13 April, 2024


The End?

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“The enlightenment driven away, The habit-forming pain,

Mismanagement and grief: We must suffer them all again.” ~ Auden (September 1, 1939)

“We must love one another or die,” wrote Auden in September 1, 1939, as the world slid into calamity.

#GotaGoGama and the nationwide anti-Rajapaksa struggle it pioneered and symbolized seemed to be animated by this spirit of compassionate solidarity Auden was pleading for on the advent of the Second World War.

Gota-go-game resistors prided themselves on being not just anti-Rajapaksa but the antithesis of the Rajapaksas. They made a conscious attempt to turn that nodal point of struggle into a microcosm of a different Sri Lanka, a place where racial and religious animosities were absent, the youth were heard and women could be both active and safe, a space of sanity, decency, compassion, and reason. A symbol of the best in us both as individuals and a nation, a microcosm of what Sri Lanka could be when her people embrace their best impulses rather than the worst.

As the days passed and the struggle spread, that spirit seemed to be spilling over and permeating other loci of resistance. Even when a young father of two was brutally gunned down in Rambukkana by the police, the protestors resisted the siren song of violent retaliation. Despite innumerable provocations by the Rajapaksas, sanity and peace prevailed.

Then Mahinda Rajapaksa, the political paterfamilias of this most egregious of political families, went to the ancient city of Anuradhapura. He visited a couple of sacred places, experienced the public’s ire in loud calls for his resignation, and had a powwow with his abiding supporters, solidifying plans which would have been laid days before were solidified.

Next morning, busloads of Mahinda devotees and hired thugs (reportedly at 2000rupees a day, a reflection of the economic crisis and the resultant mass desperation) were brought to Temple Trees. Mahinda Rajapaksa gave them a speech. They poured out of the Temple Trees armed with poles and laid waste to #MainaGoGama, the protest encampment outside the premises. Then, with no hindrance from the police, who would have been told to stay out of it by their political masters, they made their way to Gota-go-gama and laid waste to it. Even the makeshift library did not escape the devastating onslaught.

Meantime, the government declared a curfew effective immediately.

From that point, events departed drastically from the Rajapaksa script. The protesters resisted and overcame the attackers. Across the country, people, ignoring the curfew, poured on to streets in solidarity.

Knowingly or unknowingly, the Rajapaksas had done something more devastating than sending an army of thugs to attack the two protest encampments. They had sent a dose of their own poison along with their thugs. The unarmed protestors confronted the defeated the attackers. But not before the toxin was injected into the bloodstream of the protest movement.

As day turned into night, the anti-Rajapaksa struggle moved away from being the antithesis of Rajapaksas, and became their pale copy.

Means and ends: the old conundrum. The ruins of struggles and revolutions corroded from within remind us that means shape and colour ends. An unjust struggle cannot create a just society. Mobs are mobs, limbs without heads or hearts guided by a single compulsion, irrespective of what their battle-cry is, be it Kill Tamils or Aragalayata Jayaweva (Victory to the Struggle).

The public stripping of Rajapaksa thugs by Gota-go-gama protestors symbolise the discarding of the core-values of resistance, decency, mercy, and non-excess. The fires engulfing hated SLPP leaders are also incinerating the promise of a better Sri Lanka.

Learning from history

On 22nd October 2007, a group of Black Tigers attacked the Saliyapura air force camp in Anuradhapura. Afterwards, the Lankan Forces stripped the corpses of the attackers (including of three women) and paraded them in the Anuradhapura town: Many local people, instead of cheering, responded with embarrassment and even outrage.

Two years later, the dead body of Vellupillai Pirapaharan, was stripped down to his underpants, and displayed – to wild acclaim. There was no shame or embarrassment when pictures of captured Tiger cadres, including radio announcer Issipriya and Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s 13 year old son (a non-combatant) were publicised, pictures taken shortly before they were murdered.

In two short years, the Rajapaksas had succeeded in infecting Sinhala society with their brand of unethical ethics. Only success and victory mattered, not the road to it, or its aftermath. With this sanctification of the abhorrent, Lankan society reached a new level of brutalisation.

To heal that Sri Lanka the Rajapaksa virus has to be removed from the national bloodstream. In the month since current protests began, the hope that we are on our way to such a cure began to take root. That hope is now almost dead. When Galle Face protestors stripped their attackers, took pictures of them, and paraded them, when those indecencies were lionised and those pictures celebrated, that development held up a mirror before us. The visage is showed belonged to the enemy we wanted to depose. We might all be against the Rajapaksas now; but we have not stopped being like them.

