Culture of Galle Face Protesters
Posted on September 3rd, 2022

By Sena Thoradeniya

This is the second part of the article, Group Formation and Culture of Galle Face Protesters” posted on August 23.2022.

A. Culture of GF Protesters – An Overview

In the second part of this essay we discuss an area hitherto untouched by any writer, Culture of Galle Face Protesters (GFP). Since we have identified more than twenty facets of the culture represented by the protesters, at least some rudimentary description of each aspect is necessary resulting in making this essay a little longer. There were several limitations. Transliteration and   translation into English, perhaps untranslatable expressions even in few words was one such limitation. Many slogans, what were -written on placards, poems, songs, viridu, raban pada, thoran kavi, kavi bana, slapsticks, wordplay, vulgar expressions, which had become   key signifiers   of their culture, needed more scrutiny.

As the period of the protest prolonged and events unfolded at a rapid scale, new cultural” items were originated and initiated at the protest site tracing them and selecting examples for an article became more problematic. Since many cultural” features took the form of visual representations   and performance (visual culture”), elucidating them needs more space.  Finally, we limit citing examples to a minimum as we have to think twice in bringing these examples into public sphere because of their coarse content

These  examples  permit  us to   make  the conclusion   that the  Galle  Face  culture  is  a  hybrid  of  archaic,  moribund, decadent culture,  popular  culture, low” and  lumpen  culture, although there was a semblance of high” culture  and  the GFP were not a  set of cultural liberators, aiming at freeing themselves as well as the wider society from feudal, colonial, neo-colonial, neo-liberal and euro-centric cultures  that are prevalent in Sri Lanka and build a new culture of a new type.

One reason for this was the multiplicity of informal groups as explained earlier and the lack of a political ideology which is paramount in the creation and building of a new culture. JVP had its own art and literary organisations represented at the protest site, but mostly their activists were involved as agitators, publicists and cultural stunt men” as the person who carried a cross to Galle Face Calvary”.     

It is an acknowledged fact that through culture people and groups define themselves. It has many societal aspects:  family, language, ethnicity, religion. customs, values, norms, education, technology etc. We did not find a cultural bond” between these protesters; bonding” exhibited among ethnic and religious groups was artificial, superficial and hatched by NGOs and foreign hands according to their formula and was short-lived.

In short bonding is sharing a common culture; to share a common culture a geographical space   and long association are two vital    requisites. Galle Face Green did not provide that geographical space; hence what we perceived at the Galle Face was a cultural masala, a hotchpotch of performers and entertainers.  In parks of big cities, we see rotundas erected and anybody is free to perform there bringing enjoyment to young lovers and old couples.

In part I of this article we have stated that the Galle Face Protest group   was formed with the use of social media platforms and it was a mixture of many sub-groups. Evidently the protesters consisted of tech savvy groups. At the initial stages, communication was initiated, maintained and developed using technological devices instead of interpersonal or face-to-face-communication. It was not an entity established   through long association and   physical contact but through digital communication networks. This had become the basis, the driving force and the main feature of their culture.  Throughout its existence social media and technology were dominant despite the fact that the protesters had physical proximity and even staying in an artificial village” they have established.

Technology had made possible for them to display laser projections on 17 April, on to the front walls of the Presidential Secretariat, which was a novel, colourful expression of their culture, whoever provided them with the facilities needed for it and the cost involved in it. But the message conveyed was a challenge to the unitary state of Sri Lanka and a victory of Tamil separatists and TNA elements.  Now forgotten Orumitta Nadu was echoed once again.  

This was an attempt going against the State, an open revolt. To think that this had happened at the very fountain of State power is shocking. Whether the security establishment had assessed this is the biggest question. This was the symbolic precursor of storming of the Presidential House on 9 July.  We saw some police constables making a futile attempt to cover the laser beams. But its severity was ignored by the security establishment.

It was believed that the rallying call of the GFP is the hashtag GoGotaHome”.  A person who had come back to Sri Lanka abandoning his studies at Birmingham (a local Lenin! Lenin who was exiled in Zurich returned to Petrograd before the Great October Revolution! Eh!) claimed that he was the creator of it. This claim was one reason for the emergence of internal conflicts and more and more sub-groups within this informal group and many spokespersons. Proliferation of protest sites or the concentration to one central spot was one basic question the protesters had to resolve culminating in internal dissension. 

