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#GoHomeGota, ‘the struggle’ and the rhetoric

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By Erandika de Silva

I use the hashtag #GoHomeGota to mark this watershed moment in Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history. It is in honour of the people who have stormed the streets to demolish the Bastille of a dynastic and nepotistic political regime that has left Sri Lanka in an economic meltdown. People of every class and creed have united against a “common enemy”; the Rajapaksas. Various kinds of rhetoric seep through “the struggle” to fight the Rajapaksas, and they require close scrutiny and unpacking for a more inclusive, pluralistic and egalitarian struggle. When I use the term “the struggle”, I use it to refer to the #GoHomeGota struggle, yet, with the awareness that this is not one homogenous struggle that can be captured with the term: Each of us engaging in this struggle come from diverse places and subject positions.

#GoHomeGota, struggle or no struggle?

A main concern people seem to have about the protest waves in Sri Lanka is how “protest-y” they are. Youth who join the #GoHomeGota protest movement use various forms of expressing dissent, and some social media users criticize them for their supposed lack of seriousness and depth. This has created a divide among the dissenters. Social media narratives against these “not-so-serious” protesters undermine their contribution to the #GoHomeGota struggle. A problem with this dichotomy is that it serves to constrict people’s forms of expressing dissent. A social media post that is in wide circulation say, “aragalaya aathal ekak kara noganna” [do not make the struggle an aathal/farce—although “farce” barely captures the nuances of aathal]. The problem is that we cannot expect the same reaction or response from all these groups as their needs, aims, feelings, struggles, reasons and reactions are diverse. Although this crisis has united people from all walks of life, we cannot view this as a crisis that affects every citizen alike: It affects people differently depending on factors such as class, gender, religion, ethnicity and caste that are very much active as we speak. The struggles in Mirihana and Tangalle (but not limited to those) have been the climax of the pent-up anger and frustration of the working classes, (perhaps) especially the underclass, underprivileged and multiply marginalized persons and communities. Awakened by their struggle to make needs met, protesters representing various backgrounds took to the streets as a show of support. Therefore, it is simplistic to view this struggle as a monolithic or homogenous struggle – we should not expect it to be so. Every dissenter is an asset to this struggle. There is no template or format for struggles. Struggles and revolutions are diverse and this diversity should be embraced.

The dangers of trying to uniformize #GoHomeGota

This diversity of our expressions of dissent is a result of the diverse subject positions we occupy, our privilege, and the creativity of our expression. The attempt to uniformize this struggle, in a way, waters down its strength and effect. Uniformity in struggles also runs the risk of quick elimination in the face of counter-resistance, retaliation, and crackdown on the part of the government – diversity and inclusion increase protest strength. What is the point in uniformizing struggles? Will such predetermined models enable us to dismantle oppressive social structures and hierarchies that are always in the making?

#GoHomeGota and the question of egalitarianism: sexism and casteism

Kudos to the pressure we have put on the government through the #GoHomeGota movement. Yet, it is important to take a moment for introspection and reflection. Certain placards reek of sexism. For instance, Gotage ammata enna kiyapiya [ask Gota’s mother to come], and Gotage …. Gnanakkage katey [Gota’s … are in Gnanakka’s mouth]. Calling for Gota’s mother is a form of threat insinuating physical and sexual assault on Gota’s mother, and the second is a graphic sexual metaphor connoting that Gota is under the sway of his astrologer, Gnanakka.

Another text/catchphrase that reads Adoh naattami adu kuley upan …. invokes sexism, casteism, classism and snobbery. Although incoherent and fragmented, a loose translation of it would be; Yo, porter! Low-caste born … These words of a protester at the Mirihana protest site soon permeated social media as a catchy insult targeting Gota. The question is how a revolution is possible when we draw on such slurs with their basis in the very social structures and hierarchies that have oppressed us for centuries. When we have fought the oppressive clutch of casteism for generations, why do we now revive casteism in a fight against another era of oppression? If we perpetuate these slurs unquestioningly, it will only further marginalize the peripheries and exclude the downtrodden groups from this struggle for a corruption-free egalitarian society.

Talking about egalitarianism, let us also ask whose struggle this is, and who has access to this struggle. “The struggle” as manifested on the streets of the metropolis and centres may not be accessible to those who struggle on the peripheries of the peripheries who are multiply marginalised; minorities who do not speak Sinhala; and perhaps people who are excluded due to the digital divide. Furthermore, the Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic discourse feeds this struggle predominantly and obliterates the Tamil narratives and rhetoric. Living in Jaffna these past two years has given me a new perspective on how people view protests here. In Jaffna, people have been protesting for decades, but their suffering has gone unnoticed – does this #GoHomeGota protest wave recognize their suffering enough?

A fetish for kings and despots

Although the #GoHomeGota movement is driven by the call for ending dynasticism, nepotism, totalitarianism and corruption, the unquestioning use of certain rhetoric imply the deep-seated and latent ideologies that subvert that cause by showing an underlying fetish for kings and despots. For instance, Katin Putin waeda Tin Tin, implying that Gota speaks like Putin but works like Tin Tin, is unacceptable on several levels: Tin Tin is a righteous, law-abiding honourable man whereas Putin is a megalomaniac who drove Russia to launch missiles and bombs on Ukrainians. The slogan implies a latent desire for a megalomaniac like Putin as opposed to the honourable Tin Tin. Is Putin the ruler we want? It is time for us to rethink the dangers of these catchphrases.

Another example, Magul aethaa maerunama rajaata asubai kiuwe kata kahanawata newei Nandasena, loosely translates to ‘it was not for no reason they said the death of the holy tusker brings bad luck for the king’. This is, of course, a reference to the passing of the tusker, Nedungamuwe Raja, but the inference is that there is a clear connection between the passing of Nedungamuwe Raja and the misfortune that befell Gota. This connection equates Gotabaya to a king and ties his fortune to the holy tusker who has a symbolic significance to the Buddhists – this rhetoric reinforces Sinhala Buddhist hegemony which in turn excludes those who are non-Sinhala Buddhist.

The creativity of placards, slogans and hashtags has taken the #GoHomeGota struggle to a whole new level. They are one of the driving forces behind this struggle and their contribution to #GoHomeGota shall not be undermined. Yet, let us not forget to reflect on the problems that spring up here and there. It is understandable that not everyone is capable of understanding the subtle implications or nuances of these texts and speeches that go viral on social media. It is the pent-up anger and the frustrations of the citizens that come out through these texts and speeches – (and perhaps these too have a purpose to serve?). To be both involved in this struggle yet distant enough to be self-critical is a great privilege not many can afford. It is one privilege education bestows on us. With that privilege, we cannot un-see certain ironies created through the kinds of rhetoric used in #GoHomeGota. I like to quote my colleague, Anushka Kahandagama (also from the Kuppi Collective), who writes, “let me first of all pay tribute to free education and the people whose taxes funded free education for elevating me to a position of privilege where I can pause for a moment and analyze this situation”. On that very note, I write that it is important that we understand the underlying causes for these diverse narratives and rhetoric as we march forth. These -isms that are manifested in these protests also reflect the divisions and fissures in broader society including within supposedly progressive social movements. If we can address sexism, classism, casteism, racism and other failings, there is room for greater pluralism, egalitarianism and justice in Sri Lanka.

Erandika de Silva is attached to the Department of Linguistics and English at the University of Jaffna

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.



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Features

Is it impossible to have hope?

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So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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