Colonel Alcott rallying the troops
In the past month Colombo has seen protests by students, teachers, nurses, midwives, trade unionists, political parties, investors, ministers and more. Almost every day I go out I see someone protesting something and, if not that, taking their Gods for a walk through the town. One day I drove past Vihara Maha Devi Park and saw some people protesting against an investment company. The next day I saw protestors again and stopped for some literature. I was quite confused to find a flyer for the bank in question. They’d gotten their own people to stage a counter-protest. Since the LTTE stopped bombing the streets it’s been an explosion of placards and slogans. This is a good thing, though it is an awful lot of it.
The defacto IGP Protests, SI Ratnayake
Through all these protests the only thing constant is Sub Inspector Rathnayake and his marvelous moustache. I see this dapper fellow at every protest and we finally got up the nerve to talk to him. Actually, we circled around the block three times trying to shoot (photographically) from the car before finally getting out and asking for a shot. He’s very nice and kindly obliged. But I digress.
Despite this governments thumping majority and its seeming ease in passing stuff through Parliament, I suspect that this seeming stability is more a product of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s oppression of the opposition than anything else. On individual issues from salaries to education to police brutality to even finance, people are willing to take to the streets. That said, I think Sri Lankans simply like taking to the streets, but there is definitely a volume of protest that I have never seen.
Students protesting in front of Fort Railway Station
This is partly because of the governments good deeds – with no LTTE the streets are safe – but also a reference to the governments wrongs. In the most recent example, a student was killed by police while protesting in Matara and his compatriots in Colombo occupied Olcott Mawatha in Fort. This potentially explosive issue is built on long-running student grievances now catalyzed by a martyr.
One wonders, however, if this discontent was always there and the end of war just enabled it to come out. On one level, it is safe to wander around and gather without the constant threat of suicide bombs or the respondent roadblocks and secure convoys. On another level, Emergency Regulations, while still in effect, have visibly been relaxed. On a higher level, the media simply has more pages available for this since it’s not war/death/destruction all the time. This all makes for a perfect storm whereby it seems like Colombo is racked by protests.
Student protestors against police brutality
Whether anything comes of them, who knows. People have been protesting forever and the issues have been somewhat forgotten because there’s a war on. Now there isn’t, so perhaps these bread and butter issues rather than bombs will define our streets.