In 1988-89 attacks perpetrated by the JVP took a different shape, beginning with the very crude and unrefined slogan in Sinhala, JR Maramu” (Let’s kill JR) as opposed to the euro-centric, polysemic hashtag GoGotaHome”.

This hashtag had influenced an art historian (?) domiciled in a foreign country to comment that it is far more linguistically polite”.  Outsiders who do not know  the  ground  realities  here, who rely on their servile local informants, (it’s a case of mutual back scratching and exchanging gossip and feeding misinformation, rather than engaging in an academic discourse)  would have been  shocked  if they had known  the  trilingual  hashtag  popularised   by  some  groups of protesters later : #GoGota#PoGota#PalaGota.  (This group was sanitised by a Columbian columnist; two months after this purification” a prominent member of this group was arrested and remanded in connection with an assault of two intelligence officers, another example for a peaceful” protest!)

In Tamil ‘po” is not a polite expression:  instead ponga” is its more polite expression; in Sinhala, only a feudal overlord would have used the term pala” to order members of his retinue, cultivators or household servants.  Tone and tenor of these expressions are foremost; a parent may request   a child palayan” in a very mild, harmless, humane way. But pala” was a derogatory   term used to order a person of a most depressed and marginalised   caste to move away.

I cannot imagine  any other leader of a country,  deposed  or not by peoples’ agitations ( Francisco  Franco,  Somoza, Shah Reza Pahlavi ,Marcos , Hosni Mubarak or any other) were insulted, humiliated, vilified,  disgraced, shamed  like  MR and GR. GFP,  both men and  women, young and old  used  all the  vulgar, obscene, offensive, filthy  words in Sinhala and double entendre  to  discredit  them. All these happened in a so-called Buddhist country, a country proud of having age-old customs and traditions of respecting elders. All these happened with the full blessings of a politically motivated Ayatollah type Buddhist monk, an NGO monk who make a living with the funds dispensed to environment protection, a Professor in Sinhala of a city university, he   himself a Buddhist monk and Catholic clergy as their patron saints. Men and women holding such derogatory placards and chanting slogans of same type showed how low” their culture was and to what lower depths they have descended in the name of a protest.

Compared to these vilifications their theme song Kaputu Kak  Kak kak – Basil, Basil, Basil was nothing more than a nursery  rhyme, empty words which did not focus on any real problem.   Basil in his farewell press conference said that he had set this   jingle as his ringtone. Could GR say a similar thing to Gota Ggobbaya-Gotage Aiya Gobbaya”, (Gota is an ace moron, so as his elder brother and younger brother!) and other disparaging jingles which we are afraid to bring into public domain.

The   protesters revealed their sick minds by blaming the father of Rajapaksas for not using protective   methods; a teenage girl was holding a placard promising the dead patriarch to supply four such items at a discounted rate.  A similar Raban Pada” vilified Rajapaksa matriarch for not using protective measures. (Gotage Ammata Enna Kiyapiya- Condom Nogaththe Aiyda Kiyapiya”). It is sad to state that politicians including some pohottuwa chaps, Colombo- based bourgeois intellectuals, academics and members of the clergy representing the interests of such a group. For an old leftist firebrand MP, they were just Dangakara Lamai” (mischievous children). We know how the LTTE boys” created mayhem in this country.

All their slogans were destructive rather than constructive.  Chairman Mao’s saying, that there is no construction without destruction did not apply to them as they did not have an alternative plan for anything, they criticised.    Hence, their culture was also destructive and anarchic having no demand for a cultural emancipation and resurgence.

It is wrong to believe that all protest movements are progressive and all protesters are fighting for political, economic, social and cultural change in a country. We did not hear any anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-hegemonic slogans from Galle Face protest site. Opposition to New Fortress deal or Adani’s investments and the hegemonic power blocks trying to control the Indian Ocean Region were not in their agenda. They saw RW only as a Banku Hora” (Bank Robber); clueless about his deeds from the days of JRJ. All these marked it as a protest hatched by foreign masters and implemented by foreign funded NGOs. 

