By Thambu Kanagasabai –
Popular uprising refers to the action or an act of rising or uprising by the people in a country involving large numbers to confirm its general support to the cause or causes which led to the uprising. It includes rebellion or revolt arising from a pre-conceived plan or being spurred spontaneously generating mass support for the justifiable and deserving demands.
Uprisings could be launched against, empires or monarchs who size and occupy foreign territories; it could be against emperors and monarchs who rule their countries with iron fist, suppressing the basic freedoms of their citizens or indulge in blatant abuse of powers plundering state wealth, corruption or eliminating political opponents without any judicial process. The uprisings against dictators involve people who rise up against their rulers who assume complete control over the lives of citizens while building a family empire and amassing ‘wealth’ with no accountability for their anti-democratic corrupt actions and abuse of powers, including nepotism and robbing the wealth of the nation they possess the power.
Even democratically elected Governments could face uprisings due to abuse of power, corruption, nepotism, even laying hands on the freedom of judiciary or press.
The popular uprisings usually involve demonstrations, marches, strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, occupation, civil disobedience including refusal to pay taxes etc. The uprisings generally attract more people to join if they are non-violent, which usually gain legitimacy in the eyes of the world.
It is stated that a minimum of 3.5% of the population of the affected people will suffice to ensure success. Another requirement for success involves the diversity of participants, which should include young and old, students, professionals, workers, farmers reflecting the nationwide spectrum and feelings.
Uprisings become legitimate and justified as the only and last resort when all other options have failed to redress their grievances, and other options could be elections, resort to judicial process, lawsuits, failure of negotiations, breach of pacts or promises non-fulfilment of statutory responsibilities, ignoring international pressure or UN Resolutions.
As Mr. Mackie Bartkawski stated “uprisings must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound”
The uprisings usually aim at establishing accountability justice and ensuring good governance, while remedying the past grievances along with reparations.
A Nation, country or state is born, evolved and formed from people living in a defined territory with distinct language, culture, traditions, customs including religious beliefs. The people choose their rules with democratically elected members or accept the rules of Kings and Queens, dictators or military officials who seize power violently. People dissatisfied with the governments or rulers due to repression, abuse of power, corruption including suppression of basic human freedoms of speech, association or practice of religion or language rights, often resort to protests which could escalate into uprisings, revolts, or rebellions either with violence or non-violence.
History has recorded revolts and uprisings from BC 2730 and a total of 635 uprisings have been recorded up to AD 2000 with a total of 81 uprisings from AD 2000 to 2016. Most of the pre BC uprisings were against foreign rulers, occupiers like the American Uprising against British rule in 1775 and the India’s Freedom from British rule agitation led by Mahathma Gandhi in the 1920’s.
Some of the revolutions which had overthrown the rules of Monarchs and Emperors were the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799 against Louis XI, The Chinese Qing which was overthrown in 1864, led by Hong XIu Quan and Yang X1 Uginc, Taiwan nationalists. The self-styled King Shah ended a USA backed Monarchy rule and ushered in an Islamic Republic controlled by Shite Clerics led by Ayathollah Khomeni. A historically important revolution was the Haiti Revolution against French rule in 1791 when Haitian slavery system was brought to an end leading to granting of full civil and political rights to all Black Men, considered as a victory for Blacks and a defeat for the slavery system encouraging rebellions by slaves in other colonies under foreign masters during the 1800s.
There were several revolts against the Great Ottoman Empire also known as Turkish Empire which was founded at the end of the thirteenth century by the Turkish Tribal leader Osman. The Ottomans conquered Balkans, and then Zantine Empire and expanded their empire in Europe. The Ottoman Empire controlled Central Europe, Western Asia, The Caucaius, North Africa and the Horn of Africa. Several countries staged revolts against the Ottoman Empire’s rule, which was finally brought to an end in the aftermath of World War I when Allied Powers seized part of its territory, and a Turkish war for independence against the Allied Powers resulted in the formation of Republic of Turkey in 1923 after the Ottoman monarchy was abolished. A young Turkish Republic was then born from the ashes of an Empire after freeing from the occupation of allied forces. South Africa’s majority Blacks revolted against the minority Whites rule and their apartheid system spearheaded by Nelson Mandela. The Soweto student’s riots heralded the resort to violence though Nelson Mandela at first preferred a non-violent campaign which commenced in 1974 and lasted until the white minority rule was replaced by a parliamentary form democracy with free election in 1996.
