By Gaya Fernando –
The streets of Colombo have seen worse sights.
That sentence deserves to stand on its own. It is an epitaph on a city where too much violence has been vented by too many. It is a sentence on a people who rarely get on the streets and make a fuss. But on Friday 12 April a mixed bunch of people gathered to hold a candle-lit vigil outside the venue of the hate-speech BBS. For strategic reasons they may have chosen the venue in order to provoke a response from the BBS which would expose their hate-speech and intolerant attitude. Nonviolent protests are nearly always strategic and their dynamics are not always agreeable to all participants. However, when I read an article by a friend on how he ‘saw’ this candle-lit vigil it urged me to write a response. Instead of objecting to any dynamic of the vigil he objected instead to the composition of the vigil-holders in no uncertain terms.
“ I came to stand with a certain group against the BBS. Had I come earlier, I am pretty sure I would not have lit a candle, because people make the cause and that too is something I take into account. I would have gone away.”
Oh right. So if we were to look around and say oh please, the Colombo elite is here and facebookers, … oh oh I am so disappointed. I need more Buddhists, more middle class people and I don’t like to see people who worked in NGOs, lived overseas or who are in the upper middle class of CMB in this protest cheek by jowl with me, that’s a position that smacks of bias and prejudice as to WHO should be protesting and even further who has the moral right to protest. It’s saying “I wanna support the Sri Lanka which excludes the types I do not identify with because I suspect everyone of having an agenda and this will stop my supporting the cause of an inclusive Sri Lanka for all. I need ‘my people’ to support all this!”
Get over it.
The CMB upper middle class has walked the talk in the streets and maybe you are a mite surprised to see your bedfellows? Well that’s how it is. While I empathise with the concern of this writer that a peaceful Buddhist vigil was as he saw it hijacked as a strategic nonviolent protest by a mixed bunch who may have varying reasons beyond mere peace and compassion for being there, I was urged to draw out this pooh-pooh streak in us and take it up cos it’s not just the writer and his thoughts that is at stake but a ‘streak’ in our society to pooh-pooh whoever and whatever is done just for the sake of so doing.
Why is Colombo strategically a part of this protest? What the Colombo society did and did not do during the war as ambassadors of the peace both at home and abroad deserves kudos, only those efforts are largely ignored. The upper middle class ‘Colomboans’ dug their feet in and continued their professions and businesses when some of them had options to leave and set up shop elsewhere in the world. As a lawyer I saw the stoic continuation of professional relationships between the ethnicities in the main professions in Colombo. When the bombs fell in the heart of the capital city, the heartbeat of our nation one of the main reasons for foreigners not to pull out their investments from Sri Lanka was the good friendship and relations they enjoyed with the families of the Sri Lankans whose livelihood depended on these investments. The entire economic health of the nation depended on such relationships.
The ‘Colomboans’ continued to work and play in a peaceful manner in an inter-ethnic life which has outlived the storm and now are fighting for the multi-ethnic society they love. They keep their school inter-ethnic friends, their work colleagues, even yes, their nightclub friends from many faiths and jog on. So what? They are holding a candle today to save the society I love. I was born and ‘bred’ there and have insider experience of what it’s like to have such a rich life and belonging among diverse faiths and races. My friends were there on Friday the 12th, were yours?
Even as I write this in a personal vein, as a researcher and author of a book on Nonviolent Coexistence undertaken as a contribution to the peacwe education of Sri Lanka and was translated into the national languages in Sri Lanka, I wish to stress that this is not a counterattack on the writer of the linked article at all. It is an opportunity to look at the pooh-pooh streak in us, from the Diasporans who pooh-pooh ground initiatives, the un-Colomboans who pooh-pooh the Colomboans and the list goes on. If we are to launch a peaceful protest and united stand to save our society from bigotry and prejudice, hate speech and incitement to violence on the grounds of religion by extremist groups whoever they are and whatever their robes are, we will need to shed the pooh-pooh and stand shoulder to shoulder with diverse types and unite for once. This is our hour of need and we can do more than pooh-pooh. Long Live multi-ethnic, multi-faith Sri Lanka !
Eka mavakage daru kela bewinaa …
yamu yamu vee nopamaa,
prema wada sema bedha durera dhaa …
namo namo matha… !