Planning anything is impossible because of the power cuts and public transport being unreliable (Picture: ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images)
As I’m writing this, I’m in a queue for fuel that is well over a kilometre long.
Lines for gas have become a common sight, no matter where in Sri Lanka you are. Some last for days.
In fact, eight people have reportedly died while waiting in queues.
This is just one example of the human cost of one the worst economic crises unfolding in Sri Lanka right now.
Last month, Sri Lanka defaulted on its multi-million pound foreign debt payment, which means that the country lacks the foreign currency to buy all that it needs from abroad.
As a result, foreign exchange has been depleted, inflation’s through the roof and the value of the Sri Lankan Rupee has plummeted.
This affects all major sectors, and has left Sri Lankans in need of basic necessities like fuel, cooking gas, essential medicines and food – all among daily power outages, some as many as 13 hours a day.
It seems as though the Sri Lankan people can’t catch a break (Picture: Supplied)
I am writing from a middle-class perspective so – though I’m not struggling to feed my family – I have lost my job and the cost of living is still extremely high for a person in their 20s without excessive savings.
Planning anything is impossible because of the power cuts and public transport being unreliable, so I spend most of my time at the moment protesting because what else is there to do?
It’s important to set this to the backdrop of an almost 30-year-long civil war and the devastating 2004 tsunami – after which foreign aid that poured into the country went ‘missing’ during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, according to anti-corruption group, Transparency International Sri Lanka.
More recently, there was the 2019 Easter terrorist attacks that killed 269 people and the socio-economic effects of Covid-19 and lockdown – all playing a part.
There’s a food shortage created by a government ban on chemical fertiliser, which drastically dropped the output of the agricultural sector, exacerbated by our inability to keep purchasing imported food items.
It wasn’t just Covid-19 and bad luck that sent our economy into freefall, it was years of corruption and terrible mismanagement of this country’s resources and finances by an unmerited group of racist, nepotistic, greedy clowns dressed as statesmen.
It seems as though the Sri Lankan people can’t catch a break.
It is a cry for system change (Picture: Supplied)
For me personally, life feels pretty bleak. The youth of this country – myself included – have a hundred other things we should be doing rather than protesting to demand change for the country, but it feels like we have no choice but to be in the streets everyday.
With no work, the movement has become my life. I’m always sleep deprived, almost always paranoid, and suffering from insomnia and anxiety about the future.
However, what will make this moment go down in history is not the level of adversity we face as a nation; but the perseverance and resilience of our people. Across Sri Lanka, a peaceful resistance has evolved, with protests and occupations and acts of resistance spreading like wildfire since early this year.
Though initially just calling for President Gotabaya and all his relatives and cronies to resign, this youth-led movement has warped and transformed into something much deeper; we are demanding a change to our constitution and an end to corruption and nepotism.
We want justice for all the victims of state violence, an end to ecological destruction and stolen money to be restored. It is a cry for system change.
I have been joining the protests almost every day for over a month now.
I am mostly active at GotaGoGama (‘Gama’ meaning village, ‘Gota’ is Gotabaya for short and ‘go’, as in leave), a pop-up protest site in a prominent location at the centre of the capital city, Colombo. We’re camped at the gates to the presidential secretariat.
The protestors have remained consistently creative, resourceful and resilient (Picture: Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
This is no normal protest site. We have a communal kitchen, food distribution tents, first aid and Ayurveda (traditional natural medicine), legal aid, a library, college, media centre, cinema and a guerrilla vegetable garden – all set to constant music and chanting.
I moved into this protest site because I felt I had no choice.
GGG, as we call it for short – and the many other smaller scale GGGs that have cropped up around the island – have created a space for the blossoming of an unprecedented unity among the people in a country that has been plagued with prejudice, racism and classism.
It is a weird but beautiful place, where people from all ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds have been drawn together to express their dissent, as this struggle has affected us all in one way or another.
Despite the weather – which either scorches us or rips the roofs of our tents and turns the ‘gama’ into a giant mud puddle – the protestors have remained consistently creative, resourceful and resilient.
Having to constantly come to consensus on any decisions taken as a collective, the flow of art and comedy has been unwavering.
We work together to keep the ‘gama’ running and feed the hundreds – sometimes thousands – of people that go through in a day. We also manage donations and the cooking of food, making use of anything and everything to build and create in this makeshift village.
Through perseverance, we have succeeded in pressuring Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign as Prime Minister (Picture: Supplied)
Our resilience was tested on 9 May when goons and pro-Rajapaksa thugs attacked unarmed peaceful protestors at numerous locations on the island. I was there during this state-sponsored sabotage attempt that is still currently being investigated.
It is safe to say that was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. The sight of our murals and tents being burnt and the ‘gama’ being torn apart, while people scattered in fear and rushed to protect each other made me cry more than the tear gas did.
Yet, we rose, resisted, rebuilt and are showing the world a wonderful example of how peaceful protest can bring about community, hope and change.
This fear of violence is also why I am writing this article under the pseudonym ‘Aragala Kella’, which means ‘struggle’ or ‘revolution’ girl in Sinhala. I’m doing this because there is a history of murdered or disappeared journalists in Sri Lanka.
Currently, activists, bloggers and journalists across the country are being arrested and intimidated as the wave of dissidence against the current political system in Sri Lanka grows stronger.
But through perseverance, we have succeeded in pressuring Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign as Prime Minister, along with numerous other cabinet members, which dissolved the previous cabinet. We are now awaiting the repeal of the 20th amendment to the constitution, which wields enormous power to the president – like not being answerable to parliament.
There is hope.
I hope that tourists continue to travel to our beautiful island (Picture: Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Looking forward – while trying to be as realistic as possible – my hope for the long term is that the movement will eventually force the rest of the Rajapaksas out, that people start growing their own food, and we can be innovative with our export sector to steadily bridge to new, clean markets and eventually stabilise our economy.
We also want to be able to forge a new, truly democratic system based on meritocracy.
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I also hope that tourists continue to travel to our beautiful island, and the unity we have created lasts for the generations to come.
After what was experienced on 9 May and decades of oppression and fear, seeing the youth standing atop police barricades facing teargas and water cannons chanting ‘api baya nah’ (we are not afraid) is awe-inspiring.
This is the revolution we have only dreamt of and we find ourselves at a ‘now or never’ juncture from which we will not turn back.
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