If further evidence was needed, it came in the form of a series of tweets by journalist Roel Raymond, published in Newswire. Ms. Raymond was doing her job as a journalist, recording the public protest at the back gate of the Temple Trees. The protestors objected to their doings being recorded by her. “Watched men stripped naked, beaten and bloodied being brought in, some carried by hands and legs. Terrible scenes. Same crowd would have turned on me had I not been taken out by friends,” she wrote in her first tweet. Two minutes later, the second one, “Tear gas just now shot at protestors there so I am glad I got out in the nick of time. Had actually feared I too would be stripped and beaten…”

She ended her tweet by saying “Rajapaksas you did this.” There is no argument that with their brutal attacks on Galle Face and Temple Trees protestors, the Rajapaksas paved the road to this calamity. But was it inevitable? Why did non-violent protestors allow Rajapaksas to push them into violence? Why did ordinary human beings let Rajapaksas turn them into rampaging mobs? Do we have no will of our own? Must we always react, and rush like driven cattle?

What is the difference between this reaction, and other reactive actions such as Black July or the LTTE’s Anuradhapura massacre? Must we always pile wrong on wrong, respond to violence with violence, become like the enemy we oppose?

Don’t we have minds of our own to make different choices and the courage to activate them?

When Black July erupted, individual Sinhalese helped individual Tamils, but as a society we failed to take a stand against the crimes being committed in our name. The same thing happened vis-a-vis the LTTE and the Tamil society (with some courageous exceptions like Rajini Rajasingham Thiranagama). It was the same story during the second JVP insurgency, the Eelam War (especially the fourth one) and the various attacks on Christians and Muslims by Sinhala mobs.

This unwillingness to criticise our own side, intolerance of such criticism to the point of equating it with enemy action continues.

Stripping and photographing one’s opponent, parading them around sans clothes is not resistance or heroism. It is brutality, cowardice, and thuggery on par with the Rajapaksas. Those who attack and burn houses and destroy vehicles are not protestors. They are mobs. We failed/refused to see these differences in the past. If we are still unable/unwilling to make those distinctions, if we are still reluctant to criticise our own side, how can our national future be any different from our national past?

The solution to tyranny is not anarchy

Ignoring the rule of law, replacing the rule of law with the law of the rulers is a Rajapaksa trait. Now we, their opponents, have taken a leaf from their book, replacing the rule of law by the law of the mobs.

This way, even if the Rajapaksas go today and go willingly, their tyranny will not be succeeded by democracy but by anarchy.

This embracing of violence, illegality and indecency can lead to one of three outcomes: the Rajapaksas aligning themselves with the military and imposing a reign of terror; the military capturing power and imposing a reign of terror; mob rule imposing a reign of terror. Always, and each time, a reign of terror, with no peace or stability, no justice or tolerance.

There is still time to stop, turn back, take a less devastating path, realise the promise of the first phase of the struggle. Politicians of all stripes have lost credibility and relevance. But there are others who can still provide a reasoned, just, and democratic leadership to the leaderless resistance. Lawyers led by the BASL, doctors led by SLMA (and not the GMOA), a few religious figures, some trade union and civil society leaders can still come forward to educate, explain, and guide the struggle away from the looming abyss. Similarly the leading activists of Gota-go-gama should condemn the ongoing violence and plead for a cessation.

The Rajapaksas must go, not one or some of them, but all of them including President Gotabaya. Maybe the chief justice can be an interim president until the executive presidency is abolished. Maybe a group of experts, sent to parliament via national list, form a cabinet, and implement urgent economic and political measures until an election is held, perhaps in six months. These measures may not be strictly constitutional, but the alternative is the constitution either being suspended under military rule or becoming irrelevant under mob rule.

In the Iliad, when god Hephaestos devised a new shield for Achilles at the request of his mother, he adorned that instrument of war with scenes of peace. Perhaps it was his, and the poet’s way of reminding humanity of what it loses to violence.

The memories of the first Gota-go-gama, a haven of peace, a place of promise, its images recorded for posterity, is like the Shield of Achilles, a reminder of what we could be if we, in our just anger, don’t give into our worst impulses. There is still time to stop, to change track, to stop being like Rajapaksas, to abandon their ethos, to cleanse ourselves of their toxin, to be not just against the Rajapaksas but opposite them.

The Rajapaksas created a moral wasteland and called it patriotism, and damned anyone not succumbing to it as traitors to the nation. In that desert, anything could be done to the enemy, anything; law, morality, ethics, decency, pity, mercy, compassion, reason were all banned in that space.

The anti-Rajapaksa struggle is in the process of creating a similar moral wasteland, calling it Aragalaya (struggle) where anything goes, so long as it is done to the Rajapaksas and their supporters.

How can a different Sri Lanka, a better Sri Lanka come into being in such a place?

Don’t try to teach Gota-go-game protestors; just learn from them was a popular saying in the resistance space. There was much to learn from Gota-go-gama protestors. But they too had – and have – much to learn from history. And one key lesson is that attempts to create utopias end in dystopias, always, every time.

