Violent protests are counterproductive
Having defeated terrorism, the Government has launched a massive
development program in every sphere of activities. As usual the
opposition is picking peccadilloes to tarnish the image of the
Government. If the intention is to make Sri Lanka a better place to live
in, that is a laudable attempt. However, their target is to bring down
the Government and come to power. In a democratic country such as Sri
Lanka this type of activity is quite understandable.
What is disturbing to peace-loving ordinary citizens is the wilful
damage to public and private property while conducting protests. The
latest trend appears to be to use undergraduates to march in their
thousands blocking roads and holding citizens to ransom. The recent
march of undergraduates who came from Sri Jayewardenepura University to
Kollupitiya on the pretext of meeting the President is a case in point.
As a result of the protest march, the traffic on High Level Road came to
a virtual standstill. People had no way of coming to the city and
attending to their various needs. People could have understood the need
for such a protest if there was a life and death situation. However,
they were protesting against a proposed piece of legislation to set up
Although there are quite a few degree-awarding private universities
in Sri Lanka, the university students are vehemently against private
universities awarding medical degrees. It is unfortunate that they have
overlooked the fact that there are private medical colleges in many
other countries. Those who can afford the high fees send their children
to these universities and most of them have come back to serve their
motherland. But nobody is protesting against foreign universities
awarding medical degrees to local students. When the Government tries to
open private medical colleges, undergraduates, some university dons and
doctors raise a howl of protests.
Right to protest
People have a right to protest against injustice, corruption and
misuse of power. Can anyone place private universities under any of
these categories? Certainly not. When there is no valid or justifiable
reason to protest against the Government, certain opposition political
parties use university students to achieve their ends. It is easy to
provoke immature undergraduates to protest against imaginary acts of
injustice or destroy private and public property. As a result of such
protests most of the universities remain closed indefinitely. The
protesters and their backers fail to see the injustice done to thousands
of undergraduates who have come to universities for higher education.
Mahatma Gandhi who
the art of non-violent protest
In the 1950s and 1960s local universities were centres of academic
excellence. University professors and lecturers were engaged in research
and published many books that enriched literature and other areas of
interest. However, universities no longer produce scholars or research
publications. Almost all the universities have become hotbeds of
politics. As a result, most of the undergraduates and a few lecturers
have become pawns of political parties. Politics has ruined the
university culture and discipline. Today undergraduates do not hesitate
to attack their own teachers and hold them hostage to win their demands.
Time is ripe to find a better way of achieving what we want. If the
undergraduates have genuine grievances, they can come to the negotiating
table without blocking roads and resorting to violence. It is easy to
deal with a democratically elected Government peacefully because the
rulers are our representatives. They will always lend their ears to the
genuine grievances of undergraduates and workers. By adopting an
intransigent attitude neither undergraduates nor other employees can win
The protesters and their political masters need to remember that all
of us have a personal space. If anybody invades that space, we are bound
to react sometimes in a violent way. Our culture and education have
taught us that we need such boundaries to delineate and define
ourselves. The personal space, unknown to many of us, extends to cover
our beliefs, faith in democracy and desire to lead a trouble-free life.
In most of the developed countries workers demanding higher salaries
do not resort to violence or sabotage. They come to their workplaces
wearing black bands as a mark of protest. They know that blocking public
roads and damaging private and public property does not produce any
results. If they wish to go a step further, the workers would picket
during the lunch interval.
Those who lead and take part in violent protests should take a cue
from Mahatma Gandhi who awakened a sense of dignity in the hearts of the
down-trodden people in India. In March 1930, Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy
informing him that he proposed to lead a movement to defy the Salt Laws
by non-violent means. On March 12 he set out from Sabarmati at the head
of a band of followers from his Ashram on his famous march to the sea.
The Sathyagrahis took one month to reach the coast at Dandi. On April 6,
Gandhi picked up a piece of salt and by a symbolic breach of the law
inaugurated the civil disobedience movement. It was a non-violent raid
on a government salt depot. Gandhi in later years won world renown for
his non-violent resistance.
Judging by what goes around us, we have to ask ourselves whether
human beings are rational or irrational. As Albert Ellis and Robert A.
Harper say, we are both. According to them, we are smart and brainy
people. But we still go for puerile, idiotic, prejudiced and selfish
behaviour. Those who turn violent in protest rallies and marches fail to
see how they are manipulated by self-seeking individuals here and
Somebody must take the lead in disciplining the rioters and
instilling in their minds a sense of proportion and a desire to find a
middle way between extreme emotions.