The Sunday Leader

Inside The Protests Of The Uninformed

By Dinouk Colombage

Pictures by Pavithra Jovan De Mello and Dinouk Colombage
For the past two months the streets of Colombo have been crowded with thousands of angry protesters screaming anti-US slogans. On the surface these men and women appear to be citizens angered, by what they describe as, US interference.
The Sunday Leader went out to join a protest to learn the true feelings of these people who have chosen to spend their time marching from embassy to embassy handing over petitions.On Tuesday, March 20, a protest expected to attract over 3,000 participants stood outside the British Embassy on Bauddhaloka Mawatha demanding that London withdraws its support for the petition against Sri Lanka. Standing between what appeared to be an angry mob and the embassy were two rows of policemen and a line of barricades.
However, behind the front of row of screaming men who furiously waved the national flag and pictures of the president was another side to the protests. Many people were chatting amongst themselves, while others chose to stand in whatever shade possible. The general trend appeared to be a great deal of disinterest with what the leaders of the protests were yelling out over speakers.
The Sunday Leader spoke to several different protesters, learning that many of them had been told to join these protests either by local politicians or their own employers. Sugath Kumara, a three-wheeler driver from the Kolonnawa area, explained that he and several other drivers had been asked to join this protest on Monday. ‘A member of the Kolonnawa Urban Council came to us on Monday explaining that there was a protest on Tuesday in Colombo. He asked us to bring as many people as we could and join’, he said. Asked what incentive there was for him to give up half a day’s work to protest the resolution, Kumara responded that they had been offered lunch.
Asked if he knew the reason behind this protest, Kumara responded that they had been told ‘the US is trying to gather support for the LTTE and it is our responsibility to keep peace in Sri Lanka.’ Having explained the US resolution to Kumara, he and several others looked confused before defending the government by stating ‘our president won us the war, he will know what is best for the country.’
Further on standing in the shade on the side of the road were three elderly women holding the national flag. Asked why they had joined the protest, one of them responded that ‘we actually came to the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress but the protest had started. We were given flags and asked to join, and since we cannot enter the premises just yet we are standing here waiting to do so.’
None of the three seemed aware of the reasons behind the protests, with one saying ‘we do not have much interest in politics. Every day they will find something new to shout about, but little work is actually done.’ It was a further hour before they were allowed to enter the premises, during which time a worker from the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress gave them water at regular intervals.
Many protesters did explain that they had joined because ‘the US is interfering in Sri Lankan politics.’ Jeewantha Sumanadasa, who said he was a driver with the Kolonnawa Urban Council, expressed his support for the protests. ‘I came today after hearing this protest was happening because I do not want America or any other country telling us what to do’, he said. He further stated his confidence in the President and the government explaining that ‘they have won us a war; they brought peace to our country. We can rely on them to rebuild our nation.’
However, Sumanadasa did not know what either the US resolution or the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report was about. ‘I do not know what is in those reports, they were written for our politicians and I have full confidence in our leaders to do the right thing’, he said.
With the protest coming to an end, the true nature of the protesters was seen. Many people quickly dispersed with some jumping in to the trucks to be transported to the next protests. Others simply dropped the signs they were carrying and went home. The thousands who had turned out to voice their support for the government were now only interested in returning home.
One young lady who wished to be only known as Janice explained that she worked at Hayleys and that they had been told by their manager to attend today’s protest. Asked whether she supported the government’s stance on the resolution, she responded that ‘I do not want to comment, I only came today because I was told to by my office.’
With the crowds dispersing, many signs and flags were collected by the organisers who were leaving for their next protest march. However, very few of the supporters seen at this protest would be seen at the next one.

1 Comment for “Inside The Protests Of The Uninformed”

  1. racing

    Matthew Newman, and of course there was also James Garfield.

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