Authorities remove Ecocide Mural at Vihara Mahadevi Park, Colombo
A section of Sri Lanka’s nature-loving fraternity gathered at the Vihara Mahadevi Park last Friday to express their concerns concerning the ongoing ecocide happening in many parts of the country. However, the organisers and participants were disheartened to see the removal of a mural done by a group of young environmental activists despite obtaining the necessary approvals. State authorities including the Colombo Municipal Council claimed that the mural wasn’t erected safely and that they received complaints from the public.
The ecocide mural that was later taken down
Mural being removed by authorities
Removal of the mural
The 70x20 foot mural depicted the ongoing ecocide in the country and how the future would look like if it continued. It was erected on the evening of March 18 and it was subsequently brought down, reportedly on instructions by the Presidential Secretariat the following day. However, it was back in place after some time and around 3 p.m. on March 19 the mural was removed once again. Upon its removal, much to the dismay of the young activists, several of them sat down on their masterpiece and kept authorities from taking it away.
Voice of participants
During a peaceful protest and awareness campaign that followed, several participants shared their thoughts with the Daily Mirror :
An infantile move
Absolutely infantile. When the youth of this country are protesting for their future, the government must be happy. The very fact that they have taken these murals actually shows their guilt beyond doubt. Until then I thought the government didn’t know what was happening. But this shows that the government and the perpetrators want to cover up what is going on.
Former Minister, Mangala Samaraweera
Govt. galvanising more youth to take the lead
Ecocide is a concept that is new to this country and this is the first public event where this word came out. What happened is very unfortunate because this is a global day and what these youth groups wanted to do is impart a message to the public rather than protesting against a specific government of this country.
This knee-jerk action from the government is a dangerous precedent in one thing and another aspect is that they shouldn’t get so frightened of a group of young activists who are claiming their just right for a better future.
Everyone has a right to live in a healthy environment and everyone has a duty and obligation under the Constitution to protect and enhance the environment. So they were trying to do their duty and role as members of society. So when youth activists come forward we always have a sense of refreshing thoughts that all that we have been doing will be taken forward much more strongly and in a comprehensive manner by the next generation. What the government did is unwarranted because this was not going to be a violent protest nor was it anti-government. Young people coming forward to ascertain their rights is a refreshing thought to me. But when they try to come forward the government is trying to stifle their voice with intimidation and discouraging activities like putting down the mural. The mural was not threatening the traffic, it was not threatening human life and it was done in a legal manner by getting permission from relevant authorities. So there was no reason to pull it down in such a bad manner. What they have done is have created more awareness rather than the mural standing and by their stupid activities, they are galvanising more and more youth to come forward and ascertain their rights.
Environmental lawyer, Jagath Gunawardena
"The 70x20 foot mural depicted the ongoing ecocide in the country and how the future would look like if it continued. It was erected on the evening of March 18 and it was subsequently brought down, reportedly on instructions by the Presidential Secretariat the following day"
We are still fighting
We came to support the climate strike coinciding with the global Climate Strike Day and to fight for the forests that are being decimated. 700,000 hectares of forests are being decimated and it is devastating. We are disappointed that the mural we have worked on for days was taken down but we are still fighting and hopefully will get some awareness and people will realise that we need to something about the terrible state of forests.
Founder - Earth Guardians, Satya Burgess
This is our duty, doesn’t matter who is ruling the country or not. We have to do something. If we don’t do it, who will? We have better things to do but we have to do what we have to do. I don’t know who gave orders to take the mural down but it makes things easier for organisers, publicity-wise. The more they do it, it aggravates the publicity. So it was a wrong move.
All paperwork was sorted
The reason we did this was to highlight the issue of climate action that is needed urgently. Almost all people here are young because we know the urgency of protecting the environment. Several environmental groups got together and did different artworks. We wanted it to be an awareness campaign. We got permission from the Colombo Municipal Council, all paperwork was sorted. It was erected on the night of March 18 and by morning it was taken down. We were here till around noon and the Police said that we haven’t obtained permission from them. But the mural was inside the park. It’s sad to see the mural being taken down because all young activists were painting it for about a week both day and night.
Pearl Protectors joined to highlight the impacts on the ocean due to climate change. It is quite unfortunate how we were cheated and it was demotivating. At the end of the day, we wanted to highlight climate change and deforestation happening in Sri Lanka. In the ocean, there’s dynamite fishing, bottom trawling and unethical fishing practices taking place. On top of that, there’s pollution. However, we will continue our efforts.
