Scenes From Gotagogama
VOL. 2 ISSUE 1
Early in 2022, the signs of an unprecedented and historic movement in Sri Lanka were already visible.
· RUVIN DE SILVA
In March 2022, I was in Colombo, hosting the Fearless Ambassadors' Residency with our team. Artists had gathered from across South Asia to paint two murals in the streets of Colombo.
When we arrived, little did we know that the country would break into one of the biggest protests that it has seen. There were big rallies of people burning party flags and shouting "Gota Go Back! ". A people divided had come together.
Years of corruption and divisive politics led the country to one of its worst socio-political and economic crises since independence, resulting in people protesting against the incumbent President and the government. The protests led purely by the people of Sri Lanka, specially the younger generation, supported by the workers' and the students unions, started off in early March 2022 and spreading islandwide.
The rage in their eyes, they walked hand in hand, ready to take down the government that had left them to face acute shortages of food, fuel and other basic supplies because of its ridiculous policies followed by the pandemic leaving the country bankrupt. It is no longer only about reform or political change, but a matter of survival for the people of Sri Lanka.
They were tired. Their life-long savings had been reduced to nothing. There was no petrol or cooking oil. There were long queues everywhere, anger and despair at every nook. They demanded justice for journalists and activists killed in the past, decried corruption and deception from the uppermost echelons of power.
The protest in front of the Presidential Secretariat soon turned into a model village called "Gotagogama" (Go Gota Village). While the protests were peaceful, police fired tear gas at the protestors and assaulted them in an attempt to stifle the protests. There were artworks lined up,medical camps, IT support stations, community libraries, all at one place, as if the people were reimagining every system that existed.
Every morning we could see our friends and colleagues plan and participate in rallies and protests. We made posters and stood with them with affirmations "Take back our power", "We are our own leaders" being pasted across the streets. There was hopelessness, but also the will to dismantle the system.
These photographs were taken as part of the first wave of protests that broke out. Much happened after that. A few months later, in June, the people marched into the President's house and took over, watered his plants, picnic-ed in his lawns, slept in his bed, made memes as protest. The government changed, the village was taken down, more protestors and activists arrested, mysteriously disappeared. Gota Go Gama didn't exist anymore.
When work took me to Colombo again, later that year, I saw no big protests. Shoulders carrying hopelessness, eyes filled with broken dreams, a lot of perseverance. People are struggling to get back to "normal". The new guard is no better. It has tried every tactic to crack down on anti-government movements. The real causes of the crisis are yet to be solved. Sri Lanka still awaits an IMF bailout and assurances from China and India while the struggle of people will continue.
Their struggle requires thinking about what has transpired: Harshana Rambukwella's analysis is a strong partner to the photo-essay that follows. But one thing is clear: the movement of people in Sri Lanka may have subsided, but something new to Sri Lanka began in 2022.
Sabika Abbas Naqvi, Senior Editor
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:
A group of protestors wave the Sri Lankan flag on the 10th day of protests at Galle Face Green, unofficially named Gotagogama among locals.
Galle Face Green
SAKINA ALIAKBAR is a writer, editor, filmmaker, actor, educator and an evolving music artist. She is based in Colombo.
RUVIN DE SILVA is an acclaimed actor, director, and award-winning photographer from Colombo, Sri Lanka.