The Elders of Colombo

The Elders of Colombo

This photo-story explores perspectives on Colombo through the eyes of some of its older residents. While none of them are famous or influential public figures, the people in this story all hail from various backgrounds and professions, and have lived through decades of watching the city morph and change around them. View full feature...
World Class Spaces: Coming soon

World Class Spaces: Coming soon

Slave Island (or Kompannyaveediya as the locals prefer to call it), among the most culturally rich neighbourhoods in Colombo, it is also one of the most commercially lucrative. In the post war years, the residents of Slave Island have seen their more than century long idyll being disrupted in massive upheavals as a state driven projects have sought to wrest away the land from them in a bid to beautify and ‘modernise’ Colombo. Neighbourhoods like Mews Street have experienced violent, forcible evictions by a militarised Urban Development Authority, while other neighbourhoods like Station Passage have faced a more humane State, albeit temporarily. The acquisition of Java Lane, a densely populated, historic, largely Malay Muslim neighbourhood, is a case in point which illustrates the single minded approach of the gentrification drive, blind to the loss of intangibles such as community, shared culture and human co-dependencies. The people however, have not been taking all of this sitting down. Through the valiant efforts of local community activists and their supporters, the citizens of Slave Island have been determinedly fighting for their rights. While deals struck with large corporates who pay big sums of money for hugely subsidised prime land appear to be honored to the letter, the Government’s promises to the people of Slave Island hide massive injustices under a barely-legal façade of fairness. View full feature...
High Rise

High Rise

An article by Smriti Daniel for adda, first published in July 2016. ***** Let me begin with this apartment, where a grocery store and six people are all crammed into 400 square feet in the Methsara Uyana high-rise. The people fit themselves around the groceries, which occupy all of the living room and most of the kitchen. Sleeping arrangements are flexible, and visitors and wet laundry must both be relegated to the corridor – there is room for neither in the apartment. Neela Kalyani used to own a successful grocery store, established with savings accumulated over years working in the Middle East as a maid. But her relocation to a high-rise apartment block by the urban authorities has gutted her business, entrenched her in debt and left her family floundering. The building is in fact crowded with small businesses like hers; seemingly every floor has its own grocery store in a living room. Kalyani’s former business was registered, and she says she was entitled to another apartment on relocation. But despite repeated queries it hasn’t materialised and Kalyani suspects it never will. At a time when she expected to be planning for her retirement, Kalyani is contemplating returning to domestic work in Dubai. Her hands twist anxiously in her lap. “I am 51 now. I do not think I could do the hard labour I used to, but what choice do I have?” She is separated from her husband (“We never quarrelled, but what to do, he is a gambler”) and does not want to leave her children in his care. But there is no one else. “We have faced so much...
Evicted And Homeless

Evicted And Homeless

An article by Iromi Perera for Groundviews, first published on May 8th 2015. ***** On 8th May 2010, the Urban Development Authority (UDA) demolished 20 homes that were occupied by 33 families on Mews Street in Kompannyaveediya, Colombo 2. Families were informed verbally a month prior to the demolition that they will have to vacate their homes and served the same in writing only 3 days prior to the demolition. Contrary to the UDA’s claims at that time, the residents of Mews Street were not illegal occupants of state land but had deeds to the land but at no point was the Land Acquisition Act followed. Their homes eventually made way for the expansion of the school for children of military officers. Residents were not given any information regarding alternative accommodation or compensation. Thus when the UDA authorities arrived with bulldozers accompanied by armed soldiers, residents resisted but in vain. The eviction took place in broad daylight, with hundreds of army and police personnel present to keep the media away. One of the few videos of that afternoon shows the despair and destruction experienced by the families. Some families did not even have enough time to gather documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates or even children’s school books. Residents were left destitute, with many of their belongings destroyed, and for 3-4 days were housed and provided daily meals at the mosque by the Federation of Kompannaveediya Masjids, until they found alternative accommodation with relatives or elsewhere. None of them were compensated for the loss of their homes, possession or businesses. They were offered alternative housing in a temporary resettlement...
Myth vs Reality

Myth vs Reality

An article by Iromi Perera for Groundviews, first published on July 11th 2014. ***** The ambitious Urban Regeneration Project (URP) launched by the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development aims to transform Colombo into a world-class destination for tourism and investment. Central to this eliminating “shanties, slums and other dilapidated housing from the city of Colombo by resettlement of the families presently living under unhygienic and poor environmental conditions in such housing in new housing schemes of internationally recognized standards and in doing so to make the City of Colombo the most attractive city in South Asia”. Underlying this apparently laudable goal are however many myths and following are some of the key ones. Myth 1:All houses in Colombo’s low-incomes communities are slums or shanties A 2001 survey carried out by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and Sevanatha Urban Resource Center identified a total of 77,612 families living in 1,614 low-income settlements in the city but found it “difficult to categorise all the identified low-income settlements as being slums.” Furthermore, according to the Census of Population and Housing 2011 of the Department of Census and Statistics, out of the 555,926 housing units in the Colombo District, only 7979 housing units fall under the category of “hut/shanty”. Of this, 3691 housing units come under the Colombo DS Division.In Slave Island for instance, many households that were evicted had homes that were more than 2 floors, tiled, painted and fully furnished and had improved over time, with water and electricity. When we visited the low-income community on the northern side of Castle Street (Borella) before its recent demolition, there were a...