To be fair with them, there were some placards which they were carrying can be described as constructive; they were mainly in English, no doubt for foreign consumption. This does not subscribe to the idea that all placards written in English were constructive.  Yuppies carried placards saying You’ve f**** with the wrong generation”, F*** you Gota”, Rajaf***sas go home” etc. Some other placards such as Power to the people”, Give us our future back”, Give us our stolen money back”, We’re not extremists, we’re extremely tired” etc. appeared harmless.  The hands of the foreign handlers were apparent in placards/slogans such as, Tools are no good, if leaders are fools”, The power of the people, is stronger than the people in power”, Your pride Vs Our lives”, When injustice becomes the law, resistance becomes a law”, People should not be afraid of their govt., Govt. should be afraid of their people”, Gota you are narcissist, coward, extremist”. These were the slogans transmitted all over the world through electronic media, exalting the protest with the tagline Sri Lanka’s Arab Spring Moment”.  

It is my contention that the so-called peaceful protest would have erupted into a violent uprising even without an attack on the protesters on May 9. We should not forget that attacks and arson on some Pohottuwa politicians had taken place in April, weeks before May 9. How do we know whether the attack on May 9, though misfired, was designed to prevent further attacks on them?

A set of Protesters cannot remain in one place agitating, shouting slogans, eating, drinking, singing, dancing and sleeping for a prolonged period of time. Either fatigue, exhaustion, frustration or overenthusiasm will compel them to burst out. What happened on July 9 was the latter. Resignation of MR and Basil coupled with Ranil’s ascendance which brought a new target and covert operations of foreign handlers and putschist activities of JVP, FSP and IUSF propelled the peaceful” protesters to storm public institutions.[U1] 

Sun Tzu said that fighting without being sure of victory makes your soldiers weakened. Prolonging the war is not an accomplishment.

Against this backdrop it is pertinent to bring about Aboriginal Tent Embassy” into our discussion. It is a permanent protest movement originated in Canberra, opposite the Parliament House, against Australian white supremacy demanding justice, land, political rights and sovereignty for the Aborigines and Torres Islander people. This is the longest protest movement in history which celebrated its 50 th anniversary this year. But the problems of the Aborigines remain unresolved.

GoGotaHome” hashtag  developed  into  a  GotaGoGama” making it the habitat of the GFP; a mock village” within  the  city was  installed , exhibiting  its own cultural  identity, a low culture  of a heterogenous  group,  comprising   social  media  activists, bursary  holding  I U F S  (Anthare) activists , different elements  of  the  petite-bourgeoisie  and  finally lumpen proletariat. Cooking in the communal kitchen when luxury food supplies ran dry and partaking meals, sleeping inside tents of assorted colours  (provided  by whom? ), shouting slogans  and  mass  agitations,  speech making, singing  and dancing, giving voice cuts and holding press conferences  became  features  of  their communal  living.

Of cultural and religious ceremonies held, some were wrapped   in myth, ritual, magic, exorcism and sorcery. Many other items had archaic and feudal features (incantations, invocations, breaking coconuts, cutting lime and ash pumpkins, inserting needles to the head, limbs and body of a figurine symbolising GR (Roopeta- Roope”, or eye to eye” or tooth to tooth”, wishing him destruction.). Bali, thovil, daha ata  sanniya,  wadiga patuna, puppet shows,  street  drama,  kirikoraha ritual of the  indigenous people,  reenacting  popular TV  programmes with an army of reality show anchors, musical  shows  and  styagrahas  of  wandering monks  were  intermittently   merged   into  the  cultural  landscape  of  this  enclave,  giving it a carnival atmosphere , all aimed  to  attract  more  pleasure  seekers  and  to  retain  their  dwindling  interest.  A massive amount was spent on these hired entertainers.  The library, barber saloon, medical Centre, Grama Sevaka office were some superfluous appendages added to   the village” to make it a structured entity. GotaGoGama Sri Gnana Devalaya” added to their belief in superstition rather than making mockery. Catholic nuns continuously sang hymns.

Although some performances portrayed signs of conflict, protest and emancipation (including certain old songs), most of the cultural items exhibited a combination of archaic and euro-centric manifestations. Their hashtag and the name of their city village” itself   had euro-centric frills.

