23 May, 2024


Why You Would NOT Protest

By Ruvan Weerasinghe –

Dr. 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.

Conspiracy theorists:

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.

The indifferent:

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.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Mr. Ruwan Weerasinghe: To your list of “Five”, I would like to add ONE more and make it “SIX” if you don’t mind.

    The “6th”: The so-called “Buddhagama Saffron Clothed Brigade” spearheaded the campaign of Gotabaya in 2019 November to make him the President. Two days ago, some of them paraded the Viharamahadevi Park area shouting: ” Don’t allow the protestors to “RUINE” our Buddhagama and Buddhagama Culture”. This “Brigade” won’t participate in the PROTEST at Galle Face, because they would be “DEPRIVED” of all the benefits of the present-day “ATA PIRIKARA” that includes a “V8”.

    • 1

      It is the ‘Bandaranaike curse’ on Buddhism in SL

      In late 40’s Walpola Rahula Thera came out with the idea of Bhikku involvement in politics and wrote “Bikkhuwakage Urumaya”. Eksath Bikkhu Peramuna was formed, with Buddharakkitha in it, who subsequently consumed Banda.

      Things have never been the same since then. The political monks have done irreparable damage to the order of sangha in SL since then. It is so much so that people abuse monks in filth these days, which was unimaginable at Banda’s time. Nowadays a saffron robe is a ticket for riches and power without having to really work for it. Yes, they could have women and families too. For most a Toyota Land Cruiser comes with the territory. As Mangala said there is no ‘Thrivida Rathna’ in SL anymore.

      I am saddened to witness Walpola Piyananda Thera preaching (Kadey Yanawa) in support of MR yesterday. Either he has gone senile or is yeaning for dollars for his temple in LA.

      Where is Sir John when we want him around?

  • 1

    “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.”
    Does this not say that the 5 categories (plus one added above) above does not adequately cover those who keep out?
    If the categories do cover all non-participants, the non-participants will not budge. Them why waste time on people who do not want the bus ride?
    It is often useful to search within one’s own mind why one fails to persuade others.

  • 0

    The protests are good but cannot be sustained for ever. The protesters should look for alternative strategies.

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