By Mohamed Harees –
It was the best of times (to borrow a Dickens phrase), amidst the worst of times for Sri Lanka. The suffering populace of a divided nation, chose for once, to forget all past divisions- race, religion, class and gender to come together for another ‘Independence Struggle’ at the height of a grave economic crisis, to free themselves and their country from ‘Rajapaksa – colonialism’. True, this spirit of comradeship in picketing lines conveyed better times for this beleaguered Island nation. It was both unprecedented and unusual as well as an irony for the ruling party, which traditionally used racism and religion of the majority to create schisms and divisions to keep people apart for petty political gains. But, it did happen. The scenes of people of all faiths and nationalities waving the national flags together and asking for the Rajapaksas to stand down, to face justice and for comprehensive political changes, to put Sri Lanka back on its feet, brought tears of joy, amidst the tears of grief about the sad plight of their motherland.
However, it also sent shock waves to and rang alarm bells at the heights of power in the Rajapaksa-dom, Rajapaksa and their ruling scoundrels saw inherent danger in this emerging unity of their ‘hunting-land’ and they began to work overtime to put the wheels back. The social media apologists for this shameless family rule also began to echo their Master’s voice. Fortunately, the people appears to show nerves of steel to defeat these divisive tactics of a crumbling regime hell-bent on clinging to power at any cost – using all tricks up their sleeve – particularly using racism and religion of the majority as baits. There was much firmness in their resolve to stand on the right side of history at least this time, bringing much needed optimism and promise to a beleaguered and wounded nation.
This shameful attempt and well-orchestrated campaign to bring in racism and religious divides to starve off and nip in the bud, this public agitation, started off from the historic Mirihana protest itself. The ‘Presidential Media’ statement on the agitation reported a fake news- that people apparently carried placards asking for a Arab Style Spring operation to bring down a ‘so- called’ democratic regime. Some higher-up politicians of the ruling regime and their discredited set of rogue monks condemned the protest and also ‘setting fire’ of a bus, seeing ‘Extremists’ involvement in this act of arson. It was later suspected to be the work of a widely known rogue armed thuggery brigade working for the Rajapaksas .One such rogue monk even mentioned a non-existing ‘Islamic’ name of an extremist group to be responsible for this vandalism. Some unconnected Muslim and Tamil persons were also initially arrested to prove an extremist link by implication. This strategy backfired as people refused to fall for their usual racism bait.
The whole nation, at least visibly a greater section of the society came out of their comfort zones, and began to protest as members of the general public without any political colours- a clear change from protests which are usually engineered and organised by political parties. The young generation in particular came out in their thousands, leaving out their jobs and vocations to organise and take part in these continuing protests and demonstrations. The Anomas, Pereras, Mohamed’s, Fathimas, Sivas and Lakshmis who spent most of their waking time on various types of queues , began to join these spontaneous protests, agitations, rallies and demonstrations. They voluntarily gave up their artificial divisions set by their societies and politicians and saw common-ness and unity in their cause and call- cause and call for social justice and responsible, transparent, accountable political leadership and governance. Hitherto, they were blinded by their political loyalties, to see the massive ,chronic corruption and maladministration happening at the top. The fish they say begins to rot from the top. The rotting leadership has led the nation to the brink of bankruptcy and international ridicule. The young Z generation gave a signal to the political leadership that they were messing with the wrong generation.
It was thus a social struggle and a possible revolution which emerged and hit the streets from the kitchen and starving families and households with no political machinations behind these protests. People began to come to the centre of action in the Island capital Colombo- the iconic Galle Face adjoining the Office of the President. The past weeks have seen the best of people of Sri Lanka, with them protesting together as One, raising slogans and placards calling for the ouster of the corrupt Rajapaksa regime and also the most inefficient and inept Legislature. Most of the protesters came from the majority community and visibly those who voted this racist regime to power showed regret of their stupid decision, which added to the credibility of their struggle.
There were Buddhist monks, Christian fathers and Muslims Imams who came together in their picketing lines raising the same slogans. Muslims did not heed the fatigue of their Ramadan fasts these days, and joined in. Sinhalese and Hindus gave up their Sinhala Avrudu shopping stints to be there for the on-gong protests in Galle Face, Independence square and many other sites both in Colombo and outstations too. Muslims broke their fasts too at the sites and rather Iftars were joined in and even arranged by their Sinhala colleagues in the cause. This was a truly emotional sight not just for the Muslims, who felt welcoming among their people, after years of attempts to marginalise them in the society by the political opportunists specially after the Easter terror in 2019, but also for the majority Sinhalese too. The latter shed tears as if they were seeing long lost relatives. The lovely sight of Muslims breaking fast with Buddhist monks, Christian fathers and public were lauded by most in the social media. Cardinal Malcolm also called the people to stick together while Ramagna Nikaya Mahanayake called the rulers to stand down.
This augured well for the nation; but sadly not for the political schemers who planned to bring this despicable racist regime to power. They saw the platform they canvassed the public votes on, crashing before their own eyes.- the racist ,majoritarian, supremacist platform. This was an existential issue for the ruling party and the Rajapaksa regime, facing an imminent disaster both in the Presidential Palace and the parliament. There was also wide condemnation for the cast of leading rogue monks who did the bidding for the ruling Rajapaksas and who misused and abused traditional venerable respect for the clergy to shamelessly canvass for them for petty material gains. Most of those protesters asked that these monk imposters to be exposed and relegated to oblivion. One of the protest leaders Sannasgala also touched on the need for audit and accountability of religious institutions too, which obviously if done will adversely impact upon and expose these so-called frauds in saffron cloths too. Most of these rogue monks drive expensive cars and lead lavish lifestyles.