Violence, intolerance, indecency, these are all habit forming. And once the habit is formed, escaping is harder. Political devastation will worsen economic devastation. No aid, no trade, no investment, no production, nothing to consume, more want, more poverty, more anger, more violence, eventually turning on Tamils, on Muslims on other Sinhalese, the worst vicious cycle, endlessly repeated.

We can stop that degeneration. Still. If we depart from the false turn, now.

Tomorrow will be too late.

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Latest comments

  • 12

    The country needs proper leadership.
    Rajapaksha’s are the worst of the worst.
    Chase away these scum bag’s.

    • 1

      Tisaranee: How come the Protestors at Gota gama led by anonymous Pied Pipers on the internet and social media support Washington and the IMF? Is DIGITAL COLONIALISM with anonymous bots taking over the country the name of the game as Parliament convenes on ZOOM while citizens are in curfew and lockdown due to staged protest??!
      ALL SIDES ARE GAMED – those who control the English Language internet and social media at this time DIVIDE AND RULE US.
      How come these protests are not at Independence Square as historically all previous protests have been?
      Why are they at the same place targeted by the CIA owned ISIS claimed Easter Sunday attacks 3 years ago?
      Who was behind the Anonymous social media organizers? Sonic Sonic?

      • 1

        Are not the protestors staging Gota Gama being used via social media controlled by anonymous external actors just like the Easter bombers were by US FBI’s ‘Sonic Sonic’?
        If these protesters led by anonymous social media BOTs had protested against Covid 19 fear psychosis and 1ockdowns in the past 2 years, Lanka would never have come to this. But they obediently followed the Covid-19 narrative on the internet and social media and hid under their beds wearing masks. Now they were having a Protest Party with fake unity organized by funded NGOs that was bound to escalate to violence.
        Gota Gama was the Prelude to the deadly violence that followed.
        The DARPA Covid biowar and Lockdowns and the social media narrative bled Lanka’s economy even more than the Rajapaksas did and benefited big Pharma and big tech and US Digital colonialism.
        Finally DIGITAL COLONIALISM and anonymous bots seem to be taking over the country as Parliament convenes on ZOOM while citizens are in lockdown??!

      • 5

        “How come the Protestors at Gota Gama led by anonymous Pied Pipers on the internet and social media support Washington and the IMF?”
        Simply because, SL has run out options because the inept leaders of ill-informed 6.9 million have done all they can think as idiosyncratic do, drive us into a corner of no other option, in this short period of 2.5 years
        That was an excellent and short quick ride they may think and pass accolades???!!
        when you have only 1option, you take it or leave it??!!

    • 5

      “The country needs proper leadership.”

      Are you questioning the competency to the Sinhala Buddhist?

      They elected this Uneducated, ignorant, arrogant, “ranaviruwa” and his goons with 2/3 majority because that’s the best they got.

  • 13

    Trump coaxed the white christian middle America to storm the Whitehouse & so did MR, but it was to bash up non violent protestors. Similar mobilisation, the difference is the mob in SL were paid while the US mob were misguided yobs who actually believed they were patriots. The US mobs were not paid, the SL mobs did it for Rs 2000 & half a bottle of cheap arrack. Who is more pathetic?

    I saw on Facebook a clip of a fleet of exotic cars being torched. What a waste. Our uneducated mobs didn’t realise these could have been evidence of illicit earnings & could be auctioned off later to raise some money, which makes me wonder if this could have even been an act by the owner to cover the evidence but whatever the reason & who were responsible, it is an indication that, in general, we have a destructive & violent gene. We have not learnt from the shameful events in 1983 & probably never will

    • 1

      “We have not learnt from the shameful events in 1983 & probably never will”

      Are you referring to the shameful event of blowing up 13 members of the Sri Lanka Army into pieces by Tamil terrorists using land mines that triggered a backlash.

  • 6

    The following proverbs are apt in the circumstances of sinhala land history since independence:

    Those who live by the sword die by the sword!!!
    You reap what you sow!!!

    In addition news reports say that Mahinda RAKSHApakseS is hiding in a armed forces bases in EELAM land Trincomalee, amongst the minorities peoples for safety in readiness to depart sinhala land.

  • 3

    Clarion Call

    Rajapaksas should Go!
    Their Obsessive Patriotism
    Is needed no more.

    Beat hard the Drums,
    Let the Bugle sound out,
    Storm to the Parliament!
    The Peaceful Procession has begun.

    From the Protesters of Galle-Face,
    To the Students of Revolution
    To the Angered Anarchists
    To the Priests of all Religions

    Walk over the barricades,
    Walk towards the goal,
    Walking and praying; chanting and singing;
    Right through the Parliament doors.

    The military, they might fire,
    Water and tear-gas,
    They might shoot us with bullets
    And they might even arrest us.

