I’m pretty sure that you have heard the terms revolution, protest, struggle and aragalaya thousand and one times during the past few months and indeed you may have a vague idea or a notion of what those words mean. Perhaps it the idea of a massive gathering of people going against the incumbent president? Or a large crowd chanting slogans and demanding their rights? Technically, yes, those are features of a protest or in a way, a revolution –in its initial phases – as well. Nonetheless, a revolution or an aragalaya, as we say, expands over a much wider socio-political space and is a deep, complex concept.

What is a revolution?

According to Wikipedia, “a revolution, in a political sense, is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organisation which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression (political, social, economic) or political incompetence.”

Let me explain. In simple terms, a revolution is a collective, rise of the public against the established social order, political system or the incumbent government and radically and abruptly overthrowing of it. The best example for a revolution would be the French Revolution that took place in 1789-1799. It refers to the rise of ordinary people against the monarchy and the feudal system which had held hand in hand to supress and oppresses the ordinary people. People were heavily burdened with unreasonable taxes and were treated even worse than animals. When it was further unbearable, the public revolted against the system, under the common slogan ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ (liberty, equality, fraternity) and toppled it, altering the whole socio-political scenario of France. The revolution gave the concept of democracy to the world subsequently.

Struggles in Sri Lanka

When looking back at the history of Sri Lanka, several attempts of revolt can be spotted starting from the Colonial period. The freedom struggles, which were carried out by the local people against the colonisers, mark a significant change in the social order along the line of independence in 1848. Again numerous public insurgencies were observed during the late 90’s, though they were mostly destructive and did not see much success. However coming to the present day, we all witnessed the most recent of all, the people’s struggle 2022 which commenced last April, and followed several demonstrations against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Government, who greatly contributed to the severe economic and humanitarian crisises we are facing.

People’s Struggle (Aragalaya) 2022

Back in April, demonstrators from all over the country gathered at the Galle Face premises and held a massive protest demanding the President to step down from his position and establish an interim government. Some of the protestors continued to stay there, demonstrating, and initiated the Occupy Galle Face movement, which rapidly grew into a huge crowd coming together in solidarity and eventually established the GotaGOGama –a model village for the protestors. And then it took a turn from the typical model of a struggle. The protestors came forth with various creative and innovative ways of demonstrating. From protests in the form of song concerts to street dramas, open air drama festivals, paintings, sculptures, panel discussions and so on, making the struggle a cultural space as well as a knowledge hub. This unconventional and non-violent model of the struggle drew the attention of many, including foreign media. As the protest continued to grow in this manner, the whole country joined in, taking it to its peak on 9 July.

Protests that took place on 9 July should be highlighted in the history of freedom struggles as hundred thousands of Sri Lankans, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or gender, assembled in Colombo and other main cities across the island with the single aim of forcing the President and his government to resign. The un-armed protestors took over the Presidential Secretariat, Temple trees and the President’s official residence; a symbolic act of overthrowing the almost dysfunctional executive. Though the objectives of the people’s struggle have not been accomplished yet, this incident hallmarked a crucial juncture in our history, re-establishing that the sovereignty, (supreme power) lies in the people and not in the hands of rulers.

Youth responsibility

It is true that the youth played a vital role in this struggle, giving it a modern, non-violent and creative facet. It has been the youth who kept it going, through these months, at GotaGOGama. Nevertheless the immense contribution of the older generation also is to be praised. However, it is clear that the youth have a huge responsibility in driving the struggle on the right track towards the common goal of all Sri Lankans. So, a fraction of this responsibility passes on to you teenagers also since you are the next generation of this country.

As knowledgeable young readers, you have to be aware and take part in this people’s struggle because it is not just an agenda of a particular political party or a group of people. It is for the well-being of the whole nation. At the same time, be conscious of your actions and always weigh every step you take. Avoid any opportunity that would involve violence or anti-social behaviour, because what we are aiming is a better society; non-violent, equal and ethical. The whole meaning of the struggle will be lost if we again fall into the same old system. So, having these ideas in mind, let’s cry out VIVE LA RÉVOLUTION!

By Induwara Athapattu