 The protesters did not address wider national issues artistically and did not show any sign of alignment with the masses. Their culture was male dominant notwithstanding a large representation of female performers.  Contrary to performing ritual dances of the indigenous people, protesters abused the inquisitive   visitors and observers asking whether they have come to see Dambane  Veddo”.

A funeral procession was held soon after the Rambukkana shooting incident; protesters saw blood, what they wanted.  There followed a funeral dirge as in a remote village. White-clad men and women having painted their faces in white and wearing funeral masks, wailing and rolling on the ground brought amusement rather than sorrow. Nanda Malinee’s newest rendition Dadabime” (Hunting Grounds) was an ambiguous piece, whether she was supporting the protesters, the security forces or both was not known. Who begs for human sacrifices?  (Thavama Nara Bili Yadee”)

Blood and eye donation campaigns were organised, something similar to what were organised by petti traders in small townships. But the campaign was named as Esata Esa, Leyata Leya” without any knowledge of its biblical connotations. Conducting a cricket tournament (Adaraye Aragalaye Cricket”) and presentation of trophies to winners were extra ingredients added to keep the protesters occupied and make them more cheerful. Celebrations resonated with cries of Ara Gotata Ara” with obscene gesticulations.

A brief comparison between GFP and Occupiers of Wall Street (Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Campaign in 2011, sheds some light on the culture and comfortable living of the GFP. OWS campaigners slept either in sleeping bags or under blankets under freezing weather conditions. Total cost of their meals was $1000 per day. They used bathrooms of nearby business establishments or friends provided facilities for shower.  They were not allowed to use amplifiers or megaphones by the police. GFP had mobile toilets and   gully bowsers came to remove solid waste. OWS campaigners said that their struggle   was against the privileged 1% of the American society. Did their counterparts at Galle Face represent 99% impoverished people who were hard pressed for a single meal?  

Cultural expressions, innovative or imitative are not uncommon phenomena in protest movements as some media men and theorists had praised. Its history is as old as protest movements and history is replete with numerous examples. Instead of dealing with many examples suffice to mention a classic work of art by French painter Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People”, the woman epitomising liberty holding the flag of revolution leading the revolutionaries.

May 68 Paris” inspired Protest Art” and that inspired all other protest movements.  In April 1976, a massive spontaneous demonstration launched by the people of Beijing in commemoration of the late Premier Zhou Enlai and in protest against the Gang of Four, thwarting their plans to seize power inspired new genre of poetry called Tiananmen Poetry”. (not to be mixed up with the Tiananmen Incident in 1989, an open revolt erupted at the Tiananmen Square engineered by the capitalist-roaders.)   

It was estimated that around 11 million workers participated in the strikes associated with May 68 Paris” or Paris Hurricane” as opposed to meagre numbers brought by Ratnapriyas, Kumudeshas, Stalins, Samarasinghes, et al in Sri Lanka. In Paris conflicts arose amongst trade unions and left parties. Counter demonstrations were organised by the Gaullists; National Assembly was dissolved and at the ensuing elections Gaullists emerged stronger than before. It seems that the Pohottuwa grandees had not studied these protest movements.

A myth propagated especially by two anchors of a Sinhala TV channel was that the protesters were the youth who painted murals at public spaces and asweddumised barren fields soon after GR came into power.  It was well known that the latter was organised  by another Sinhala TV channel with ulterior motives. 

B. Some Aspects of Culture of Galle Face Protesters

Aspects of culture that we have identified are closely related to politics of the protesters. Chairman Mao said, all culture, all literature and art are geared to definite political lines. There is no culture (and art and literature) detached from or independent of politics.

 (1) Multi-ethnic, Multi-religious, Multi-lingual Myth

From the beginning Galle Face Protesters (GFP) were donning the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-cultural garb; we do not know how it happened, whether by intent or by design of some hidden hands.

After sometime English speaking protesters gradually departed, the first to do so; in group formation jargon they became deviates” in no time, leaving only the placards written in English and Guy Faulks masks. Later when July was approaching their presence grew; the women protesters exhibited and hung Victoria Secret?) bras on police barricades; marched along Colombo’s busy roads carrying tiny dolls playacting that the infants were crying for milk to the accompaniment of music played on drums and wind instruments by scantily dressed young ladies.

