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Highways, skyscrapers and the grassroots

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's on-the-spot inspections of the material conditions of our provinces and the observations made by him during these visits should have proved eye-openers to many an arm chair development planner. Unfortunately, this country is not short of this species of development expert.

Whereas, it is only a close familiarity with the concrete conditions of the countryside which will enable our development experts to devise programmes which would bring empowerment and a degree of immediate relief to the people living on the margins of society, this is rarely the case.

The irony is that many of these 'experts' are safely ensconced in their air conditioned offices and plush and soporific conference rooms, writing out prescriptions for 'development' in smug complacency, while the so-called ordinary people grimly engage with real life in the harsh terrain of our provinces. It is high time our development experts, in both public and private sectors or NGOs, adopt the methodology of 'lived-in' research to detect the bottle-necks to development in the countryside rather than choose the easy way out of surveying the struggles of the ordinary people from afar.

Sounding out his administration and UPFA MPs on what needs to be done by way of development, President Rajapaksa said that they need to go beyond the smoothly-carpeted roads of the provinces, to the interior of the countryside to find out for themselves what the people really need. This is a timely bit of advice that needs to be urgently acted on. While the current infrastructure development is most welcome, focusing on this aspect of progress alone simply would not do. Roads, highways and the like invariably open-up possibilities for the people but this is no comprehensive sign that the development effort is going extremely well.

Accordingly, there is no alternative to inspecting the real life conditions of the people and this is a responsibility that devolves mainly on the 'people's representatives' at the national, provincial and local levels. Unfortunately, on this score much is being left to be desired because, as the President himself discovered, while on tour during the recent Provincial Council polls, things are at sixes and sevens at the village level in particular. It was left to the President to tell the 'people's representatives', how they need to go about resolving the problems encountered by the ordinary people.

Apparently, the interest of the respective representatives, in provincial and local governance, seems to be stopping at 'fighting' elections and going no further. This is the appalling factual situation and, needless to say, one cannot expect development in the real sense of the term to materialize in our provinces or urban centres.

It satisfies the vanity of the politician in particular to see skyscrapers, sprawling concrete jungles and the like springing up before his eyes but these seemingly awesome achievements do not necessarily translate into development. We need to go well beyond these material attractions if development, understood essentially as people's empowerment, is to be fully achieved, and it is this goal that must be reached.

These are truths that need to be borne in mind by governments as budget preparation gets under way. It would not do to merely focus on per capita incomes and like abstractions while assessing achievements in the development field. Development is essentially about capacity-building. People need to possess the capability to meet their essential needs without having to beg for them from persons seen as powerful, and to the degree to which this happens we are entitled to say that development has occurred.

The sole purpose in conducting polls, at whatever level, is to enable the people to be possessed of the capacity to meet their legitimate needs. The 'people's representatives' facilitate this process by championing the needs of the people and by helping to frame legislation which would enable the people to fulfill their requirements, so that they would be empowered enough to lead independent, dignified lives. This is the prime purpose of polls and a deviation from this aim would render the 'democratic process' a wasteful exercise.

‘You are Our Daughters’

Sri Lankan history does not demonstrate distinctive discriminatory practices against the girl child. Birth of a child was considered a blissful occasion and there are no adequate evidence to say that gender difference was significant here. A noticeable level of gender equity which existed with regard to areas such as land tenure patterns, lineage and inheritance, marital laws and matrimonial rights and the unique Kandyan dowry system provide evidence to believe that some level of equity had existed,

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Reaping the whirlwind

On Tuesday, Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, was on her way home from school in Mingora in Pakistan’s Swat province when a gunman shot her through the head and neck. Unconscious, she was taken to the intensive care in Peshawar army hospital for treatment.

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Creating a Reading Society in Sri Lanka

A reading society is an indicator of development. In the past, only economic factors were taken into consideration in measuring development. But today, economic factors as well as socio-cultural factors are considered in achieving development goals.

Full Story

 

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