By Ruvan Weerasinghe –
The current phenomenon of citizen-led protests has forced many to come to conclusions about their significance. How they do that appears to be largely based on their own beliefs and experiences, often mostly negative in modern Sri Lanka. This is partly because, nothing quite like this has happened in Sri Lanka!
While the response to an article I wrote earlier this week was mostly positive, several of my own work colleagues appear to hold quite a different view. This was quite educative to observe, especially knowing some of the baggage they carry. However, among them were also younger folk who feel the whole protest movement is a charade orchestrated by some political party or the proverbial ‘hidden hand’.
I’ve tried to understand these sentiments and have classified them to five types of folk we may find among us, at work, in our neighborhoods and possibly our faith groups.
This is a non-trivial sized group that has gained much during this regime, and possibly from previous one(s), who realize that drastic changes as those being articulated by the protesters could find them on the wrong side of the law. Those cleared from legal cases would also fall into this category.
There’s a group of businessmen and those running peripheral services for the first group who stand to lose serious business if the regime falls. Sometimes it is not just a minor inconvenience for them, since their entire raison d’etre is tied up with the present narrative itself. These are people who have perfected the art of gaining favour by political patronage over the decades.
Successive regimes have etched into the Sri Lankan brain that whatever ill befalls them has to have a secret hidden political hand – possibly from overseas. There surely can’t be a mass people’s protest without funding and support is how they interpret the current phenomenon. These are people who can be convinced otherwise, as they are usually NOT invested with a fixed party line.
Keyboard warriors/Armchair critics:
Sri Lanka has always had no shortage of those who want to ‘watch the show’ from the sidelines. They don’t consider it any responsibility of theirs to inconvenience themselves seeking out, let alone attending, ‘useless’ protests. There are others ‘with nothing to do’ who can do that stuff and me not attending won’t make a big difference. It is the protesters responsibility to push these people into action.
Those who earn over approximately Rs. 250k per month are in the top 90th percentile in terms of individual earning in Sri Lanka. For them, what’s happening is a minor temporary inconvenience which they’re confident of overcoming soon. And so, not worth getting ‘shot’ for. Any chance of being caught on camera for these two groups could spell disaster as the ‘big brother is watching’ and can unleash its violence on them.
The best antidote to overcoming some of the above blind spots and understanding what’s actually going on, is to simply attend a protest. Hearing the diverse reasons for which people are gathered, the universality of their common goals, the palpable rejection of all political party representations, the rejection of a system rather than any particular party, the tolerance of diversity, the heart-rending stories of the destitute are all experienced firsthand at some of these larger protest sites. And mind you, those struggling to eek out a living often can’t afford to be there, so those who come, by and large are protesting on behalf of those who cannot attend. This is another alien idea for a society which has become increasingly individualized and self-centered.
Those who are part of the protest need to reach out to these colleagues, neighbors and friends, in order to educate them about the situation, so that they would not ‘miss the bus’ this time around.