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Protecting protests from protestors 

Protests have gradually become a common sight in every nook and corner of the country, with unprecedented support from the general public seeking a “system change”. Despite ups and downs, the people’s enthusiasm, as yet undiminished, has kept the protests fuelled as they keep pushing for the Government to accede to their demands.

Even though these protests were labeled as people-led or leaderless protests, certain recent events beg the question as to whether the protestors are acting in a manner that prioritises citizens’ well-being.

During the past few weeks, a large number of impromptu protests were staged by the general public, mostly on public streets, many of which were initiated by people who, unable to obtain liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and fuel, sought to express their opposition against the Government and their frustration of being unable to obtain the said essentials even at a higher price. Even though these protestors’ action to block roads was condemned by many, there were also people who condoned these protests while asking others to bear with them, because they were an expression of the people’s anger. 

People wanting to express their anger is justified, and can even be considered a necessity at this juncture. However, expecting the Government to take these protests seriously through inconveniencing the general public, who just want to go about their day, does not add up. The simple fact that it is the politicians that should be inconvenienced for them to seriously consider and act on the protestors’ demands seems to have been overlooked by these very protestors. The irrationality of protests that oppress the general public, or perhaps the intensity of the people’s uncontrolled anger, was displayed several times recently when these protestors harassed regular citizens who simply wanted to move past the protesters. While some people were verbally harassed, labelled as traitors of the “aragalaya” (the struggle) merely because they questioned the purpose of blocking roads that politicians do not even travel on, some people’s vehicles were even damaged for the same reason.

These are acts of oppression, and are not, and should not be, a part of the exemplary, peaceful protests taking place throughout the country. In fact, blocking roads and inconveniencing the general public, who are as oppressed and frustrated as the protestors, is an act against the people, not against the politicians. 

This is not a matter that concerns only those who block roads demanding LPG and fuel. Several protest marches organised by prominent activists, students, and political groups have also paid zero attention to the general public’s need and right to go about their day, and have taken up entire roads to show their opposition against the Government – while putting the jobs and education of their fellow citizens in jeopardy. Not so long ago, the media reported several incidents of motorists who honked at protestors to get some space on the road to travel to their destinations being surrounded and shamed, which highlights a tragically selfish streak to this ongoing people-led movement.

The worst part is, it is the Government, the very antagonist the protestors are fighting, that benefits from this insensitive conduct, and it is the people, for whom the protests were launched, that are affected. These acts can easily be construed as a violation of public order, which gives the authorities an excuse – for which they are waiting – to take stern action against the protestors. 

Even though the protestors’ main demand – the President’s resignation – is yet to be won, there are enough and more reasons to suggest that the protests have exerted considerable pressure on the Government. In this context, protestors have a responsibility to understand that not everyone has the opportunity to take part in the protests even if they wanted to, and should be prudent enough to refrain from oppressing the oppressed, instead of the oppressor.