Pearl Protectors Coordinator, Muditha Katuwawala
"The reason we did this was to highlight the issue of climate action that is needed urgently. Almost all people here are young because we know the urgency of protecting the environment. Several environmental groups got together and did different artworks"
Youth have a right to protect the environment
The mural was drawn by the younger generation of Sri Lanka and it was done because they were passionate about the environment and the country and also about their future. They have a right as citizens to protect the environment. Unfortunately, it was looked at negatively and such actions were taken instead of working with them to make a difference. The beautiful wildlife we have is under threat and that’s the message they wanted to project. I’m here to support them in whichever way possible to ensure that our environment is protected.
Embark Founder, Otara Gunawardene
We need free air
The WNPS Youth Group worked on this mural for weeks. We had given prior notice to the CMC about this event but until some politician showed up here they didn’t even allow us to take our artworks inside.
We are doing this for three reasons; one is because of the ecocide that is taking place in Sri Lanka and it is a climate emergency. The local answer to climate emergency happening on a global scale is conservation. We have to protect our flora and fauna and wildlife if we are to face this issue in future. We also want to tell our decision-makers to take on a sustainable development plan and mobilise sources with all living beings. People who are involved in this are those who were in the decision-making process for the past few years. We need free air and we will continue our efforts.
Extinction Rebellion and Climate Action Now representative, Melanie
We must not allow inaction
I came to support this protest to speak my voice to say how important it is that Sri Lanka, it is government and it’s people protect the forests, nature and wildlife. We must also not allow inaction so that deforestation and ecocide will go unseen or unheard.
Attorney-at-Law Harindrini Corea
"We wanted it to be an awareness campaign. We got permission from the Colombo Municipal Council, all paperwork was sorted. It was erected on the night of March 18 and by morning it was taken down. We were here till around noon and the Police said that we haven’t obtained permission from them. But the mural was inside the park"
Govt. shouldn’t have intervened
The government today is being very irresponsible destroying the environment that belongs to the entire population. Wildlife is part of this earth and they are the rightful owners of forest lands. By destroying forests many animals will die and this damage can not be reversed by reforestation. The younger generation has therefore taken a stand against deforestation and the government shouldn’t have interfered in any way. This is taking away their rights of expression but I’m relieved to see many younger people standing up against ecocide and taking the future into their hands.
Manoja Weerakkody, Animal Rights Activist
Inter-generational equity questioned
We think we are in a democratic country but if a child cannot protest against the ongoing environmental destruction then there is a problem about inter-generational equity. The younger generation should continue these efforts. But the fact that they cannot express their thoughts through art itself is proof of the freedom we have. Our Constitution states that every citizen has a right to protect the environment.
What should ideally happen is to question those who are clearing forest areas and not to stop peaceful protests of this nature.
Centre for Environmental Justice Executive Director, Hemantha Withanage
Mural seemed to be illegal
A statement issued by the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) who is Youth Wing played an important role in getting the mural together said that the work of art, a 70 x 20 mural pleading for a halt to the rampant ecocide that is taking place in the country, was drawn by over 100 young volunteers, on-site, over a week of creative endeavour.
“Erected on March 18 evening on the edge of the Vihara Maha Devi Park, the WNPS hoped to share this message with the community and the world that our natural resources are very precious for the future.”
“While the mural looked striking, sadly, it was seen by the authorities as illegal. As a result, the mural was taken down by the authorities, causing much heartache to the young kids who did some great work to bring the message out.
“We, as the WNPS, including our Youth Wing, wish to reiterate our commitment towards protecting our most precious fauna and flora and remain steadfast in our Conservation commitment. We have been sharing this message for over a century and will continue to do so. All that our youth seek is a safe and healthy future in a homeland with fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a balanced ecosystem filled with the same rich biodiversity that this island still hosts today. Is this too much to ask for?”
Organisers have tried to destroy the environment
However, Colombo Municipal Council Commissioner Roshini Dissanayake said that proper safety measures had not been taken when erecting the banner.
“It was tied to trees and we received complaints from the public. The scaffolding was higher than the electricity wires. As such the organisers haven’t confirmed how they would safely erect the mural. The Park officials work tirelessly to protect the environment but rather than protecting the environment the organisers have tried to destroy it.”
Pics by Kushan Pathiraja