Dark Nights in Sri Lanka: The Incidence and Spread of Electricity

Michael Roberts

Way back in the md-1990s when I was in Sri Lanka working on the Anti-Muslim “riots of 1915” and other such topics and driving up to Kandy, I gave a lift to a youngish man waiting for a bus at Nittambuwa. He was a SL Army soldier in civilian clothes heading home to his village off Matale[1] and I dropped him off at Warakapola. He was now engaged in office work; but that was because he had been invalided out of fighting duties. In fact, he was the only survivor of a wire-guided landmine ambush on 30th July 1995 that killed Lt Genl Nalin Angammana[2] and all the others in the vehicle. Suffering major injuries, his recovery had been aided by the generosity of Nalin Angammana’s widow, who financed his flights to USA for major operations – her act of dāna (almsgiving).[3]

Lt Genl Nalin Angammana

That significant ethnographic note is not the point of this story: this soldier told me that his village had no electricity. For city sleekers like me this is the revelation. We take the availability of electrical power and good reading light for granted. In several rural localities and outlying areas in Sri Lanka, it seems, this is not a given. It is also possible that some slum and shanty units in Colombo and other towns do not have access to electrical sources of power.

Those last two sentences underline by urban bourgeois ignorance. Most of us reposing in the upper and lower-middle class world have had no knowledge on the degree to which the island’s electrical grid reaches out to the outlying areas and inner nooks of the urban centres. Ignorance reigns. Such scholars as Gerald Peiris Mick and Moore and Jude Fernando will have an awareness that we lack from their ethnographic ‘voyages’ into the boondocks. This essay is therefore directed as an appeal to our social scientists to provide detailed studies that illuminate (literally) the degree to which DARKNESS reigns at night in parts of the island. We need highlighted maps as well as statistics on this point – or references to sources that mark this dimension of our peoples’ life-worlds.

The official map produced in 2014 is a pleasing index: electrification is nearly 100 percent in many districts and reaches many outlying districts to a substantial degree –the only districts below 90 per cent being Batticaloa, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu –the war zone in the years 1990 to 2009.

However, a generalized statistical picture for even a sub-district may not reveal the nooks and crannies residing within the whole. Anduren Eliyata, or From Darkness to Light, in Sydney is reaching out to assist the homes and schools placed in these nooks and crannies. Its founding father is Chandra Fernando of Sydney, a man in his mid-70s now, who initiated the charity work in 2014 when aged 71. Chandra and wife Marie are, clearly, devout Catholics. Chandra was born and bred a few miles from the coast near Wattala in the Western Province.

Therefore, he himself is not from the outlying boondocks. In what was a private email note, he states “Thanks to our Bandaranayake Uthumanan, I studied in Sinhala school, in Sinhala. My English is due to my uneducated mother, who was very intelligent and from my small days she wanted me to learn English to read a ‘Teligaran’. Unfortunately, Mr Bandaranaike, who had Oxford Education, was not intelligent enough to know the value of English to Ceylonese. When we received telegrams, the postman could not read them, so we had to go to Mabole 3 miles walk either way where Wattala Post Office was to get it read from Postmaster.”

His organisation’s outreach from 2014 has been directed towards requests emanating from a wide variety of personnel in Sri Lanka, ranging from religious dignitaries to schoolteachers and well-meaning officials or defence force officers. In other words, it has been responsive to demand and is not guided by any ethnic or religious bias: it has been catholic in this beneficial sense. Indeed, he was both surprised and somewhat peeved by my inquiries about the degree to which Tamil and Muslim localities had been reached. Thuppahi’s second article will be providing information that he has supplied in response.

My inquiry, of course, was informed by attentiveness to the present political context and its contests. But it was (and is) guided by a social science perspective: how widespread is the provision of electricity? And are there nooks and crannies which are by-passed and/or unreachable?

The more information we have on these two questions the better. As it is, I can provide two examples straight away: the recent provision of solar lights in response to a request from Kandy district by Anduren Eliyata and Sujeeva Liyanage’s tale[4] of the two years in his youth (he is aged 52 now) when he had to study by lamp because the lane at Homagama where he lived was a “black-spot,” so to speak, in the grid network. Given a mountainous terrain in the centre of the island and many localities devoted to national parks and clothed with jungle or swamp, one can reasonably anticipate a sporadic distribution of black spots in the reach of electrical supplies.


Lawrence Machado: “Lighting up the lives of poor Sri Lankan one village at a time,” Island, 22 December 2018, http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=196519

Thuppahi:Anduren Eliyata in Sydney: Its Energetic Distribution of Solar Powered Units to Households in Si Lanka,” 23 September 2019, …………………… https://thuppahis.com/2019/09/23/anduren-eliyata-in-sydney-its-energetic-distribution-of-solar-power-units-to-households-in-sri-lanka/

Michael Roberts: Bus Shelters and Charities for Departed Loved Ones: An Exploration from An Ignoramus,” 3 September 2014, ………… ………………………………….. https://thuppahis.com/2014/09/03/bus-shelters-and-charities-for-departed-loved-ones-an-exploration-from-an-ignoramus/

George Webster: “Solar lamps replace toxic kerosene in poorest countries,” 1 February 2012, https://edition.cnn.com/2012/01/10/tech/innovation/solar-powered-led-lamps/index.html


[1] I forget the name, alas.

[2] Nalin Angammana (1945-95) was from Dharmaraja College in Kandy and a left-arm medium pace bowler whose cricketing prowess for school. club and SL Army rendered his name memorable in my mind.

[3] Cf. the donation of public bus shelters as acts of almsgiving for soldier children/relatives lost in battle. (Roberts 2014).

[4] Speaking on the phone from Sydney today 24th September 2019.

AN EMAIL NOTE from SWR de SAMARASINGHE, 24 September 2019: ….. your reference to Nalin Angammana brought back mixed memories. He was my contemporary in Dharmaraja. You are probably aware that he was a very good cricketer. He was one of the opening bowlers in the first eleven team in the clearly 1960s. He was also a relative of mine.


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