High society elements, including pastors and other members of their congregations surrounded RW’s private residence.  In their tweets they mocked RW’s appearance and called him a fake PM attacking him in most degrading manner. They carried placards written in raw filth and shouted obscene slogans. Doing so they descended to the level of ghetto culture.  They carried out a hate campaign when an IMF delegation was in the City, in other words sabotaging the attempts made to stabilise the economy.   

Those who were mimicking to be kultur English speaking elite failed to bring any high culture” aspects to the protest site; not because that   their association with Sinhala speaking urban and semi-urban yakkos was short-lived. There was a clear distinction between these two entities. The latter blindly following the former in dress and life style, in other words trying to acquire” something from the former.

The protesters celebrated Ramadan (biriyani feasting), Sinhala and Tamil New Year (cooking kiribath, anointing oil at the auspicious hour) and Wesak. It was reported that Muslims arranging hundreds of Iftars, the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. 

For the first time in our lives we saw burqa clad Muslim girls   mingling with the males of other ethnic groups as a totally emancipated   lot shedding all religious and cultural shackles. For the first time in our lives we saw a Muslim girl holding an umbrella to a Buddhist monk to protect him from rain. For the first time in our lives we saw Catholic nuns offering alms to monks of Sarvagamika” fraternity. An undergraduate of a city university, a Buddhist by birth was seen donning a white cassock of a Catholic nun.  The umbrella holding Muslim girl” also could be someone planted like this.   

Although His Eminence Cardinal had stated that the Catholics were not allowed to have any   ceremony associated with Catholicism at the   protest site, we   saw Maundy (foot washing) performed by some nuns. A soap opera actor (a JVP activist; later arrested by police over some violent incidents) carried a massive wooden cross from Katuawapitiya church as a mark of protest for not meting   out justice to Easter Sunday victims.  Only a handful of his friends had solemnly marched with him and his feat did not receive the laurels he had expected from the Church. They must have thought that the Galle Face was not Calvary!

How can we explain the large presence of Catholic priests and nuns and Muslim maulavis and Muslim fraternity at Galle Face? Catholic priests and nuns with the patronage and total blessing of His Eminence the Cardinal and the other top Bishops (the Cardinal was sighted at the protest site often along with the other leading Buddhist priests of the Sarvagamika sect.) grabbed the opportunity to oppose the slow-moving process in handling the Easter Sunday carnage, for not publishing the full report of the Presidential  Commission and in bringing justice to the victims. A conspiracy theory was formulated and spread here and abroad that the present government had masterminded the Easter attacks to come into power. His Eminence the Cardinal who visited the protest site frequently, donning the mantle of a politician hailed the youth protesters, urging the government to Go Home” and country’s leadership must be given to young capable protesters. He did not condemn their violent acts.

Muslims had many grievances: ISIS tag after Easter Sunday attacks, arrests and keeping in custody of Muslims suspected of ISIS links, action taken against a university” in Batticaloa, controversy over burqa, hijab and niqab, taking into custody of a Muslim doctor over alleged forced sterilisation of Sinhala mothers, cremation of Muslims who died of Covid pandemic and later allowing  burial at a faraway place in Katankudi (wrong advice given by irresponsible Geologists),  One country, One law” Commission  and its controversial Chairman etc.  

The protesters in some theatrical acts depicted 1983 July pogrom; no doubt stirred by Tamil separatists and NGOsas most of the protesters had no living memories of 1983 as most of them were born after 1983. But the JVP and FSP were careful not to re-enact the massacres that took place in 1988-1989.

The biggest question is whether this artificial solidarity” was sustained on a permanent basis. Eating dosai, biriyani and buth curry together   will never promote ethnic or cultural harmony. Solidarity between the protesters was artificial, an emotional and passionate response to the powers that be and later against goon attacks and police inaction. Only future events will tell us whether the protesters had laid a foundation for ethnic and religious harmony.

Contradicting their own versions of ethnic harmony” Sinhala songs which were criticised as glorifying the so-called Sinhala Buddhist hegemony became popular such as Nanda Malinee’s Thun Hele Kela Thula Sinha Petaw”.

