Anything that is being called public by default is not public anymore.
In the current Sri Lankan context, given the interference of politics and the magnitude of the powers the politicians wield, even a protest could no longer be called a public demonstration that reflects the sentiments of the public. In most instances, these protests reflect what the politicians desire and more often than not, those who shout ill-practised slogans in these demonstrations would not even know why they were protesting.
During the week, the country has been witnessing at least two strikes and a few supposed public demonstrations, participated in by various strata of society. While the railway workers were scheduled to go on strike today, according to the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, the activities in most of the state-run schools islandwide came to a standstill on Tuesday due to the strike by the Principals and Teachers which was launched urging the Government to resolve their salary anomalies.
What stole the headlines perhaps were the demonstrations that were held on Tuesday for and against the proceedings of the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake.
A few busloads of people thronged the Polduwa Junction near the parliamentary complex to protest and vilify Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake on her way to the House to appear before the Select Committee probing charges against her. UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekara, who spoke during the committee stage debate, charged that those who took part in the demo were slum dwellers from the Peliyagoda area. He also said that lunch was served to these protesters from the parliamentary canteen under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Be it a rally, a demonstration or even a vigil, the people have the right to hold placards and shout slogans for causes they believe in. However, if they are being transported in bus loads, with readymade placards and printed sheets of slogans, with threats or for a bunch of favours, such protests might as well be called well-directed dramas than public demonstrations.
Their knowledge of the impeachment could not have been anything more than what they knew of the demonic 18th Amendment to the Constitution, where the unquestioning support that bordered on shameless display of public ignorance was dubbed the latest definition of patriotism by the powers-that-be.
Support alone does not make a perfect democracy. The richness of democracy comes with the amount of tolerance exercised by the regime on opposing opinions. After all, divergent views are not necessarily of terroristic origin. By making them sound otherwise, the same government that defeated terrorism tries to keep the flames of fear flickering for their benefit.
People’s right to be right, should not be compromised nor should it be bought over for favours. History bears witness to the tragedy that a right or freedom once lost is lost forever. After all, Adolf Hitler who blatantly misinterpreted the overwhelming public preference as his omnipotence, is not a mere piece of horror fiction.