Photo courtesy of Roel Raymond
A few days ago, a Buddhist monk and two Christian priests were beaten up opposite the official residence of the prime minister of the country. They were among more than 30 peaceful protestors attacked by governing party goons.
These same Christain priests had just days before washed and kissed the feet of a representative group of protestors at GotaGoGama. The repetition of this act initiated by Jesus demonstrates solidarity in an ardous journey and conveys that just causes are served best when leaders understand their role as servants.
The second mile
Strong traditions in all our religions call religious representatives to advocate against corrupt, unjust and violent regimes and stand alongside people in their aspirations for truth and justice.
But the assaulted three went further. Beginning with the wider protest at GotaGoGama, they had opted to move on to be with the more vulnerable group at the MainaGoGama. They thought their presence would mitigate the violent intentions of some. They were wrong.
When a frenzied mob of several hundreds descended on the group, robes, whether saffron or white, made little difference. The three religious representatives along with other protestors were thrashed with poles and their tents set on fire. From MainaGoGama the mob moved on unchecked and unabated to continue the mayhem at GotaGoGama.
This day time brazeness had a stamp of authority. Minutes before the mob rushed in, some men were seen peering over the wall of the prime minister’s residence as if in anticipation of what was to happen.
Sadly, the violent attacks on the MainaGoGama and GotaGoGama spiralled into more violence as angry mobs took to the streets elsewhere. Deaths and injury to people and the burning and destruction of vehicles, houses and property are to be condemned as much as the initial attacks on peaceful protestors. Suddenly it seemed that the integrity and momentum of an unbelievably peaceful protest could be lost.
Active non-violent protest for change
But from within the smoke and ashes, the values and behaviour of peaceful protestors are rising to make a difference. Refusing to give in to intimidation or malice or hatred, these representatives of active, non-violent protest point to a higher way forward. The integrity and momentum of peaceful protests can and must be sustained without recourse to arbitrary violence. The current wave of violence must therefore stop, not only for the sake of national stability but it must stop if peaceful regime transition is to occur.
Public anger and frustration
This is why accumulated anger over the years and contemporary frustration over corruption and the lack of essentials, however understandable, must be dealt with non-violently. Wise and integrated persons must make it their business to anticipate social violence and dissuade impetuous elements in their communities and neighbourhoods. The most recent initiative of some clergy and sisters diffusing a tense situation in Negombo confirms that this can be done.
The three religious representatives spent a couple of days after the incident in hospital beds alongside each other. Here, these wounded healers had time to reflect on their experiences and the needs of a very seriously wounded nation.
Rising from their beds they will return to the protest space to reassure the nation of two realities.
Friendships across religion and ethnicity more than anything else will transform us into a just, safe and reconciled nation.
And when people rise above both intimidation and violence, peaceful, democratic protest will make the difference they long for.
With peace and blessings to all.