Nelson Mandela’s statement while in jail [1963 – 1990] justified the use of violence as a last resort. He said that “it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on ‘violent forms of political struggle’.
This statement in all respects goes to justify the violent struggle launched by Tamil youths when all peaceful approaches from 1948 to 1976 by moderate Tamil leaders failed and discriminative laws passed in the Parliament like standardization to enter University for Tamil students (Tamils students should get higher marks than the Sinhalese students to enter university etc) When all forms of peaceful and non-violent agitations failed and there is no other alternative the Tamils youths were forced to take up arms to protect and preserve the identity of the Tamil Community in Sri Lanka.
Several other States also gained their independence after violent struggles labelling them as wars of independence from foreign occupation like Bangladesh [East Pakistan] in 1971 who resisted Pakistan’s [West Pakistan] military rule and their domination, while suppressing their language rights and other freedoms.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in January 2008 as a result of communal tensions between the Albanian of Kosovo and Serbs living in some parts of Kosovo. NATO interfered and forced the republic of Yugoslavia to withdraw from Kosovo enabling its independence. Similarly the State of Israel was created in 1948, partly due to the Jews rebellion in Palestine and partly due to the assistance of UN and western powers in 1948, who backed the creation of an independent state for Jews who were scattered in Europe and living as refugees after the second world war and the holocaust which claimed the lives of six million Jews in Europe.
Popular referendums in some countries like creation of South Sudan in 2011, freeing from the rule of Arabs dominated Sudan. Similarly East Timor became an independent state in 2002, following a referendum in 1999, and freeing itself from the brutal rule by Indonesia for twenty four years. During its oppressive rule Indonesian forces carried out genocidal massacres like the one in Santa Cruz in 1991. A UN’s transitional administration was in force and demands were made to set up an International Tribunal for East Timor to investigate the crimes committed by Indonesian forces during its occupation. The armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina against the forces of Bosnian Serbs and Croats helped by Serbia and Croatia during the years 1992-1995 involved massacres and ethnic cleansing by Serbia’s military commanded by Milosevic leading to NATO’s intervention in 1995. The declaration of independence by Bosnia which has 44% of Muslims after a referendum in 1992 led to the war by Serbs whose forces committed war crimes against the Muslims including the notorious Srebrenica massacre staged by Radovan Karadzic and Milosevic. A criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia was set up which has so far convicted 45 Serbs including Milosevic. The war claimed lives of 100,000 with more than 10,000 rapes mostly Muslim women.
Many dictatorial Governments have been removed by mass uprisings protesting the dictator’s unbridled abuse of power and corruption. The Arab Spring in 2011 which involved some Arab countries proved the power of the people to the hilt. The Arab Spring started in Tunisia in December 2010 when a young unemployed vendor set fire on himself when he was tortured by the local police for no reason. This event sparked off riots countrywide leading to the killing of 300, and eventually resignation of ruler Ben Ali in January 2011 who went into exile in Saudi Arabia.
Taking the leaf from these events in Tunisia, similar popular uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Yemen in 2011 led to the fall of dictators Hosni Mubarak, Muhammad Gaddafi and Ali Abdullah Saleh in those countries. These countries opted for democratic form of Government with free elections. History proves that dictators never live to rule their countries peacefully until their deaths. One of them was Romania’s brutal dictator Nicolas Ceausescu killed in 1989 after a revolution and overthrown after public revolt. Similarly in Philippines the brutal corrupt dictatorial rule of Ferdinand Marcos for 21 years and later by his wife Imelda was brought down by people power revolution in 1986, leading to free elections with Aquino and later his wife Corazon Aquino becoming presidents of Philippines in 1986.
