Colombo, the largest city in Sri Lanka and home to approximately eight hundred thousand residents, has been characterised by persistent inequality.
This sub-project looks at the “underserved settlements” and explore what it is about these settlements that makes the new high-rise housing complexes so unsuccessful as solutions to their supposed needs. We will look at how communities, thought of as underserved, access services, negotiate the various ways in which one can be on or off grid, how provisions for upgrading and getting on the grid also come through exchange for electoral support. More broadly we will collect life histories from communities, mostly not migrants to the city but long-term residents who have chosen to stay on in those locations even in the absence of tenure and in precarious and flood-prone environments. We will concentrate on two key factors, gender and politics.

Colombo project team

Asha L. Abeyasekera

Asha L. Abeyasekera is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Colombo. She is the programme coordinator of the MA in Gender and Women’s Studies. Her research interests are at the intersection of feminist and psychological anthropology and cover a number of areas in the study of intimate relations and gendered subjectivities in contemporary South Asia. Drawing on ethnography and narratives of personal experience, her research investigates: how the gendered self is constructed and presented in negotiation with ideas about modernity and morality; cross-cultural experiences and expressions of emotions, mental health, and wellbeing; and women’s labour in homemaking and household survival. She is the author of Making the Right Choice: Narratives of Marriage in Sri Lanka (2021, Rutgers).

Academic sites:

Iromi Perera

Iromi Perera is a Colombo based researcher and activist. She works on land rights and spatial justice, with a focus on development and dispossession in post war Sri Lanka. Iromi is the Founder and Director of the Colombo Urban Lab, an interdisciplinary think tank striving to produce knowledge on and advocate for equitable and sustainable cities in Sri Lanka. She is the Asia Consultant for the Bank Information Center, a Washington D.C based independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for transparency, accountability, sustainability, and inclusion in development finance. 

She has been a consultant researcher for the Law and Society Trust in Sri Lanka since 2019 and is a member of the People’s Alliance for Right to Land. From 2008 – 2017, Iromi was a Senior Researcher at the Colombo based think tank Centre for Policy Alternatives, where she led their survey research work. 

From 2019 – 2021 Iromi served on the Board of Trustees of The Asia Foundation as a Term Trustee and she is currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Centre for Equality and Justice, a women’s rights organisation based in Colombo. She was Fulbright Professional Scholar in 2015 and was based at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C as an Academic Visitor at the Institute’s Center on International Development and Governance. In 2017 she was selected as an Asia Foundation Development Fellow.

Vraie Cally Balthazar

Vraîe Cally Balthazaar is a media professional, feminist researcher and activist. For over decade, she has volunteered her time working on projects aimed at social transformation and dignity including livelihoods for women in war-affected areas, child welfare, and community building.

She is a member of two organizations that lobby for political accountability, transparency and social justice. In 2019 she convened Women’s Voice In Politics, a platform for women in the political space to build their capacity, share knowledge, and build solidarity across parties.

She has over a decade of experience working in television. 

 Vraîe has a BA in Design (Northumbria University UK), a Post Graduate Diploma in Women and Gender Studies (University of Colombo) and is currently reading for her MA in Women and Gender Studies (University of Colombo). She presently works as a researcher with a focus on Gender.

Dileepa Witharana

Currently I serve as a senior lecturer at the Department of Mathematics and Philosophy of Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering Technology and as the Director of the Centre for Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development (CESSD) of the Open University of Sri Lanka. I have obtained my PhD from the Leiden University in the Netherlands where I looked at the relationship between Sri Lankan engineering and Sinhala nationalism.

Before joining the Open University as a senior lecturer I worked as a consultant / project manager at Practical Action / Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), as a consultant at Energy Forum, as a peace worker at Thirupthiya / Quaker Peace and Service (QPS), Sri Lanka and as an activist in the Orgaisation to Safeguard Life and Environment (OSLEN). I’m currently serving as a director of Janathakshan, a not for profit organisation established in 2011 to promote sustainable and green solutions.

Research Interests:

Urban poor and politics, electricity and water sector reforms, engineering and nationalism, history of technical education, energy and environment policy and practice, multilateral and bilateral trade agreements