Those with power are by nature jittery. When there are things people want to protect at all costs (like privileges, the right to plunder, etc) they become watchful. They don’t take chances. So they are vigilant. They set up increasingly complex surveillance systems. You are not safe unless you are very careful. Especially if you are a rebel.
No, they won’t pounce on you immediately, but they will if they think you’ve become a threat or have the potential to become a threat. They time their move.
Way back in 1986, some students of what was then called the Dumbara Campus of the University of Peradeniya, located in Polgolla, staged a protest. What the protest was about is not important. What is important is that student politics was essentially designed to serve the larger political interests of the JVP. Student unions were banned back then, but students organized themselves under what were called ‘Action Committees’ which came directly under the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF). The decision-makers were mostly JVPers. Other students generally went along for lack of an alternative, ignorance, identification with the particular cause of the moment or for other reasons.
So, there was a good turn out. No, there was an excellent turn out. All the students boycotted lectures that day. They all stood on the Digana Road, some carrying placards and some shouting slogans. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Students came out now and then. People were used to it. One boy stood out.
Actually he made sure he stood out. Perhaps inspired more by the thrill of the action and the need to identify fully with the cause of the party, Lalith wore a bright red shirt. He was ready for the demonstration. He was dressed for it. And that was not enough either. In those days which were sans mobile devices, those selfie-less days of selflessness (or so the likes of Lalith thought), he arranged for a camera to be on the spot. He posed for pictures. He got them processed and put them all in an album.
He showed his friends. Well, he showed the album to anyone who was curious about it.
There was one comment made that I still remember: ‘stupid…why draw attention to himself?’
At that time few would have envisaged the carnage that was to unfold just two years later. We don’t know if intelligence officers ‘marked’ Lalith. We don’t know if his album was discovered and he was identified as a JVPer who had to be eliminated. We do know that Lalith was killed.
That was a 1985 version of a selfie-taking exercise. It may very well have made the difference between life and death.
And it is not only with a selfie that you reveal yourself, remember. The enemy is smart. There are smart things to do with smart phones. There are dumb things too.