Except for one man who intruded the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and forced the Rupavahini authorities to suspended its scheduled programmes, all others who stormed and occupied public spaces were Sinhalayas. Taking an oath, if Buddha statues in our villages are desecrated, we will not touch our Muslim brothers” was tantamount to accusing Muslims as iconoclasts.

Another religious grouping that showed their presence in malicious social media campaigns, at protest sites and places where arson took place was Born Again pastors and their followers.  

Our premise is that various ethnic and religious groups were present at the Galle Face carrying their own bags. As the Ibo saying all had a grain of maize in their goatskin bags.”

(2)   Galle Face Culture Challenged the State

Laser projections made on the walls of the Presidential Secretariat was a challenge to the unitary state of Sri Lanka and a revival of now forgotten Orumitta Nadu” call, an open revolt against the State and constitution.  Although colourful, attractive and novel, the message carried the slogan, United Sri Lanka” as against the unitary state of Sri Lanka. Go Home Gota” hashtag in different sizes was projected horizontally and vertically along the massive columns resembling Greek architecture. Some may argue that the slogans such as Now Enough”, Sri Lankan Citizens Build Their Country” (in Sinhala) No More Corruption” and some others were innocent and harmless, but under the guise of innocence Ealamists, separatists and foreign hands managed to hoodwink the fellow protesters and I doubt whether the majority of the protesters were aware  of the meaning of what was projected.

The artists of the Fearless Community” , conducting a workshop, with the participation of queer community, sex workers, lawyers, and  the members of their affiliates, We are From Here Project” at Slave Island and Sisterhood Initiative” (for Muslims) painted Presidential Secretariat in flames and statues of oppressive leaders” being destroyed. This really happened by blindfolding SWRD’s statue at Galle Face and storming the Presidential Secretariat.

It is not only Western diplomats headed by Julie Chung who meddle with our internal affairs; artists of foreign organisations like Asian Fearless Collective” also does engage in such games.

Some were calling for Re-imagining” a flag that recognises country’s all ethnic groups”.  Our school children are being taught that the present national flag represents all ethnic groups. The slogan, power outside the Parliament”, protesters half dressed in police uniform and half in army uniform inciting the security personnel to defy orders, occupation of Presidential House and Presidential Secretariat, abuse of presidential flag, electing a Cabinet and holding mock Cabinet meetings, relocating the so-called library” at the Presidential Secretariat were acts  committed against the State.

The most treacherous crime committed against the State was revealing the security arrangements inside the Presidential House to foreign media and intelligence agencies. A similar propaganda stunt was done in 2015 by a group of UNPers led by Ramanayaka.  

(3) Galle Face Culture was anti-national, anti-Sinhala, Federalist and Ealamist

Above example elaborates this aspect too. How can one explain GFP carrying hundreds of national flags become anti-national?  We remember the very same people who had romanticised this protest stated a few years ago that the time has come to shed away all national symbols like the lion flag aiming ethnic harmony and reconciliation. GF Protesters used the national flag as a top, more often as a wraparound or bed linen. Carrying the national flag did not sanctify the low” culture of the protesters and other   euro-centric characteristics of their culture.

Performers used the national flag to cover their genitals as a loin cloth. Some theorised this dastard act as protesters meant that the government had robbed even their clothes and given nationalism” to cover their shame.

As explained above their laser projections carried the slogan of the Federalists and the Ealamists; singing National Anthem in Tamil was a fulfillment of the aspirations of the separatists and TNA.  More than a protest against a few individuals in a family, some GF protesters were in quest of vengeance for defeating Tamil Tigers.  It was the opportune time for the former Yahapalanists, NGOs and   international community to rally round to achieve   what they had failed to achieve after the regime change in 2015.

Groups affected by the defeat of LTTE   have found refuge at the Galle Face Green. They commemorated the   fall of Mullivaikkal, the last bastion of LTTE (Catholic priest Jeevantha was a notable character commemorating the dead LTTErs). Placards demanding Justice for Tamil Genocide”,  Hold a Referendum to Solve Tamil Conflict”, ”Arrest Gota and Mahinda for Killing Tamils”, Handover Gota and Mahinda to ICC”, Tamil Body Parts Stolen by SL Army”, Suspend SL from Commonwealth Until it Fully Implements UNHRC Resolution 30/1”, Our leader Prabakaran” were displayed. In addition, Prabakaran’s photograph, tiger emblem and Ealam map were shown. This again was a big challenge to Sri Lankan State.

