‘Protests of Privilege?’

Are Sri Lanka’s Protests truly the collective Voice of its People?

Sri Lanka is once again undergoing a major turning point in its history. The people have take to the streets, chanting in unison a chorus formed as a result of the anguish and desperation that many feel today: the Rajapaksas must go.

Parsing through social media, it is clear that the existing public outrage is in response to the apathy, indifference and insensitivity of those in power towards the suffering of the people. But amidst all this, few have taken it on themselves to point out to the masses; ‘first time?’

Before, much of this apathy and insensitivity was directed towards the minorities and underprivileged of Sri Lanka. From the people of the North having no choice but to sing a national anthem they do not understand, to being forced to cremate departed family and loved ones, depriving them to exercise their religious beliefs for no justifiable reason, the government has always displayed apathy, indifference and insensitivity.

The question remains, why?

Not my problem

For better or for worse, democratically elected governments have the tendency to reflect the inner mind of the majority of the public. Regardless of political ploys, it is us who ultimately have to cast in our vote.

Which leads me to question whether much like the representatives we elect, are we not also individually responsible for being apathetic, insensitive and indifferent on matters that do not directly affect us?

Have we not ever encountered people in need, people who suffer from injustice, and although fully able to raise our voice, look away, thinking to ourselves, ‘not my problem.’

Has that not been the common ethos of many from the middle class on a wide range of subjects, including politics?

Has it changed?

But now, the tides have changed. Now, none can afford to look away. Few have the luxury to say that the current circumstances haven’t affected their lives and livelihood, which has sparked a new movement, mainly led by the young adults and youth.

This change has begun to make its impact. Be it in those who are in government, corporate organisations, even celebrities and public figures. No longer can they afford to remain in apathy. Not when their careers depend on the adulation and love of the young.

This reflection extends even further. Many of the ongoing protests in the capitol reflect the vibe of the youth, of the middle class. There is humour, there is music, laughter, honking of horns, revved engines, memes and selfies. There is food, drink and I’ve even seen protestors appearing in cosplay on social media.

Many have accused these protests (and protestors) for being privileged, for being an outlet for three years of pent-up ‘big match fever’ and for being insensitive to the woes of those who are not of the middle class. A ‘privileged protest’ of sorts. If so, has there truly been a change in the status quo?

Yes, but no

After careful consideration (and being present in a few protest sites for myself) I disagree.

It is true that most of the protestors are of the middle class, who are young and most likely are taking part in a protest for the first time in their lives. Naturally, this will reflect on the atmosphere of the protest taking place.

Has this caused a loss in clarity or focus on the main goal? If that were so, then there wouldn’t be people literally camping in front of the Presidential Secretariat until their goal is achieved.

I coin the ongoing demonstrations to be years of pent-up frustration rather than a sudden burst of outrage, expressed in the best way that these demonstrators can. Does that reduce any significance or value to the civil demonstrations taking place? I think not.

But will those outside of the middle class have no hesitation in being part in all aspects of said civil demonstrations? I’m not sure.

A moment of change?

But what I don know is that at this very moment, the voice of the majority has reached a harmony (a mesh of different tones and notes). There is no better time than now to bridge the gap between all segments of society, gender, ethnicity and religion in order to put the past behind us and create a more understanding, involved and sensitive society.

The opportunity is ripe for the taking. It is up to all of us to reach out and pluck this low-hanging fruit, a welcome turning point resulting from an unwelcome circumstance.

Picture by Venura Chandramalitha Rathnayake

(Views expressed by the author are personal)

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