Weliweriya Water Protests : Answering more important Questions

Weliweriya Water Protest and Clash

– by Shenali D Waduge –

It has become a habit to politicize selective events but ignore the core issue. Before everyone is conveniently taken off track by politicized versions what needs to be reiterated is that the key issue was WATER, the people went on to the streets because of WATER and what resulted was because of WATER… or was it? Why are the finger pointers not demanding action from authorities about the WATER? Why has the water been shoved into the background? From the commentaries that abound the shift is focused towards portraying the impression that the Sri Lankan military purposely went armed to fire upon “unarmed” civilians drawing parallels with May 2009 war effort. If we are to accept this stretch of imagination would the army “intentionally” kill only 3? Using that very stretch of imagination would the OIC Weliweriya and 8 soldiers also have injured themselves when the protesters were very much unarmed and peaceful? Moreover, how could the Defense Secretary who is accused of giving orders to shoot at unarmed civilians have given such an order when he was convening a meeting at the Defense Ministry with all the stakeholders on 1 August 2013 from 3p.m to 6:30p.m – would these people not have been witness to such an order to shoot?

Let us look at some of the questions that need to be answered before drawing up biased conclusions.

Is the 18year old factory the real cause of the water pollution?

Top on this list is a simple question. How many readers are aware that the factory in question has been in operation at the same venue for 18 years? How many complaints accusing the factory has been lodged to the public authorities or the police – did they take action and if not what were the reasons and why did the factory itself not attempt to do its own investigation to prove its innocence or did it, if so where are these findings? After 18 years the protesters had taken to the streets to demonstrate against the factory for polluting the water and more importantly is it the factory whose waste is polluting the drinking water or some other reason? We shall soon find out: The universities of Moratuwa, Peradeniya and Kelaniya, the Water and Drainage Board, the Geology and Mines Bureau, Engineering Dept, Central Environmental Authority have all been tasked to find out what exactly is causing the water to be polluted and we will know for sure the cause, so let us not speculate beyond the doubt.

Why did media not report attempts to burn factory on 26th July 2013?

We now come to the question of the behavior of the protesting villagers. The defamatory statements that abound across electronic and print media over the entire issue have conveniently left out a very important news item. Why was it not reported that on 26th July 2013 the day prior to the initial road protests some people had attempted to burn the factory and the Weliweriya police had requested CDS to provide adequate security by the army applying provisions of the special gazette notification 1722/17 of 2011/09/06 which gives approval for the security forces to be used to maintain peace. Now this clearly explains why the army was present at the scene well before the protests started. It also conveys that the army had in no way prevented democratic demonstrations to take place as the people had gone on to the streets on 27th July and thereafter representatives of the villagers had attended a meeting organized by the Gampaha District secretary on 30th July though the villagers were not satisfied with the meeting which eventually led to the meeting of both parties at the Defense Ministry on 1st August 2013 with all parties amicably deciding that the factory would temporarily close until the reports on the water contamination was received and drinking water would be provided by bowsers.

Villagers of Rathupaswela had dispersed why didn’t the others?

The golden question is if the villagers of Rathupaswela after hearing of the arrangements made on 1st August 2013 decided to disburse and return to their homes why did the protesters of the other villagers not do the same? Rathupaswela village was the most affected by the water pollution while Weliweriya town was not. Who were spurring these villagers to turn violent and who were the groups drawing the crowds from behind and were these really villagers? The front end of all protesters having been spoken to had dispersed while it was the backend of the protesters who had begun to get directly confrontational with the police and army in an obvious attempt to provoke them. How is it that suddenly the numbers of protesters had begun to increase even after an arrangement had been reached?

What objective would any protesters aspire to achieve by taking their protests to other areas and attempting to close the Colombo-Kandy road and the Balummahara junction? How or who galvanized 5000 protesters after 18 years of silence?

What is also left out by media is the fact that 100 employees were sacked over a trade union dispute not long before the water controversy and it is alleged that they were also involved in spurring the villagers against the factory. Their role also needs to be investigated just as the possibility of army deserters also being used. Not a stone should be left unturned.

How “peaceful” and “unarmed” were the protesters?

By what definition do we call protesters “unarmed”? Former ambassadors and foreign funded local entities now pointing fingers may like to answer if fundamental democratic right to demonstrate extends to carrying any type of items that may harm others – can those carrying petrol bombs, sand bottles be called “unarmed” democratic demonstrators? If the army has to explain why they carried AK-47s, the protesters need to explain how they came into possession of glass bottles of petrol, bottles of sand. Petrol, sand and bottles do not drop from the sky even if stones can be picked up on the way? Who organized these bottles, sand and petrol and for what reason did they have them in their possession if the protest was peaceful and the protesters were “unarmed”? We can safely say that the protesters were not “peaceful” they were not “unarmed” and authorities need to investigate how they organized bottles, petrol. These supposedly “unarmed” peaceful protesters had destroyed property and even burnt a trishaw parked near a petrol shed. To organize bottles, petrol and sand there has to be planning – therefore authorities need to find out who these organizations were and who was giving the orders!

Why is the impression being given that the law enforcement authorities did not use water cannons, tear gas and even rubber bullets – all these avenues were very much utilized but for convenience it does not get reported!

What if protesters had taken protests to other villagers beyond Gampaha?

Can people speculate a little further and wonder if the police and army had not been present what could have happened if these “unarmed, peaceful protesters” had taken over the petrol shed, started going to other villagers and destroying property on the way and throwing the bottles and petrol they had in their possession because certain commentators claim that the army should not have come between “peaceful unarmed protesters” in a democracy?

