Revolution, War, and Protest in Sri Lanka
Revolution, war, and protest permeate Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history. From independence in 1948 to thepresent day, Sri Lanka’s political, cultural, and everyday life has been perpetually mired in conflicts arising from ethnic, class, religious, linguistic, and social divisions. This volume, edited by Dinidu Karunanayake andNalin Jayasena, seeks submissions that attend to critical discussions of these areas.
On June 5, 1956, the Tamil Federal Party organized a non-violent protest, a satyagraha, at Galle Face Green against the “Sinhala only” policy being debated in parliament across the road from the protest site. It was meantto signal to then Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranayake that the Tamil community would not acceptdiscriminatory policies of the State. What ensued, however, was a violent attack on the protesters by Sinhala gangs that descended on Galle Face, which then escalated into island-wide violenceagainst Tamils that resulted in over one hundred deaths. Sixty six years later, Galle Face Green became, oncemore, the site of non-violent protest in the form of Gota Go Gama, but this time, the cause was both similar and different and so was the outcome.
Speaking of the unprecedented 2022 people-lead protests, the “Aragalaya,” that toppled the Rajapaksa regimethat had consolidated its grip on Sri Lankan politics for seventeen years, Jayadeva Uyangoda asserted the need for “a new system” with “a new political culture” where people can hold “checksand balances against abuses of power.” However, he remains suspicious of the viability of Aragalaya’s demandfor surpassing the limits of representative democracy within Sri Lanka’s dominant and outdated tradition of narrowly liberal constitutionalism.” As such there is a crucial need for scholarship that investigates the linkages between Aragalaya and other protest movements that preceded it.
While reflecting on the current volatile political climate in the aftermath of the Aragalaya, a movement thatharkens back to the post-independence politics of the 1950’s through 90’s, the editors solicit scholarly contributions on issues pertaining to the following areas that inform the structure of this volume.
The book will be divided into three sections:
Part I: Revolution and Violence (1971-2009)
This section focuses on how non-violent movements morphed into insurgencies and militant,
revolutionary movements. As such, a scholarly inquiry that focuses on the continuities (and discontinuities)between the Southern insurgency of the 1980s and Tamil militancy from the early1980s through 2009 asks:
- What is revolutionary about violence in Sri Lanka?
- What were the ideological frameworks (ethnic, socio-economic, gender, etc.,) that informed these two movements and how were they framed by the state and non-state actors? - Inwhat ways did the two movements succeed or fail and why?
- How did the State respond to these movements differently/similarly and what accounts for such continuities/discontinuities?
Part II: Postwar politics (2009 to present)
Essays in this section examine the impact of civil war and its aftermath on political, cultural and
- How has the course of the civil war permanently morphed the civilian psyche?
- How had the 2009 military conclusion further aggravated the religious, ethnic, and linguistic divide between the communities?
- In what ways do writers, artists, and filmmakers respond to the crisis of democracy and the elusive nature of justice for the dead, disappeared, and persecuted?
- How did the so-called “January 7th revolution” of 2015 mobilized by civil society groups and artists’collectives contribute to the anti-nationalist, pro-democratic sentiments that ultimately paved the way forAragalaya?
Part III: Civil Disobedience and Aragalaya (1948-2023)
Aragalaya, as the culmination of local and global events, marked a singular moment in Post- independence SriLankan history when anti-government, non-violent protest crossed ethnic, religious,
class, and gender boundaries. Essays in this section will respond to the questions including:
- What role did marginalized groups (i.e., the artists' community, the IUSF, LGBTQI, etc.) play in Aragalaya and how does it harken back to similar movements from previous decades? - Whatrole did socio-economic privilege of the Colombo-centric and middle-class involvement (i.e., the Bar Association of Sri Lanka) give the movement a national and international profile?
- What role did social media and digital activism play in bringing civic attention to the
Aragalaya both at home and abroad?
- What is the future of Aragalaya and protest in general against an increasingly repressive state struggling to manage social, economic, and political crises?
We are particularly interested in submissions from a range of disciplines including cultural studies, visualculture, law, political science, sociology, history, economics, and anthropology. Accepted final essays will beapproximately 5,000 to 6,000 words in length (including notes).