    But they will not dare,
    For they will see,
    A procession of twenty-thousand
    Walking in spiritual harmony.

    The doors, they will pull shut,
    And then we shall lay siege,
    For many a month
    Till the scourges are flushed out.

    Till the Rajapaksas are removed
    All 130 have gone –
    the Parliamentary curse
    Of a system gone wrong.

    Never again will Lanka be at their mercy
    Never again will be beg for our story
    Our rights will be met,
    Our happiness ensured,
    Our country at peace,
    Our dignity renewed!

  • 0

    Clarion Call

    Rajapaksas should Go! But they will not dare, for soon they will see,
    Their Obsessive Patriotism A procession of twenty-thousand
    Is needed no more. Walking in spiritual harmony.
    – –
    Beat hard the Drums, The doors, they will pull shut,
    Let the Bugle sound out, And then we shall lay siege,
    Storm to the Parliament! For many a month
    The Peaceful Procession has begun Till the scourges are flushed out.
    – –
    From the Protesters of Galle-Face, Till the Rajapaksas are removed
    To the Students of Revolution All 130 have gone –
    To the Angered Anarchists the Parliamentary curse
    To the Priests of all Religions Of a system gone wrong.
    – –
    Walk over the barricades, Never again will Lanka be at their mercy
    Walk towards the goal, Never again will we beg for our story
    Praying, chanting, and singing; Our rights will be met,
    Right through the Parliament doors. Our happiness ensured,
    – Our country at peace,
    The military, they might fire, Our dignity renewed!
    The water and tear-gas,
    They might shoot us with bullets RTF
    And they might even arrest us.

    • 0

      Ok, ok….don’t read this 2nd one….I tried to put it in 2 columns but it mixed it all up .

      • 3

        “…..Ok, ok….don’t read this 2nd one….I tried to put it in 2 columns but it mixed it all up….. .”

        AS USUAL……!!!

  • 4

    The way forward for country and its people should start without the Rajapaksas and their government, if not it will be a temporary patch up for them to escape and we’ll end up in the worst crisis. This is what people want. A true Sri Lankan consciousness is needed. That, I believe, is a long way away. It will not happen as long as the Mahanayakas call the shots. They are the real disease. Rajapaksas are the symptoms.

    • 2

      Diyanii, If you say Mahanayakas should not call the shots as they are the disease, please see that they teach the dhamma. Doing politics in saffron robes should be made illegal. Trying to make sinhala buddhism superior to other humans failed and is a violation of the basic principle of equality before the law and equal protection of the law. God made all from one blood. Acts 17,26 The earth is the Lord’s Ps.24. He created this universe with his voice, which some call the big bang, and his voice is still reverberating if the string theory is any revelation, as vibrating strings are the basics of all things. Quantum physics explains the visible and invisible.

  • 6

    The sinhala land and international IGNOMINY which Mahinda RAKSHApakses clan are facing now will perpetuate for generations of future RAKSHApakshes and the magnitude of this IGNOMINY is millions times worse compared to the humiliation and sexual violence perpetrated by the sinhala armed forces on the female tamil tigers.

  • 3

    I saw this ridiculous news item that said the IGP and the Army Commander have been summoned (summoned?) to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). Seriously? What right does the HRCSL have to summon high ranking government officials? HRCSL has no power whatsoever to interfere with Sri Lanka’s administrative decisions. How long have we been doing this? This is wrong.
    On one occasion, the HRCSL has summoned the President’s Secretary and the Defence Secretary to inquire into the state of emergency!!! The President and the PM are the decision makers and they or their officials are not answerable to the HRCSL for exercising powers given in the Constitution!!
    The Chairperson and Members of the HRCSL are mere officials paid by the UN who have no powers over the country’s internal administration. In fact, they have no legal capacity to write to individual government officials. Every communication of the HRCSL should be directed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which responds to questions raised by the HRCSL as appropriate.

    • 1

      I fully agree with you.

      • 3

        It seems they know the law better than you. They meekly went to the HRC.

  • 7

    Fools never learn.
    Mindless organized violence seems to be a tradition in the South of SL. 1958, 1983, 1989″

    Army and police were indoors when innocent people were attacked even under emergency. Now that the people have woken-up the narrative have changed to enforcing the law and calling everyone one nationals.
    Military is the next threat to the country all these guys have made fortunes using Gota and they are going to support him to the hilt.

  • 8

    Sinhala intelligence at its best.

    Api Thami Hondata Kella.

  • 4

    There’s nothing more revolting in this world than stinking filth neatly wrapped in pure white.

    • 1

      Thisarani, the Sri Lankan flag the peaceful protesters, are carrying, is also a symbol of violence
      Probably won’t happen, but the sword holding lion should be replaced don’t you think for starters?

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