The opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and are not representative of the views of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.
You might have heard of Sri Lanka when you were thinking about going on vacation, to have a retreat from your working life and explore the mountains and beaches that it contains in multitudes. And these days, you might have heard about the massive economic crisis that has befallen this country, with power cuts up to 13 hours per day and people being unable to pay for their necessities. The inflation rate for February 2022, as measured by the National Consumer Price Index, has risen up to 17.5% due to the mismanagement of the government, especially due to president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family, who came into power in 2019.
As a result of this, many people have taken to the streets to protest for their freedom and accountability for the Rajapaksas and what they have done to the country through their mismanagement of power and the president’s decision to give the Rajapaksas titles as Ministers when they have had no qualifications or knowledge necessary to actually make a change for the better within the country. This has led to thousands of people being unable to afford their daily necessities and students unable to sit their exams because of the lack of papers within the country, as a result of the lack of foreign reserves. Bearing this all in mind – people have the right to protest, and more importantly, to make their voices heard on the injustices they’re facing.
But is protesting really the long-term solution to solving the issues within Sri Lanka? Recently, protesting has become a more hilarious affair, with young people using social media to take videos of them getting drunk during protests and hurling insults at the government with no regard to the actual purpose of the protests – to raise awareness of the situation happening within the country and help people who are suffering, for those who live without fuel, electricity, food, and medicine. There was even an incident where there were a few protestors gathered outside the president’s son’s house in Los Angeles to demand that Gotabaya Rajapaksa leave his post. What does that hope to accomplish? The opposition party is only exacerbating this behaviour, with them calling for protests to continue while hoping to snag seats in parliaments for themselves.
Some might say that I, as a Sri Lankan living abroad for my studies, don’t have the right to comment on protests happening within the country – but I lived in Sri Lanka most of my life, and the situation within the country devastates me constantly with my inability to do anything to support the people who are suffering. As an onlooker who loves my homeland, it’s getting increasingly difficult to remain partial and optimistic about the state of the country with increasingly high debt and the Sri Lankan Rupee becoming the worst-performing currency in the world. My parents and grandparents are still in the country, and tell me daily about how they get power cuts and can’t find fuel to power their vehicles. Nevertheless, my family is a middle-class family, with a stable income to support them through the crisis. But what about the people from lower-income households, who live on the minimum wages they receive, and even barely that, sometimes? What about people who drive tuks for a living and can’t afford to spend their money on fuel?
Protesting is an effective means of change, within reason. As much as we long for a new government with people who aren’t corrupt and eager to make actual change within the country, it might turn out to be a pipe dream without institutional change and help for the thousands – even millions – of people who can’t afford to make their ends meet. With increasing military intervention, it’s become impossible for some people to protest, as well – most people in ethnic minorities are worried that they may receive a bad reception, and people in rural areas, the areas that really need the change that the protesters claim they want, don’t have the means to protest or protect themselves at all.
It’s up to the people protesting to realise their privilege – to realise that they have the means to protest while some are living from their daily wages and can’t afford to protest at all. That has become increasingly rare, with people looking out for their own interests instead of thinking about the people who are affected more than them. Protesting is only a starting point for the change that we need to make within the country; there is a long road ahead, and we all should realise that it isn’t the means to an end.
Image courtesy of Craige Mcgonigle