Do peaceful unarmed protesters attempt to take guns of soldiers?

Why would these “unarmed” protesters attempt to forcefully take over the guns of the soldiers and what if they did in fact cease a few guns? What would have been the tragedy if guns had fallen into the hands of those “unarmed” protesters who did not know how to shoot but tried to shoot? Moreover, the army is alleging that they had seen gun shots being fired from within the crowd – this immediately raises questions of whether army deserters were also involved. Of course this will be investigated and we shall know in time to come but it does raise our eyebrows to ask what type of protesters actually ended up mingling with the real villagers attempting to hijack the situation and turn what was a legitimate grievance for water into a country crisis and towards a Sri Lankan Spring.

In most States in the US it is mandatory to wear bullet-proof vests while in most countries the military also wear bulletproof vests given the sensitivity of situations and the covert actions at play all over the world. Therefore, it is not warranted to be questioning the Sri Lankan army for wearing bulletproof vests or attempting to project a scenario that the army purposely went to Weliweriya to cause mayhem – such accusations show people in desperation. Whether terrorism has been eliminated the bodies and representatives that helped LTTE terror prevail are very much functioning in civies.

It is a pity that the very people NOW quoting from international covenants chose to keep mum when scores of mothers and children became targets of LTTE attack. How many of these same commentators signed a petition against the LTTE when 15 children were killed at the Slave Island railway station, scores of children killed when LTTE attacked villagers, the 25 Muslim children in Kattankudy mosque, 15 children killed in Kebethigollawa or the 33 Buddhist student monks killed in Aranthalawa – why did these same people now quoting from international covenants not take up the cudgels against the LTTE – were these also not children killed, unprovoked?

Do we not recall 2 other incidents in the past in Katunayake in 2011 and Negombo in 2012 where protesters had provoked police into taking action against them and left several dead and provided the necessary ammunition for the same lot of people to gear into action! A look back we can conclude that situations have been hijacked by vested groups that have turned the situation into a crisis – 1971, 1983, 1989 are best examples. Luckily, the mother of the 17year old youth was wise enough to ask the media not to make a spectacle of her son’s death and incite more violence.

The people pointing fingers appear to make the Sri Lankan public feel that it is only the Sri Lankan army that is targeting unarmed civilians, that it is only in Sri Lanka that democratic demonstrations cannot happen, that it is only in Sri Lanka that rule of law does not prevail. Take a good look at how the Arab Spring evolved which has now led to total anarchy in these country’s? Obviously from the signatories of those pointing fingers it is not difficult to conclude that Spring is what is being attempted therefore the public need to be all the more cautious not to fall for these strings.

In 2011, the England riots took place. The UK police had shot an unarmed black man which led to protests and resulted in looting and burning. It was referred to as the “English spring”. The US had its share of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests and the latest was following the murder of Trayvon Martin. Protests, riots are certainly looking to be the new international spring movement gathering momentum. The UK riots started out on 4th August and continued till 15th August. Sri Lanka was lucky. Over 100 homes and businesses were destroyed in the UK, Sri Lanka is yet to reveal the damage as the magistrates inquiry, CID inquiry and a separate army inquiry is yet to complete. The UK riots resulted in 3500 crimes and 6 deaths and over 10,000 injuries with over 200million pounds in property damages.

Yes, no life can be valued in terms of money and there is no better country than Sri Lanka to know this fact with scores of civilians having being pawns for 3 decades by previous Governments who had chosen to use terrorism for their own political benefit.

The attempts to tarnish the image of the army are obvious. People who never had anything nice to say about the armed forces when they sacrificed 27,000 of their lives to save over 195,000 Tamil civilians including amnesty for 12,000 former LTTE combatants which started from another water crisis in Mavil Aru will naturally aim to pin point the blame on the law enforcement of the country. There was never any intention to kill civilians. The public of Sri Lanka need to realize this and not fall prey to the insinuations being made. If anyone is at fault it is the local body authorities who had ignored the complaints made by the villagers.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that Weliweriya will end up another excuse to fast forward regime change irrespective of the truth. Let us await the investigation to conclude before coming to biased conclusions given that it is obviously clear the demonstrators were not unarmed and they were in possession of harmful items which had even resulted in a trishaw being set ablaze and they had even attempted to forcefully take possession of guns held by the soldiers. This is not how demonstrators demanding water in peaceful protest behaves – certainly not the ones who are genuine protesters!

The people should not fall for fabrications formulated by sources engaged in attempting to split the nation. What needs to be reiterated is that NO ONE died inside the Church, NO ONE was shot inside the Church, 3 youth died but the 3rd youth from Gampola did not die of gunshot injuries. The army went towards the Church to disperse the crowd that had been pelting stones from behind the church. It was the army who had evacuated the injured caused by people pelting stones from the Church in the army ambulance to the Gampaha hospital – even the youth who died from blunt objects hitting him was evacuated in the ambulance.  The most ridiculous allegation is that the Defense Secretary ordered the shooting when the Defense Secretary was with the stakeholders of the area discussing with them how best to arrive at an amicable solution. That meeting started at 3p.m. and ended at 6:30p.m. – the situation turned violent from 5p.m. onwards, would those at the meeting not have been witness to such an order to shoot if such had taken place as is being alleged? The lies spread by even learned people should stop.

What needs to be done as priority is to first solve the drinking water issue, next we need to ascertain who were the culprits involved in hijacking the protests for water and of course how the 3 youth met their deaths.

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