05/23/2018, 17.53
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2018, a year full of protests in Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera

People protest because of the rising cost of basic goods, power shortages, and racial hatred. "People expect quick, fair and practical solutions to the burning issues of the day,” said one observer. Ordinary Sri Lankans are generally peaceful, using protest as a last resort. Violent reactions are due to frustrations caused by unmet demands and broken promises.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – So far, 2018 has been a year of protests in Sri Lanka. People have protested across the island nation, especially in the capital Colombo, over a number of issues, such as the high prices for basic goods, education and land, power shortages, agriculture, racial hatred, and fuel prices.

AsiaNews asked various Christian leaders to explain this. The broadly agree that the main cause is the failure of ministers and lawmakers to heed the needs of the population whose problems they do not know. Politicians show no interest in listening to the sufferings of the people. Therefore, the only thing left for people is to protest, good or bad.

"People protest because they can do it, unlike under the dictator [Mahinda] Rajapaksa who responded violently,” said Fr Reid Shelton Fernando, priest and activist. “The current government of [President Maithripala] Sirisena responds at best with tear gas and water cannons". For the clergyman, “Protests are due to the fact that there are too many ministers with too little power".

"People expect quick, fair and practical solutions to the burning issues of the day,” said Geetha Lakmini, convener of the ‘We, Women Lanka’ group. However, “Genuine expectations are ignored by government officials whom they trust. Members of the middle or lower class go from the frying pan into the fire.”

For the activist, "the country’s situation is worsening by the day, with the rule of law undermined, and democracy and freedom denied. At the same time, the cost of living is going up because of the rising prices of basic goods and services."

For her, in Sri Lanka "two-thirds of the population suffer from some form of illness and depression and tensions are on the rise. As gas prices go up, family life is also endangered. If people do not get the right solutions from the government, they can only protest more.”

In light of this, “We can ask ourselves: 'Are these protests right?’ I do not know, but it is the real life of the people who live here ".

Herman Kumara, representative of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) and special envoy to the World Forum for Fisher People, notes that "people are peaceful and do not like protest, unless it is necessary. It is seen only as a last resort. If their demands are not heeded in peaceful protests, then they pass to aggressive forms" of action.

“People,” he explains, "did not speak out during the years of civil war, forced disappearances and massacres, for fear of the reaction by paramilitary groups. But now that a good government has been elected, they have found the motivation to speak out and demand respect for their rights.”

For Dr Tilak S. Fernando, a physician and editorial writer, "protests are due to the frustration caused by unmet demands and broken promises. Politicians are the worst class. They only want to manipulate the public to get votes and use ethnic-religious cleavages, sowing hatred."

Sri Lanka, he adds, "is a typical example where politicians get into the habit of verbal diarrhea but are constipated in their actions. From the Christian point of view, all this happens because human beings have become increasingly self-centred and have thrown human values ​​out of the window".

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