 Theatre and art workshops were conducted by the same persons who conducted similar workshops in Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincomalee during the height of the Eelam   War.

On April 22 Tamil Guardian twittered, why Sri Lanka’s protesters must topple the statue of Bandaranaike in Colombo,” If they are to be inclusive that statue must go” A week later GFP responded to this call   by blindfolding the massive statue of SWRD with the slogan Aharenna” or Wake UP”.  Many Colombo-based theorists and some NGO academies had interpreted this to suit their ideology. We will deal with this when we discuss how the GFP was theorised by these people.

The protesters should have understood that if not for free education up to University level (which included bursaries) and Central Schools, switching of medium of instruction into Sinhala and Tamil and later proliferation of Maha Vidyalayas during Sirimavo’s tenure what fate would have befallen   on their parents and grandparents. In my novels I have portrayed the social change and upward mobility that took place in the Kandyan countryside as a result of these far reaching legislation and policy decisions.

A sculpture of a rubber slipper crushing a tear gas canister reminded us Tamil Ealamists burning a massive boot, representing Sri Lanka Army at their Pongu Thamil” celebrations.

(4) Galle Face Culture was anti-Buddhist

GFP culture went against Buddhist sentiments. The protesters opined that all of Sri Lanka’s problems erupted because Buddhism was given prominence as the state religion and called for a niragamika” state, amending the Constitution.  Although Wesak was celebrated, Wesak lanterns were decorated with black tissue papers, pasting crosses, trisulas and crescents and stars, all sarvagamika” symbols.  A man wearing a saffron robe and a (Muslim) skull cap, holding in his two   hands a big cross and a trisulaya”, (trident carried by Lord Shiva), was seen parading to the accompaniment of drums.

A wreath carried Gota ta Nivan Duka” as its condolence message. Similar death notices were distributed. Thereby GFP saw Nibbana as a suffering distorting the message of the Enlightened One. Their digital pandal erected to commemorate Wesak depicted a Rajapaksa Avajathakaya”, maliciously discrediting Buddhist Canonical literature that include Buddhist Jataka Tales and erection of Wesak pandals inspired by Jataka Tales, making Rajapsaksas a family of Illegitimate children.

All these were aspects of sub-culture that emanated from the Galle Face protest site. But their patron saints in saffron robes were blind to these activities. Nobody ventured into culturally discredit other religions like this at Galle Face.

How the unshaven (hair and beards) men in saffron robe (some tying the robe as a sarong) behaved, protested, shouted slogans, mingled with women, climbed over police barricades tucking the saffron robe in one hand and throwing back tear gas cannisters, jumping in front of moving vehicles, lying on the roads , inciting protesters to open revolt were a disgrace to Buddhism. Has anybody seen Buddhistmonks cooking kaewum in their lifetime, sitting in front of a fireplace, surrounded by women? We did not see that prominent person in white robes who was very vocal behaving in such a way. At the crucial times this person slipped away to be seen again at press conferences.

Sathyagrahas and starting a false Was” period (retreat) at the protest site without any invitation from Shravaka-Shravikas were some other non-Buddhistic activities done by protesting Buddhist monks or pretenders.  Once a monk commences Was” he cannot leave that location except for one night for a period of three lunar months and a Katina Puja” performed at the end of the stipulated period. Only the Katina Puja marks the time for the priest to leave. A Columbian theorist may say that the monks did this as a ruse to hoodwink the police; but there is no room for deception in Vinaya rules and it is a severe Parajika (defeat)abhorred by all. Building a hut without permission from the Sangha or having someone for you to build a hut without permission from the Sangha is again a violation of Vinaya rules.

On GR’s birthday men and women gathered at the Kanatta and held a midnight feast cooking and eating a Mala Batha” (in practice a modest meal offered to the relatives of the dead person). Buddhist practice is offering Jeeva Dana”, wishing long life to an elder or a sick person. Preparing a Mala Butha” and eating it in the name of a living person was blasphemous. In a recent interview a Buddhist monk who was at the Galle Face said that there was little recognition for Buddhist monks and Catholic clergywas the dominant force.  

