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Sri Lanka: Price Hike and Police Brutality in Enforcing Public Order

Categories: South Asia, Sri Lanka, Citizen Media, Economics & Business, Law, Politics, Protest

Sri Lanka is currently facing a turbulent economy with price hike and imposition of surcharges, which are provoking widespread protests. The police and the military are taking brutal measures on protesters and a number of people have been killed in the past few months.

Ratmale [1] at Serendipity explains:

We are in for a difficult time in managing our personal finances as the spate of price increases does not have a limit or a time frame, as long as the threat of further devaluation of the Rupee remains. The pundits are now saying this was inevitable as the Government was living on borrowed time, but why were they so silent all this time? It was because the Government carried out a very successful campaign of misinformation, about the state of the Country’s finances.

A man shouts during a protest over rising costs in living. Image by Rohan Karunarathne. Copyright Demotix (14/12/2011) [2]

A man shouts during a protest over rising costs in living. Image by Rohan Karunarathne. Copyright Demotix (14/12/2011)

Sayanthan [3], a student of IT and Business Strategy, shares his experience:

Last few days oil crisis has been biting all of us really hard. Monday when I stepped out to go to work I couldn't find a bus so had to find a three wheeler to get to office. Then the next day, when I gave 20 Rs for my journey from Bambalapitiya to Galle face the conductor said that's the revised price. I had no clue about the price revision so I assumed that it was right, then I found out that I had been cheated a few rupees.

In the fishing town of Chilaw thousands of fishermen joined in a protest march [4] demanding a reduction in fuel prices. They clashed with police, who later opened fire at them. One person was dead and many were wounded.

Nigel V. Nugawela [5] writes in Groundviews:

The government is, after all, quite fond of the “you’re either with us or against us” line of thinking, which has – over the last few years – translated into action on the streets and the old practice of vituperative verbal attacks against civil society activists.

So, is public security really a concern for this government? If public security is a concern, why are protesters killed on the streets by the military and police? Or is it about repression in order to impede the upstart of larger dissenting movements? If public order is a goal, is it not inevitable that the insidious killing of protesters by the police and military will increase the likelihood of violent confrontations in the future?

Nigel writes further:

It is precisely because of the precedent set with the failure to ensure proper conduct in the response of the security forces and police to civilian protests – in Navanthurai, Pottuvil, Kinniya, Puttalam, Katunayake and elsewhere – and to institute proper reforms following violations that we have to contend with brutal incidents such as the one in Chilaw. The government seems to have no qualms about the continued use of the military in enforcing public order despite the fact that its interventions have been an unmitigated disaster [6].