It is also relevant to mention the Cyprus conflicts where Greek Cypriots live in south and the Turkish Cypriots live in the north of Cyprus but after Cyprus gained independence in 1960, communal tensions flared up between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots leading to an invasion by Turkey to protect the Turkish Cypriots and also proceeding to carve out a separate state for Turks in the north and declaring unilateral declaration of independence in 1983. Cyprus is still a divided country with the northern Cyprus controlled by Turks, remaining unrecognised by the international community including UN.
It is apt to mention the popular uprisings in Ukraine in 1991, Poland in 1989 and Hungary in 1989 which brought down the communist rules and replacing it with Parliamentary democratic forms of Government. However, the mass protests against the communist rule in China in 1989 [April to June] were crushed mercilessly, unable to face the mighty and repressive Chinese Army of 300,000 descended on them, massacred many, said to be in several hundreds in Tienmann Square. Though the China’s 89 democracy movement was suppressed yet it could ignite again at an opportune time. Only time will decide it.
Again it was the popular uprising in East Germany in 1989 which led to the fall of Berlin wall which stood as a divisive wall separating east from West with a divided Germany. Demolition of the wall by the East Germans led to the unification of Germany.
Eritrea is another country which gained its independence from the occupying Ethiopia in 1993 after a referendum.
Sri Lanka for its share also suffered insurgency in 1971 and 1987 when rebellious Sinhalese youths resorted to violence to overthrow the Government to install Marxist and communist oriented system of Government. Both the revolts were crushed by the security forces with assistance from foreign countries.
Similarly the minority Tamils living in the North and East of Sri Lanka also resorted to non-violent campaigns like sit-ins and satyagrahas protesting the language discriminatory legislation of 1956 as well as marginalisation. The peaceful campaigns which lasted for few weeks in the North and East of the country in 1961 was brutally crushed by the Sri Lankan Army using lethal force on the peaceful protestors and Tamil moderate leaders.
After all these peaceful and non-violence protests failed due to the brutal force used by the Sri Lankan Armed forces with no alternative and all doors closed for a peaceful solution and the betrayal of all successive Sinhalese leaders, the Tamil youths without employment due to the Sinhala Only Act of 1956 due to desperation and frustrated resorted to armed struggle for the freedom of Tamils. It took more than thirty years for Sri Lanka to subdue the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] which controlled and ran a de facto state in the North and East until 2009.
The past uprisings and revolts in the world confirm that, suppression of basic freedoms of a human being, human rights violations, brutal use of force with the help of armed forces, corruption and bribery, dictatorial methods and abuse of power, disregarding popular sentiments, carrying out massacres including genocide, racial discrimination, denial of language rights, religious freedom etc. would never be tolerated for long as the immortal principles of justice, equality and freedom, though grind slowly but surely they will triumph over evils and evil rulers in the end.
As Thomas Aquinas in his treatise quoted “if the authority command and act of sin contrary to virtue, people not only are not obliged to obey but are also obliged not to obey ungodly tyrants that must be overthrown with use of ‘just violence’ if necessary.”
In conclusion the recent success of the ‘Jallikattu’ or [bulls subduing] campaign in Tamil Nadu, India was an example of uprising by youths who continued it day and night for three weeks without relaxation and without any participation of politicians or other leaders. The spontaneous campaign gained momentum and wider acceptance and support in Tamil Nadu and estimated two million youths, women and children were said to have participated. Their grievance was the ‘court decision’ banning ‘Jallikattu’ as a ‘practice of torture on animals’. The Central Government and State Government finally yielded and hurriedly passed a Bill allowing this sport, all happening within ten days, a success confirming the power of uprising.
For the battered Tamils in Sr iLanka the only option available is – mass non-violent agitations without involving die-hard politicians, but with wider participation of all Tamils involving all sectors can only yield the desired results, generating international attention and concerns to the sixty years embedded and un remedied grievances including genocide.
What ABRAHAM LINCOLN stated in 1865 “The government of the people, by the people, for the people ‘shall not perish from the earth”, still hold strong and if any Government makes it ‘People for the Government’ they are doomed to disaster, by not learning the lessons of history.
The statement of Pearl’s Buck is all the more relevant ‘When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevails”.
*Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [London] Former Lecturer in Law- University of Colombo, Sri Lanka