Public protests: What do  they really achieve? Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. This is a right closely linked to the right to free expression. This right applies to public protests and demonstrations. The people in our country enjoy this freedom in full measure and use it extensively since the last Presidential [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Public protests: What do  they really achieve?
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. This is a right closely linked to the right to free expression. This right applies to public protests and demonstrations.

The people in our country enjoy this freedom in full measure and use it extensively since the last Presidential election in January 2015. Hardly a day passes by without news of a number of public protests. This trend was not seen almost a decade prior to January 2015.

Public protests are a common feature and protesters have often attempted and sometimes succeeded to influence policy making. Public protests similarly play important roles in other established democracies, even in non-democratic regimes. It serves as a tool to disperse valuable information among citizens and is a distinctive form of communication typically involving a large number of people. The protesters believe that the “power of numbers” allows them to change the policy-makers mind, and affect public decisions.

It’s a healthy democratic way of expressing collective public opinion against impending or already taken political, executive and/or administrative decisions. Yet, it cannot be regarded as a healthy democratic step if taken against due process of justice, exercised by the court of law. Recently we witnessed public protest against the judicial decision of placing a politician in remand custody on charges of misuse of public property.

The right to peaceful assembly cannot be interfered with merely because there is disagreement with the view of the protesters or because it is likely to be inconvenient and cause a nuisance or there might be tension and heated exchange between opposing groups. There is a positive obligation on the state to take responsible steps to facilitate the right to freedom of assembly, and to protect participants in peaceful protests/demonstrations from disruption by others.

Nevertheless, this freedom guaranteed by our constitution will not prevent lawful restrictions being placed on the exercise of these rights by the people. They need to observe these limitations to avoid interference by the state.

When people are instigated and motivated by sheer personal reasons of a single individual having no relevance to public policy to protest, not only do public protests  become irrelevant, but they dissipate far too quickly because sooner than later there will be no people or political movement sustaining them.

Do today’s public protests represent anything more than venting of emotion and raw discontent? Can it achieve any change?

Recently the protest at Hambantota against signing of the so-called framework agreement for the development of the harbour and an industrial zone got considerable amount of media attention even as it was broadly denounced by government politicians as pre arranged to disrupt the event taking place there. The protesters viewed it as the exercise of their right. However, the protest was neither imaginative nor effective. It seemed more a performance of sheer exasperation.

In addition many protests hit the streets of Colombo city disrupting traffic and inconveniencing the public.

One cannot help wondering: What do such demonstrations and protests hope to achieve?

Raja Wickramasinghe
Via e-mail

Ban drone cameras in public places

The cameraman and a drone taking pictures were taken into custody after it knocked against the pinnacle of the historic Ruwanveliseya recently. This was due to the failure of the remote control unit.  Luckily the valuable and venerable pinnacle was not damaged.

I have seen drones hovering dangerously above people at wedding receptions in Colombo hotels.  These keep on moving over invitees’ heads bypassing huge and expensive chandeliers.  A slight malfunction of the remote control or the operator who has had a few ‘cheering cups’, could have disastrous results endangering lives of the people.

At public events also it poses a danger as there are electrical lines by the roadside of grounds where public meetings are held.  It can fall on people’s heads also. At political meetings there’s plenty of “Dutch Courage” going around with drinks aplenty, on the house.

My opinion is that drone cameras should be banned in wedding halls and places where public gather, for public safety and security reasons.

Sumith de Silva

A  strange coincidence or hoodoo?

Vivien Leigh

Musing on times past and films of yore, I was struck by a strange coincidence. Quite a few good films were shot in ‘Ceylon’ in the 1950s. Strangely, not one of the female ‘stars’ ever appeared in any film again. Poor Vivien Leigh had a nervous breakdown while filming ‘Elephant Walk’. Win Min Than, the Burmese beauty, who starred with Gregory Peck in a WW II film [Purple Plain] disappeared from the screen after that. So did that forgotten English actress who was William Holden’s love interest in ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’. Also the lovely French Kerima who acted with Trevor Howard in ‘Outcast of the Islands’ –“vanished into the woodwork” after that.

Whatever happened to these beauties ? Was this hoodoo the reason that no major film was ever shot in this country ?

Via email

Win Min Than, the Burmese beautywith Gregory Peck in a WW II film, Purple Plain



 Solar power: Senior citizens can contribute

Senior citizens are most grateful to the government for the 15% interest given to their Fixed Deposits upto Rs. 1 million. I am sure every such citizen will in return like to contribute to the nation building efforts undertaken by the government provided it does not affect their monthly income. Now that the government is offering payment for excess solar power-generated in households, all senior citizens will be happy to use their Fixed Deposit funds to instal solar panels in their households provided the income from excess solar energy is a guaranteed amount and preferably at least marginally more than the present 15%.

However, the following will have to be given consideration. Most senior citizens would have transferred their house ownership to their children preparing for the inevitable. Hence this offer will have to include houses owned by family members also. Moreover since senior citizens depend on this monthly income from deposits for their day-to-day living a system will have to be introduced to ensure guaranteed income. A good way to attract attention to this scheme would be by introducing a debit card which permits a fixed amount to be withdrawn monthly. LECO could regularly  reimburse the account depending on excess solar energy generated.The government could even undertake the installation of quality solar panels through the Building Materials  Corporation.Sri Lanka Army engineers  could help with the installation.

I am sure that  the above suggestion is worth exploring.I am a senior citizen and I would be  happy to know that I would be contributing to the nation building effort while maintaining my present income levels.This scheme can be offered to other  owners of fixed deposits too at a rate above the 12% interest rate available to Fixed Deposits.

I hope this letter catches the attention of  the President, the Prime Minister and  Minister of Finance.

Maj Gen Ananda Sooriyabandara U.S.P.(retd)
Via email

Questions for the President

Does Maithripala Sirisena see himself primarily as the President of Sri Lanka or as the President of the SLFP? That is a question that many who voted for him in January 2015 ask today. And it is a question that I suggest his advisors put to him: the answer he gives will determine the fate of the present government and perhaps the future of democracy in Sri Lanka.

For consider:  Mr. Sirisena was voted into power on the basis of two election pledges that he made. They were (1) A new Constitution that would eliminate the executive presidency, honour the rights of all citizens, and address the legitimate grievances that led to a bloody civil conflict that lasted over 30 years; (2) An end to the political culture of corruption, nepotism and intimidation that reached its zenith under the previous regime.

Mr. Sirisena is now under pressure from a group of SLFP ministers (all of whom were active supporters of the Rajapaksa regime) to renege on his promise of a new Constitution. Why he does not dismiss their demands in the same forcible way he championed the latter is a cause for some concern. If he vacillates on this, he will lose whatever goodwill he has hitherto earned internationally. More seriously, his credibility before the nation will be in shreds.

Regarding the second promise, the use of violence as a political tool has certainly receded in the two years of his office. But corruption is as rampant as ever in the higher echelons of the coalition government. The Code of Ethics for parliamentarians lacks any teeth. While Mr. Sirisena, from time to time, laments in the media over dishonesty and corruption, we as citizens are entitled to ask: If you as President cannot use your powers to expose and reduce such corruption in your own government, what can we ordinary citizens do? A President powerless to tackle corruption in high places should tender his resignation.

Soon after assuming office Mr. Sirisena also promised independent and impartial judicial investigations, including into alleged war crimes. The latter was promised, not only to the Sri Lankan citizenry, but also to the international community. Two years later, his government is still dragging its feet on the issue. Moreover, by protesting publicly against the Bribery Commission and accepting the subsequent resignation of its Director-General, he seems to have undermined many honest and hardworking people who voted for him because they cared about justice, transparency and truth.

If yahapalanaya continues to be an empty slogan, the cynicism that is already eroding Sri Lankan society will be impossible to eradicate.

Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra
Colombo 3

Don’t make us, law-abiding motorists seem foolish during peak hour traffic on Parliament Road

I am writing as a concerned motorist who travels on Parliament Road during peak times on a daily basis and would like to impress upon the traffic police to take immediate remedial measures to better execute their practice of assigning an extra carriageway on the wrong side of Parliament Road to accommodate rush hour traffic.

This is a practice they often adopt even on other routes but it must be carefully managed to avoid head-on collisions.

As a motorist I strongly recommend that the traffic police consider the following when implementing this traffic arrangement.

1.   Ensure that this traffic arrangement is permitted only when there are police personnel deployed to manage the arrangement.  The police should note that long before they arrive to manage this arrangement on Parliament Road, vehicles take it upon themselves to create this extra carriageway on the wrong side of the road from about 6 a.m.  on week days, often narrowly escaping head on collisions at bends.

2.   Vehicles should not be permitted under any circumstances to overtake on the extra carriageway as this would result in on-coming traffic not having any lane to drive on.

3.   Ensure that cones are deployed not sporadically but continuously in a methodical manner to clearly demarcate the extra carriageway.

4.   Deploy police to manage pedestrian crossings that are in the path of such extra carriageways.

I also wish to implore the police to not turn a blind eye to traffic offences during peak time traffic as it makes the rest of us law-abiding motorists seem foolish – we feel foolish for sitting in our lane in traffic while the police ignore scores of cars overtaking on the wrong side of the road, over islands etc and cutting in front of the stream of traffic just to get ahead.

If the reason that offences are ignored during rush hour traffic is because it takes too long to write a ticket, then perhaps it’s better to simplify the process of issuing tickets – maybe have a colour coordinated mechanism for each type of offence where you just rip it off a book of tickets like a coupon booklet and hand it to the errant motorist.  This would create little opportunity for debate and negotiation on the part of the errant motorist also.

Via email

The ‘uncle’ syndrome must be stopped

Hats off to the writer of the letter which appeared in the Sunday Times of January 15,  regarding the loose usage of the word ‘uncle’ when addressing someone.

Although many people may be sensitive to being addressed as ‘uncle’ no one had been bold enough to expose this strange habit that prevails here.

It is nonsensical and impolite in many instances, especially when the person is not related in any way. Even among relations the addressee can get hurt when someone addresses him as ‘uncle’ three to four times in one sentence.

Some other strange reasons why some use this term includes:

* To reveal that they are of equal status or that the addresser can converse in English or that there is a difference in age between the addresser and addressee.

* To use it as a word to continue the conversation.

Although some may think that the word ‘uncle’ indicates respect to the addressee that person may take it as an insult.

The other day I was having a friendly chat with a tenant who addresses me as ‘uncle’. A tree climber known to the tenant who joined in the conversation also started addressing the tenant as ‘uncle’. My tenant seemed to be unaware that he gave the same status to me (although not related) as well as the tree climber. Such instances are common in our society. This haphazard use of the word ‘uncle’, must be stopped to make the language used in Sinhala conversations more respectable and polite.

Other common terms used among Sri Lankans are ‘Nangiye’, ‘Akke’, ‘Ayiye’ or ‘Malliye.’ The addressee in some instances can get embarrassed or even feel insulted especially if there is no family relationship. But strange, girls at supermarkets accept such language.

People can either address a person by the first name, if known  or  Mr, or surname with a prefix Mr, Sir, Oba thuma, or the other titles such as Professor, Doctor, Lecturer, guruthuma,etc., etc. When one is close to someone  like a friend it is quite acceptable to even use nick names or the term ‘machang’ .

John Damascene Abeysekera

“Uncle”, like “aiya” , “malli” is a word that helps build harmony

I fail to understand J. Appaswamy taking offence at such a trivial matter as a stranger addressing an elderly person as ‘Uncle” ( the Sunday Times of January 15).

In the late 1980s I sent in applications to schools in the vicinity in the hope of having my five-year-old son admitted to one of them. The closest Tamil school rejected my application. The closest semi-government Catholic school refused to even give me an application form. The closest Sinhala- government school admitted my son and his younger brothers gained admission in the following years.

They associated with boys in other classes as well calling them ‘aiya’ (big brother) and ‘malli’ (little brother). This created a feeling of brotherhood and harmony which is the crying need of the hour.

N. Saheed
Colombo 4

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