On Sunday, the 6th of March, about a hundred people sat down at the hall in the middle of Independence Square. Despite it going ham on social media (there were definitely a couple of thousand more Facebook commentators than actual protestors), the aftermath seems to be fairly muddled and open for debate.
Here’s what happened. A bunch of people sat down by 4. The guards skulked in a corner. Newspapermen hung about, shooting the breeze.
At about 4.20, Dr Harsha De Silva, politician, showed up. After bouncing from person to person to find out what exactly was happening, he called over the security guards. The newspapermen leaped to their feet. Camera were produced from every nook and cranny.
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After the now-famous verbal tango (see above), the guards went away, Harsha went away, a few people sang a song – and all of us collectively checked out Facebooks later in the evening to find a post from Harsha stating that the PM has ordered the Ministry of Culture to send the relevant security company packing.
Now to address the points being raised in the aftermath.
a) The two guards were not fired. Their Director of Operations (LRDC Security, Rajapgiriya) was suspended instead.
Opinion seems to be divided into two camps on the matter. Some people claim that it’s unfair to said Director, whoever he is. Others seem to be okay with this, pointing out that at the end of the day, the guards are relatively uneducated products of a particular upbringing, and that whoever gave them the orders must take the blame.
Honestly, the ball was being passed around here. The guards claimed that their supervisors (in effect, the Cultural Ministry) had told them to keep the place couple-free. The Cultural Ministry claims no such order was given, and that the guards overstepped their bounds.
While I don’t doubt that the Cultural Ministry would have had a hand in it, I think both parties are to blame. I’ve seen people being chased out (and been chased out occasionally). Those guards are assholes. More to the point – they are consistently vigilant assholes. They chase people out for using laptops. They chase people out for so much as sitting next to someone of the opposite sex – no hanky panky involved. At the end of the day, for a man to consistently get up from the shade and run around chasing people, he has to make a choice: day in and day out, he has to choose to be an asshole. Regardless of whatever upbringing you have, it is a choice.
Those guards made their choice. Do I feel bad? No. No doubt LRDC* is giving them appropriate hell for it without firing them. Word is they’ve launched an inquiry. Good.
b) Harsha De Silva was not abusing his power publicly.
At the end of the day, every politican carves for himself a niche and a support base. Harsha’s seems to be the Colombo middle class and youth on digital platforms. I can’t account for what went on behind the scenes, but as far as what we saw, he didn’t snap his fingers and fire the guards, he didn’t pull a gun out on them, he didn’t threaten to whip them with toxic stingray tails.
Sure, he kinda stole the show and turned the protest into a Harshafest. But it was a win-win: the politician got a cause to trumpet, and the protest got 10x more media coverage than it would have otherwise. To quote Harsha on Facebook: “Close to a third of a million people had viewed my four posts with thousands of comments.” I’d like to think that the politician turned out more useful for the cause than vice versa.
c) Granted, this is not the most important issue that this country faces
But it is an issue that people were willing to stand up for. This country faces tons of issues. People stand up for what they can. Some protest education. Some protest medicine. We all do what we can and what we can do with mininimum deviation to our usual lifestyles.
I believe that this is important. Call me stupid, but I think it’s retarded that the culture that gave us the Isurumuniya lovers and Kashyapa’s Sigiri Apsara should ban a man and a woman from holding hands in public. We’re not Saudi Arabia. Nor should we try to be. So in that spirit, score one for freedom – and a shout out to all the people who showed up.
Including those damn guards.
Note: LRDC Services (Private) Limited seems to be a Gotabhaya institution. Land Reclamation and Development Corp was been running security for the Health Ministry at Rs 3.5 billion p.a in 2013, despite allegations of being favored in the bidding process. The Bhiksu University of Sri Lanka in Anuradhapura claims that security is being handled by LRDC, ‘which under Ministry of Defense, Sri Lanka’. Avant-Garde much?
Also, a shout out to Harshini De Silva and Randhula De Silva, who had the guts and the capability to get the ball rolling on this.