Anguish and desperation: Inside the Sri Lankan protests over…
Protests were held across the country this week for the president’s resignation, with thousands joining in immaterial of their status and standing.
A small business owner Aru de Silva in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo has been struggling to keep her bakery running due to soaring inflation, lengthy power cuts, and a gas shortage in the face of a deepening economic crisis.
Aru dedicated over a decade to build a speciality bakery, The Sugar Shack, which had no shortage of customers who enjoyed an array of cakes, cookies, coffee and speciality drinks.
Her business took a “ catastrophic” hit when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposed a curfew and a social media ban, her only means of communication with the customers.
Troops armed with assault rifles confronted crowds protesting last week as public anger over the worsening economic crisis morphed into larger protests, with demonstrators throwing bricks and setting fires outside the residence of President Rajapaksa.
In response, the government declared a state of emergency on Friday and banned social media and instant messaging platforms. Protests still went ahead on Sunday and continued on Monday, in defiance.
Protest happening outside the residence of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo #SriLankanCrisis #SriLanka #Traffic pic.twitter.com/o99TIjK1X7
— Sri Lanka Tweet 🇱🇰 💉 (@SriLankaTweet) April 5, 2022
“When you ban social media overnight coupled with a last-minute curfew (for no real reason), it has a catastrophic impact on our struggling businesses,” Aru told TRT World.
“The economic crisis created by our current government & (almost) all politicians of the recent past, with their bad policies & corruption in this country, has resulted in a situation in which it is now almost impossible for me to run my small business that I have dedicated over a decade to build.”
According to Aru, the ever-increasing prices make it difficult for her to price products. Even if she is willing to pay higher prices, she said some of the ingredients she needs aren’t available in the market due to import restrictions imposed due to a forex crisis.
“Small & Medium Enterprises (SME) like mine are the country’s lifeline for millions. The government prioritized building massive highways over providing essentials for the people & SMEs like mine to operate, through import restrictions,” she said.
Protests were held across the country this week, with thousands joining in immaterial of their status and standing.
From company chairmen to CEOs, to taxi drivers and mothers, everyone chanted ‘Go Home Gota’ – ‘Enough is Enough’ – ‘Go Home Rajapaksas’ – ‘Don’t Ruin Our Future’ – “Give Our Country Back’.
Sharine Gunasekera joined the protests in Colombo on Monday as she struggled for two years to give her children a better life.
“I want my voice to be heard, for the sake of my children. We even contemplated leaving the country for better prospects, but even the thought is heartbreaking because that would mean we have to leave behind our elderly parents,” she told TRT World.
Sri Lanka: According to lawyers, over 50 protesters arrested after protests on 31 March risk being charged under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. The Sri Lankan authorities must refrain from using the PTA against protestors demanding solutions to the dire economic
— Amnesty International South Asia (@amnestysasia) April 1, 2022
Apart from the high cost of living and shortage of essential items, the power cuts, which on some days lasted for as long as 10 to 13 hours, have been especially hard for Sharine, who has two small kids.
“I felt alive after a long time today at the protest! Everyone from different walks of life was there in unison, wanting the exact same thing. The people’s voices in numbers are very powerful,” she said.
An elderly streetside vendor Kirrupiah Nadaraj also took part in the protests. He barely makes $3 a day.
“I earn about 1500 to 2000 Sri Lankan rupees ($5-$6) on a good day. But since the prices of essentials have gone up, most people think twice to even buy green leaves from us, which used to be a daily staple meal on most lunch tables,” he told TRT World.
According to Nadaraj, since the curfew was imposed within a two and a half-hour notice, most of his green leaf bunches were not sold, and he incurred a massive loss on Saturday.
“Nowadays, I mostly earn only around 800 to 1000 rupees ($2-$4) a day, because people think twice about buying as they are all facing economic hardships.”
Unable to sit home and watch the lower classes continue to buckle under the burden of the crippling economic crisis, Ashwin Sandanakrishnan, an Aircraft Design Engineer, joined the protests on Monday.
“As a citizen, I feel quite betrayed and hopeless thanks to this government and this ruling dynasty centered around greed. They must be brought down,” he told TRT World.
On Tuesday, President Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition lost its majority in parliament after at least 41 politicians walked out of the alliance.
READ MORE: Sri Lanka ruling coalition loses majority as pressure mounts on Rajapaksa
The move has left Rajapaksa with a minority government with MPs from parties aligned with his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led coalition parting ways and saying they will represent themselves independently.
Rajapaksa’s cabinet has already resigned, but both the president and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, have refused to step down.
Sandanakrishnan hopes to one day see the current ruling elites replaced by compassionate, intelligent leaders who will think of the people from every class and creed when choosing what’s best for this country.
“I want to see transparency and accountability in governance and honesty in politics,” he told TRT World.
Source: TRT World