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.
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