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Go Home has become the name of the anti-government protests in Sri Lanka. The government has taken several steps to mollify protesters but they haven’t quite worked so far. As K S Radhakrishnan wrote in inmathi.com earlier, the government lost majority in Parliament today. Dharmalingam Ganesh, a human rights activist of Sri Lanka, talks to inmathi.com about the situation there.
Question: What is the situation now in Sri Lanka?
Ganesh: Big protests are happening. It started through social media. When the government tried to clamp down on that, people came on the streets. People are telling their rulers to Go Home. It’s become a slogan on the street. Nearly all cities are seeing protests. Go Home has become the slogan for protesters.
Question: Are opposition parties at the forefront of protests?
Ganesh: We can’t say that. The Sinhala people themselves are protesting. It’s an organic protest and is mainly happening through information shared on social media. There is still tremendous scarcity of essential goods in cities. People waiting in queues for kerosene, petrol, diesel, LPG are protesting here and there. Groups of people are coming together to organize these protests and Go Home is a sign many hold.
Question: How and why is this happening?
Ganesh: At first people were protesting against power cuts and non-availability of fuel. It’s now usual not to have power for more than three hours. This has had a big impact on domestic production. What started as a protests against power cuts, grew into a protest against lack of fuel. The suffering is directly leading to the unrest. Basic living is at stake.
Question: What is the situation in villages?
Ganesh: Though the situation is bad in villages, direct impact is yet to be seen. So protests have not spread to villages. People are using firewood for their daily needs to cook food. But power cuts are even more there, so production has been hit in rural areas too.
Schools and colleges have become centers of protest. Because of shortage of petrol and diesel, fishing has come to a halt. Since petrol and diesel is coming from India, it is possible to get them but only after standing in long queues. But people are not allowed to fill them in cans. So fishing is affected.
Question: What steps are being taken to control price rise?
Ganesh: The prices of essential items have shot up tremendously. It’s impossible to predict prices since it varies from place to place. The black market is dictating terms. The price of rice, lentils, sugar and milk powder have gone up several times.
People have money but they are unable these goods. People have to stand in queues for a long time. Even then there is no assurance they will get them.
During the civil war, Tamils experienced much worse shortages. So the current shortages are not that acute for Tamils, relatively speaking.
Question: People are gathering around Parliament and President’s house to demonstrate.
Ganesh: The people who elected this government are protesting against them. The demonstrations are against curfew orders. Prohibitory orders have been promulgated by people. Many have been arrested. More than 500 lawyers are appearing in courts to secure the release of those arrested. The government is in trouble.
Question: What is the situation in the north and east where Tamils are living.
Ganesh: Big protests are not happening in areas where Tamils and Muslims are living. Only token protests are happening. During the civil war, Tamils experienced much worse shortages. So the current shortages are not that acute for Tamils, relatively speaking.
The government has openly said it is pro-Sinhalese. Elected by majority Sinhalese, the government is facing opposition from the same people. The people are out on the streets to bring down this government. They are telling them to Go Home. Tamils are mere spectators in this.
Question: Is there a possibility for a change?
Ganesh: The Sri Lankan economy was dependent on fishing, tourism and tea exports. There were signs that the economy was rebounding. Tourist arrivals were increasing. In February, more than a lakh tourists came to Sri Lanka. The government could have leveraged these positive signs to bring the economy back on track. But the focus was on borrowing money from abroad to pay for interest occurring for loans borrowed in the past. It is not clear how the situation will improve.
Question: Is there any other solution for this crisis?
Ganesh: The Sinhalese people are suffering due to lack of rice and lentils. These are staple foods. If they are not available, they will keep protesting. The perception is that the government is not trying to solve the problem. The government has gone to IMF for loans to solve the crisis. But people are not convinced that will help. It remains to be seen how people will protest to arrive at a solution.
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