World Socialist Website 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 mobilized to Weliweriya to break up the demonstration. While the protesters eventually agreed to a directive from an army brigadier to disperse within five minutes, in the ensuing commotion, commandos suddenly started firing live rounds. Protesters were also attacked with long batons, tear gas and water cannon.”
On the surface, the protest is a water conflict. People were simply demanding clean water for their daily consumption and for the factory to be closed. However, on closer inspection, it is an issue of exploitation of a common good by a corporate giant and a business tycoon for corporate interest. The military was indirectly serving the businesses against the public interest.
A peaceful protest in Welivariya, Sri Lanka demanding clean water, ended with the killing of three people including a 17 year old school boy, Akila Dinesh (who was the only child in his family) and many others wounded. They were demonstrating against the Venigross Gloves Factory, located in Rathupaswela (about 17 km from Colombo, Sri Lanka), which has caused water contamination in a more than 3 km radius, affecting twelve villages.
The affected people are living in rural villages, which depend entirely on wells for their water. There are no pipe water facilities and no monthly bills. The factory has released acidic effluent and given the untreated sludge as manure to local people, which, in turn, makes the groundwater acidic.
Farming families now cannot go to the paddy fields due to the pollution from the factory. They cannot even drink their own well water. Therefore, those people who have set up this polluting factory in such a pristine place should be held responsible for destroying lives and traditional livelihoods.
Affected people have a legitimate right to oppose this polluting factory. They also have a right to demand clean water, which is a basic need and a human right. They face the risk of contaminated food, even when they grow it on their own land. The water table will not be recovered in the next two to three decades. The factory, which was presented as a much needed source of local jobs, will instead be a burden on these communities for the foreseeable future.