Photo Essays

Tasneem

Tasneem works for a cleaning service at a Government office. Although promised LKR1000 per
day, she’s given LKR850 with no pay slips. When the contractor changed, she was issued a
new uniform. The cost is being deducted from her salary.
Tasneem rarely eats from home because her in-laws, whose house she lives in, consider her a
squatter after her husband’s death. All her belongings, including groceries, is locked inside one
cupboard. She sleeps with her grandchildren in the second-floor landing.
She eats from nearby shops.

B’fast: rice and egg for breakfast LKR 180
Lunch: two roast paans dipped in plain tea LKR 220
Dinner: roti or bread with gravy LKR 150
She has only LKR 300 to meet her other expenses. 
With no savings, or financial support, Tasneem lives from day-to-day.

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Shahila

Shahila’s home is a single room.  It is in central Colombo and is categorized as “illegal”. It was
built over 30 years ago and has legitimate access to water, electricity, and a tax number. 
 
She and her family face constant fear of eviction, with regular visits by state officials, law
enforcement, and the military— all of whom have repeatedly told her that her family is not
entitled to receive alternate housing. 
 
Shahila (32) is the mother of two children (8 and 4). Her husband is a trishaw driver and is the
main income earner.  They have not been able to make ends meet in the last few months. Her
husband has spent more time in fuel queues than on actual hires. In order to double the amount
of fuel they can get, they both stand in the same queue with the children. A few days ago, they
reached home at 2AM. The children were too tired to go to school the next morning and were
feeling ill from not having eaten the night before. 
 
Shahila has been actively engaging in protests with her community. The family comes to Galle
Face whenever they can. She says it gives them a space to share their anxiety. And hope that
their collective action will usher in a better future.

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Suganya

Suganya lives with her 18-year-old daughter Dhanu. Her husband passed away suddenly 8 months ago during the thick of COVID-19 lockdowns. Suganya cannot access their savings account due to legal regulations. She cries, because the legal fees to settle the matter will cost her money she does not have.

Last week, when her daughter turned 18, Suganya and Dhanu went to the bank together to withdraw the LKR 5000 that was left in her education account. They needed the money for food.

Suganya cannot afford the escalating prices of essentials. When her husband was alive, they lived on Rs 18,000 each month. ‘It was enough to live with dignity’, she said. ‘Our dignity has been taken away from us. Every day is another queue.’

Suganya faces a dilemma. Can Dhanu complete her education? Or will she have to leave and find work to support the two of them?

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Azaara

Azaara is a mother of four children: Daughters 15 and 12; Sons 8 and 4. Her husband is a
trishaw driver. Azaara’s main source of income was cooking meals for the GOSL’s school
nutrition programme. She used to cook for four local schools. With the money the GOSL gave
her, she was able to feed her household too.
GOSL allocated LKR 30 per meal per child. This allocation has not increased for several years.
Azaara managed until early 2020, but has found it impossible to meet fulfill the menu plan. She
is frustrated: “We have to give something nutritious to the children – that’s the whole point of
this. A single egg costs more than the amount allocated. We can’t afford to do this anymore.”

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Shanthi

Shanthi woke up at 3.30am to cook for her two children (5 + 12) and husband, so she could queue up for gas by 6.00am. She’s already stood in line for three consecutive days for 10 hours each time. Today, she finally got lucky. Shanthi has always taken pride in feeding her children nutritious meals. But, when the price of gas increased, Shanthi was forced to cook one one-pot meal per day: rice with whatever vegetables she can afford. ‘Thankfully, my children are not fussy,’ she says. She cannot buy meat or fish anymore; only eggs, which is a rare treat for the children.

Shanthi’s husband was put on basic pay during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a clerk in a large conglomerate, he used to earn LKR 40,000. He now earns LKR 13,000. Shanthi used to do some catering but had to stop due to escalating food prices. Their monthly rent is LKR 7000. This leaves her with LKR 6000 to manage the household.

Shanthi is usually never without a smile. Today, her eyes are dull, she barely manages a smile. Her one happiness, and comfort is that her son passed his Scholarship exam a few days ago.

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Yogesh

Yogesh carries a bottle of kerosene while on her way to pick up her three grandchildren from school. With the shortage of gas, she has been forced to switch to kerosene. Although a litre of kerosene is Rs.87, Yogeshwari paid Rs.150 to a neighbour to avoid standing in queue for hours. Her daughter Nalini is a manpower worker earning Rs. 1500 per day and is the sole breadwinner for the family. Nalini is a victim-survivor of domestic violence. Her husband visits occasionally, but he rarely contributes to the household budget. She lives in fear of his visits, but is now even more scared about feeding her children and looking into their education. Food costs have increased, but Nalini’s salary remains the same.

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Maleeka

Maleeka has not cooked at home for five days. The gas has run out. She cannot stand in queue
because she is diabetic and tires easily. Her husband – a construction worker – cannot take
time off. Maleeka has been buying bread for breakfast and dinner and rice-packets for lunch
from a kade to feed the three of them. Her meals cost her Rs 1100 per day. Her husband earns
only Rs 1000. She earns from sewing, but her income has dwindled due to the on-going crisis.
Already burdened with debt amounting to Rs 70,000 accumulated during COVID-19 lockdowns,
Maleeka cannot stop worrying. Due to the shortage of medicines, state hospitals have stopped
issuing insulin. Maleeka must find Rs 800 per week to buy the insulin from a private pharmacy.
She is less worried about her health and more worried about feeding her family. With Ramadan
fasting coming up, Maleeka wonders: “how will I cook in the morning with no gas?”

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