Monarakale Estate in Monaragala District is highly unlikely to be known by many of the islanders. You can get there by taking a left turn from Kiri Mandala Mawatha junction near Monaragala hospital and climbing 4km up the Sirigala mountain.
It’s quite fair to say that the loneliest people in this country live in Monarakale Estate. There are about 820 people belonging to 220 families. They do not get to see a world beyond their small village. They live in isolation because they lack infrastructure to interact with the outer world.
They claim that they’ve been living there for generations over two centuries. It is said that the British in 1836 had imported laborers from India to work in their rubber plantations and settled them in Monarakale Estate on top of the Sirigala mountain. Back in the days, the whole Sirigala mountain has been abundant with rubber plantations and these Indian workers continued to settle there, marrying Sri Lankan women.
The main barricade that stands between them and the outer world is the severely dilapidated road that runs over 4km up the hill. Concrete has been laid only in a few places and the road is rocky for most of its extent, where even walking seems impossible sometimes. Many of the houses up the hill do not even have footprints to get to them. These people live in line houses. They too are in a state of collapse. Now, these people do not have rubber plantations to work in like the old days. They engage in intercropping and raising cattle as a living.
In the upper part of the estate, Saraswati Tamil Junior, a small school is located where children can learn from grade 1 to G.C.E. O/L. About 120 children are studying there and 15 teachers teach them. Except for one, all the other teachers have to take their walk up and down on that harsh 4km long road, daily.
Elders say that the younger generation of Monarakale has abandoned the village, seeking job opportunities in textile shops, shopping complexes and garment industry in the capital.
The eldest member in this community, K. Velukumar, shared his experience with Media.lk:
“I was born in 1950 in a line house here. We led a sustainable life back in the day as plenty of rubber, cocoa, and coffee were grown. Later government aid to maintain these plantations dropped and we were left helpless. In 2000, the Lands Reforms Commission Council estimated these lands and planned to carry out a re-plantation program in this estate. Some of us were even given the license for these lands. But 12 of them sold their licensed lands and that was it. They stopped the program. Many people here grow bananas, vegetables and pepper for a living. These shacks we live in are almost 150 years old. We can’t get anything up here to repair them because of the condition of the road. It’s too steep and rocky to drive any vehicle. Sometimes, we find it hard to walk even due to the slope.
“Only vehicle that can get here is a three-wheeler. But that costs us a fortune. Rs. 800 per turn. Most of us make only Rs.400 on a good day. Even in an emergency, we face endless hardships to get a patient down the mountain. So far, three pregnant mothers have died because of the condition of this road. It’s the main reason that we are isolated up here. “
He further said that so far seven politicians came to see them and promised to take care of the road, but all they did over all these years was putting some concrete here and there along the road.
“We didn’t have electricity at least. It was very recently that the last government gave us an electrical line. That’s the only thing we have ever received from the government,” he added.
As it’s quite difficult to get to the Monarakale Estate due to its location, some people have turned it to their own advantage. Distilling illicit liquor in the estate is spreading at a rapid pace because no police would be raiding them due to the enormous difficulty for them to get there. It’s the women and children who suffer from this problem.
A few married women in the village cross the mountain daily as they work in Monaragala town, while their husbands resort to illicit liquor.
“Our husbands are addicted to drinking. They are all drunk when we return home from work every day. This is a long prevailing problem for all women and children here. We only earn Rs. 600 per day and we have to give them Rs.200 from that to spend on illicit liquor. If not, we get beaten. There’s nobody to help us as we are all alone up her,” the women said.