Yes! These schemers rightly felt that it is time to act soon to reverse this journey which spelled disaster for their own survival. The obvious way forward is to continue stirring racial and religious hatred or mistrust among communities to keep them apart. To continue showing bogeymen to majority Sinhala Buddhists emerging from among minorities- ‘Emerging Tamil Prabakarans, Muslim Saharans and Christian conspirators targeting Sinhala Buddhist heritage and traditions in the guise of public protests. Not a bad idea indeed (from their point of view)!
The Rupavahini news for example, reported about a press conference held by Patali Champika’s 43rd Brigade, and gave wide prominence to a statement made by two relatively unknown Muslim political characters, that it was Muslims who proportionately made up most of those who protested in Colombo. This impression, cleverly left without being corrected or challenged was clearly untrue and erroneous and was intended to show the viewers that this was not a public protest as it seems to be; rather one by a minority section of the society. It was the Sinhalese who made the most part of the protesters. The totally incorrect impression was intended to bring down the gravity and credibility of the public protest in the eyes of the viewers, who may take it at face value. These are well orchestrated plans in the greater scheme of things.
Then came the news of a walk by a section of Maha Sangha and some activists from Nelum Pokuna in Colombo, with a call not to lay hands on Sinhala Buddhist traditions and mandate hiding behind this ‘pseudo’ struggle . This was obviously a devious and again a well orchestrated attempt to bring a sensitive religious dimension issue into a largely non religious struggle focussing on people aspirations in general. This walk has been given wide prominence both in mass and social media, to portray this just struggle as ‘a conspiracy’ against Sinhala Buddhist traditions and mandate, with a view create doubts among the majority community about the historic struggle against the corrupt political establishment. Fortunately, most comments from members of the majority community on social media shows that they have seen through this devious plan of the powers that be, in bringing in the religious dimension which was never in the minds of those who protest. They are also condemning the vain attempts of their rulers to brand this just struggle as a pseudo one and undermine their just cause. They have not hesitated to condemn these walks as ‘boot licking’ and State engineered exercises. There was also the discredited Dan Prasad trying to exploit the situation, referring to ‘Nanaas’ feeding beggars in Galle face. He was referring to agitators attempts to depose a Sinhala `Buddhist leader, forgetting that Gota subscribing to ‘Gnanakka’ nikaya.
Most importantly, PM Mahinda came on TV and addressed the nation, with Gotabaya gone into hiding from public view, and attempted to drive s wedge between the protesters and the armed forces. He asked the protesters not to harass and insult the armed forces, although nowhere was it reported that the protesters did so. On the contrary, they were offered bouquets and food in many places. This was another attempt to create an ill feeling between the public and the armed forces who occupy a special place in the hearts of ordinary people after the war victory. PM did not identify himself well with the cause of the public too.
The prevailing economic mess is a culmination of decades of economic mismanagement and corruption of mega proportions by successive governments, which has hit all communities hard, with fuel/gas shortages, power cuts and price inflation on essential items, which have made life difficult. This crisis became more acute during Gotabaya’s administration, with an incompetent cabal of voodoo economic practitioners as analysts say.
Today, the people of the South specially the majority Sinhalese , are experiencing the trauma of a toxic racist political ideology which landed them in this irretrievable mess. They voted for a set of schemers who exploited the nationalistic feelings of the people. What is new for the population in the South specially the majority Sinhalese, however, has been experienced repeatedly by the Tamil population over the last four decades in the North. While the current economic crisis is difficult for people across the island, for the Tamil people, a certain muscle memory has kicked in ,about the difficult times in the past. These acts left an indelible imprint on the Tamil psyche. For the first time since the war, Gota’s forces are turning its might against its own partisans and in their outrage, Sinhala people beginning to empathise with the past plight of Tamils and Muslims at the hands of the State.
For the Muslims in the South, they are feeling the warmth of the majority community today, after decades of them being marginalised in the context of demonisation of the Muslim community and Islam by the hate peddlers with State patronage. The Christian community too has realised that the terrible Easter tragedy was part of the evil machinations of the ruling Rajapakse elite to come to power at any cost. Thus all the communities are uniting under a common cause and felt the imperative need ,not just to throw out this most corrupt and disastrous regime in known history, but also to bring them to justice. The protest’s key slogan, “Gota Go Home”, for them therefore is not sufficient. They don’t want him to go home, they want him, other Rajapaksas, and his goons to stand trial for crimes, punished and also stolen State assets and public money returned to the public purse. But, there is more they are demanding and they should too.’Rajapaksa-ism’ should go too.
This is a historic opportunity, may be the last, for the country which has long suffered under wars and violence . The country has failed to build an inclusive society due to successive governments’ (and their voters’) insistence on Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy, and the resultant ethnocratic nature of the state and its institutions as protectors of the Sinhalese community, at the expense of the minorities. The current protest movement’s focus on the commonality of experience, presents the possibility of a common front to address issues which has divided them- to build an inclusive nation, to forge ahead to ensure social justice, racial equality and good governance accountable to the public, Indeed, Gota and his entourage must go, but for the protest movement to succeed in its stated goal of a more just, stable, and prosperous island, so must the ethnocratic state. For this to be realisable, it is indeed imperative that the people stay together and fight for their just human rights – political, social and economic , without allowing their rulers to divide them along narrow racial and religious lines and raising hollow nationalistic and majoritarian cries using rogue sections hiding among the widely respected Maha sangha.