Terrorism Disguised as Peaceful Protests

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There is a strong opinion in Sri Lanka that we need educated people in Parliament. The conclusion of many is that our politicians are not professional and that is the bane of the country.

Heeding that call, a number of top professionals entered the political arena at the last 2020 General Elections. Among them were Ali Sabry, Dr Nalaka Godahewa, Dr Seetha Arambepola, Professor Channa Jayasumana and Yadamini Gunawardena. They were joined by other professionals as Dr Ramesh Pathirana, Udaya Gammanpila, Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon and Kanaka Herath who were already engaged in politics. They entered Parliament with the genuine objective to serve the country.

Already in successful careers many did not accept a salary nor even a ministry vehicle. On 9 and 10 May their properties were identified, looted, vandalized and destroyed by anarchists. Some were burnt to ground. These properties were not accrued by these professionals after they entered politics and as such not from any deals or commissions. It was from their hard earned money. There is an effort to portray these mobs as the impulsive reaction of an outraged public. However, the speed at which the violence spread across the country and the uniformity of violence indicates a more organiSed force. How they had fuel in their possession at a time the country was suffering from a severe fuel shortage is questionable indeed.

This outrage should have been met with outright condemnation. Yet, it was greeted with silence and even applause by many, including fellow colleagues and peers in the professional field. Social, religious and political leaders who call press conferences at the drop of a hat yet to utter a word of reproach.

Is provocative,peaceful?

The concerted effort to describe the mobsters as peaceful protestors has not been adequately challenged by the independent Media. Perhaps the protestors who gathered at Galle Face Green as well as other protest sites may not have always been violent, but whether they could be described as peaceful as implied by the definition of the word is debatable.

Until violence erupted in Mirihana, in front of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence on 31 March, no one paid much attention to the sporadic protests that precipitated over the shortages of essentials as gas, fuel, electricity and imported commodities as milk powder.

Drama queen

When former parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra came before President’s house with a group of women on 5 March, another group of women gathered in protest in front of Premachandra on 6 March protesting over Premachandra’s protest. While she was in power she did not visit her own seat Kolonnawa when the area went under in floods. She only appeared days after the crisis, well after the flood water were receding. The area residents did not give her a good welcome. Therefore, her appearance before the President’s house was more theatrical than anything else. The tit-for-tat protests were simply political jabs at each other.

Targeted violence

However, the protests that ended in violence on 31 March were of very serious nature and caught the authorities off guard. The violence erupted closer to midnight, which in itself was unusual for a protest. Usually, protests are very much a daytime affair. Though it was brought under control within hours, the area thereafter resembled a war zone with burnt carcasses of buses and demolished parapet walls littering the vicinity. It was very clear that something very serious was afoot threatening national security.

However, that glimpse of violence afterwards immediately disappeared. This was replaced with the Colombo yuppy crowd, clad in black with slogans that introduced them as the ‘messed with the wrong generation’. Usually, protests in Sri Lanka are by lower middle class youth whose slogans are in Sinhala. These protestors however were mostly from middle or upper middle class and the primary language of protest was English. Clearly, this was a sector of society who had their privileges at the tip of their fingers. The discomfort of been denied comforts as electricity, air conditioning, internet and fuel was something they were not prepared to tolerate.

Threatening national security

These protests that began as small groups in every nook and corner, suddenly in a well coordinated move shifted to the front of the Presidential Secretariat. The media glare attracted socialites, artists, religious leaders, sports personalities and other notable characters to the site to pledge their support. As the protests became a trend, the movement became boisterous and the demands outrageous.

The louder the protestors became the greater the effort was exercised to recognise them as the singular voice of the Nation. By this time the Government was seeking assistance from the IMF and the World Bank. As such, undue tolerance was bestowed on the protestors perhaps to impress on these two financial institutions that the Government was most democratic.

Misusing this freedom without boundaries the protestors began to agitate for the resignation of both President and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa. While the freedom to protest is without contest, the need for civility was never impressed upon the protestors by the social and religious leaders who supported and endorsed the protests.

Hence, the use of language deteriorated and the messages itself became appalling and obscene.

It came to a point where protestors publicly removed their underwear and hung on police barricades to underscore their disdain to the President. Neither the law nor community leaders reacted to this breach in civility as indecent expose. Throughout these increasing vulgarity the protests continued to be described as ‘peaceful’.

Calling violence peaceful

Even the Rambukkana incident on 19 March when the police opened fire at a group who were pelting the police with rocks, after forcibly halting traffic in both road and rail and attempted to set a bowser filled with fuel on fire was described by the media as ‘peaceful protests’. Marketing the mobsters as “peaceful protests” continues unabated even after the brutal murder of SLPP MP Amarakithi Athukorala. If this was the result of a peaceful protest, then the lynching of a Sri Lankan factory manager at a Pakistan factory in Sialkot cannot be anything else.

Mobster Leaders to Parliament

Former Minister Sabry’s bitter words in Parliament on 20 May were, “I will never look at this Parliament again, I do not need it. We did not enter Parliament to see such circumstances. I will never come back again. “I have not come here to wage a war. I am afraid for my children and my parents. We have not stolen even 5 cents or engaged in any form of fraud. I have paid nearly Rs. 42 million as income tax over the last five years prior to taking up a ministerial post.”  Speaking further he noted that when his house was attacked by mobs, several colleagues from the legal profession and even his own relatives had approved it via social media. Sabry questioned, “how can the country move forward with such brutality?”

This question should echo in our conscience. This overall attitude of ours dripping with callousness and jealousy would in the future prevent educated and professionals from stepping forward to manage our country. Instead, we can expect characters who have their own private paramilitary forces that do not honor the law of the land to come forth. After all, the future parliamentarians must have the capacity to protect his own family and property first.

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(The views and opinions expressed in this column are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CeylonToday)

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe