BY Sumudu Chamara
The ongoing protests demanding a plethora of actions by the Government including the resignations of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa continue, and they are being joined by people from all walks of life and ages, every day.
As protests began on the streets, protests on online platforms also intensified, and social media platforms were flooded with various forms of expressions of opposition against the Government. One specialty about these online protests is that unlike physical protests, these protests have no boundary as far as the language that can be used and the number of members of the public that can be reached are concerned. Among them, vulgarisms, offensive posts, and humour are abundant.
This diversity has resulted in a certain confidence among the public that the protests will create a significant impact, and to create this impact, they use various creative approaches in their protests which encourage more and more to join their struggle.
The common demand put forward by the majority of protesters is the President’s resignation, and the slogans used to express that idea sometimes depend on the context.
“Dear President, we voted for you to ensure our safety, and now, we are in a situation where we have to protect ourselves from you,” one Facebook comment read.
Such comments were also widespread when an islandwide curfew was imposed ahead of the protests that had been organised for Sunday (3), which was followed by a ban on several social media platforms and mobile communication applications.
Some of the comments that were circulated in that regard include “The fighter has become a coward. Scared people are here to become fighters” and “The President, who boasted about ending the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is trying to protect himself from unarmed civilian led protests”.
Other slogans seen during protests in Colombo read “Dear President, your vacation in Sri Lanka is over. Now go back home and do your old job”; “We saw what you can and cannot do. Now show us how to leave a country with dignity”; and “Give us the protection you promised by leaving the country”.
Some of these slogans, which allegedly referred to former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, read “Mr. Seven Brains, use one brain right now and go home immediately”; “Mr. Seven Brains, do none of your brains know shame?”; “Finance Minister, sell us the rest of our country, not to the Chinese”; “Mr. 10%, save your stolen money, we will buy you a ticket back to the US”; and “Mr. Kaputas, time to fly back home”.
The anger of younger generations was also expressed during the protests, and children and youth took part in these online and offline protests.
Two interesting slogans seen in many places which referred to the youth or young protesters were “Mr. President, you messed/f***ed with the wrong generation” and “People of my age have not heard of your adventures, so we are not afraid”. The former was displayed both in local and overseas protests against the Government.
In addition, a placard displayed by a child protester seen near the Independence Square read: “President, go home before the people of my generation are taught you are a coward.”
However, children participating in protests with parents or guardians have attracted the criticism of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA). A media report in this regard quoted NCPA Chairman Udayakumara Amarasinghe, stating that the NPCA had paid special attention to the matter, and cautioned that children are at risk of mental or physical harm due to participating in protests or such events.
Inflation and the shortage of essential goods were other matters that the people found creative ways to protest against.
One placard seen during a protest in the Town Hall area read “Change the Government to get the Rs. 300 kottu back”, while another placard seen elsewhere said “Instead of queues that waste our time for a meagre amount of food, we chose to waste time on protests to end all queues”.
Several other online and offline slogans seen recently include “President and Prime Minister, do not wait for us to stop protests. You taught us to stand in the sun for hours, and with that experience, we can protest indefinitely”; “Address the shortage of fuel before all fuel queues become protests”; “Mr. President, our love story ended the day you let us go to bed hungry, in the dark and with no hope. I am divorcing you for neglect and I demand alimony”; “I cannot feed my family. Dearest President, please take my wife and children”; and “We do not have electricity to stay at home, and we do not have fuel to go to work. Mr. President, we will be on the streets until you make sure that we can go home and to work”.
Sexually explicit content
Protesters’ creativity exceeded the limits of what is considered openly socially acceptable too, and slogans that consist of vulgar and insulting texts were quite common during protests. Some of these slogans directly referred to sexual activities to express displeasure of the manner in which the present administration treats people.
Showing condoms and photos of parents of certain heads of the Government during protests were also common during protests both in Sri Lanka and overseas, and the banners implied that had birth control methods been used, the politicians in question would not have been born.
Pets as protesters
Another interesting way of protesting seen during the past few days was using animals for protests, which, most of the time, involved hanging a small poster or placard on their necks. Those slogans read “If the President does not leave, I am going to find you, and I am going to bite you”; “My owner has no money to give me fish, milk, or cat food. Protect cats’ rights by sending the Government home”; “The 225 in Parliament, beware of us dogs. We can swim the Diyawanna Lake”; “Every cat has nine lives. Cats can make sure protests go on forever”; “A Government that makes cats’ lives miserable is a Government that deserves to be overthrown”; “I hope that the members of the Government get a taste of what dogs can do to thieves”; “Members of the Government, do not go out during power cuts. Us dogs will be guarding”; and “Government’s guard dogs do not scare us dogs”.
Protesting at home, office, online
In addition to online protests, when the islandwide curfew was imposed, people also adopted other approaches to show their opposition.
While some resorted to simple means, such as hoisting a black flag in front of their houses during the curfew, some videos which circulated on social media platforms showed people sharing food with neighbours in black cups and plates. Hoisting black flags on vehicles was also prevalent for some time.
Wearing black clothes to work is another trend that became famous during the past few days, and it too was intended to show opposition against the Government. However, certain persons had posted on social media networks that the heads of certain public offices had advised against employees wearing black clothes during the peak of protests.
At the same time, several private firms had encouraged their employees to wear t-shirts with various slogans and to protest in front of offices during work hours.
What is more, playing the theme song of the President’s presidential campaign Weda Karana Ape Viruwa (Our Hero Who Works) in public places, especially near queues, remains a trend that started in the initial era of the prevailing economic crisis, and one which continues to happen. It is considered one of the most famous ways of expressing opposition to the President, and a number of remixes with alternative lyrics criticising the President and the Government are available online.
In addition, a drawing or poster competition or event against the Government over the prevailing economic crisis was also planned last week, which was promoted through social media platforms. However, later, it was announced that it was postponed indefinitely.
The people’s anger and demands are taking new forms, and some of them are indeed eye-catching and give a clearer message than shouting at protests. At the same time, some of these creative ways of resistance and protests, such as taking pets to protests, were given publicity by foreign media outlets as well.
However, being creative should be done within the people’s objectives. Resorting to using unfounded information as slogans against politicians, targeting politicians’ family members or friends, destroying politicians’ houses, and blocking public roads to show anger, are not acceptable or effective ways of protesting, and they will only undermine the true gravity of the protesters’ genuine demands.