The monk who had become the Messiah of the protesters had shot down the radio play programme initiated by the Yahapalanists’ Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) headed by CBK as an exercise of anti-Buddhist activities of the previous government. The titles of those plays were Tharuwan Saranai” (vulgarisation of Theruwan Saranai” (May the triple gem bless you all), ”Nihon Sepa Labewa” (a vulgar form of Nivan Sepa Labewa” (May you attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana), Nirvasthrang Paramang Sukhang”‘ ( Being naked is the supreme bliss”, a denigrated form of Nibbanam Paramang Sukhang” (Nibbana is the Supreme bliss). Supreme irony was that this same person becoming the patron saint of the same kalakarayas who were protesting at Galle Face and denigrating Buddhism much more sacrilegiously than in the titles of the said radio plays.  

Some carried the message, Satakayai Watapathai Dekama Bayanakai” (both the (red) shawl and watapatha (signifying Buddhist monks) are dangerous.

The Godfather- Buddhist priest of the protesters – surrounded by Catholic clergy and Muslim maulavis yelled that GR should vacate his post; from then onwards the power of Sinhala Buddhists will end; the pledge given in front of Ruwanweliseya was nullified.

Protesters storming the SLRC on a Poya Day cannot be an accident; they forced the officials to suspend all the scheduled Poya Day programmes threatening them to telecast only the programmes of the protesters then onwards.

(5) Foreign Hands in Cultural Activities

Asian Fearless Collective”, a South Asian based graphic arts movement was commissioned to do a massive mural at Galle Face. Its founder, an Indian had visited Sri Lanka and conducted a workshop for female artists of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka earlier. 

Art materials were supplied for art workshops conducted, graffities and witty caricatures drawn.  

The Asia Foundation, US-funded ROAR media and some other foreign blogs had given wide coverage to these activities.

(6) Galle Face and LGBTQ Activists

There was a strong presence   of LGBTQ activists at the protest site. On June 11 a Samanathmatha Piyasa” (Equality Shelter) was opened, displaying a visual of two mature males in front of it. Earlier we have described how US funded International Republican Institute (IRI), active in Sri Lanka organised Gay Pride Marches in the North and in Colombo. They took part in Galle Literary Festival (GLF) also.

LGBTQ Community held a Pride March to GF on 25 June. Transvestites, with faces and bodies painted with deconstructed stripes of the transgender pride flag”, scantily dressed in rainbow colours, paraded and danced to the accompaniment of drum beats and music; others were dressed like models or were in their wedding dresses.  Samanaliyo”, Butterflies are also voters”, F*** gender”, Samarisi Aithiya Suraminu”, Adarayata Bedayak Netha”, Samanaliyanda Puravesiyo”, Adaraya Tharam Ahinsaka Deyak Netha” were the placards held by them with the sporadic bellowing of the common call Go Gota Home”. Pride Marchers” performed at the Galle Face open stage to the accompaniment of singing and drumming. winding-up with a woman falling dead followed by a GotaGo” dirge. They had claimed that the protest was a victorious moment for the growing LGBTQ community”.

A mural called Rapid Response Mural”, depicting slogans such as We are our own leaders”,” Fearless take power back” in tri languages, depicting four human figures was commissioned to the Fearless Collective South Asia”.  Henna art of the Muslims were predominately displayed.

Pohottu MP Dolawatta on August 24 handed over a bill to amend the Penal Code with the aim of protecting the rights of the LGBTQ communities. Why a sudden change? Pressure from the EU and UK? Will the protesters add this too to their list of victories”? Why the government chose Dolawatta of all MPs to present this bill?

Opposing the participation of LGBTQ activists some protesters scorned them; Ranil becoming Prime Minister was greeted as Gay Kurulla” succeeding Mynah”. 

(7) Colour, Attire, Outward Appearance and Male Dominancy

Since the foreign masters and NGOs  had not given the protest a colour as in other countries they masterminded regime change  or the protesters themselves had not selected a  signature  colour , black had become  preponderant;  blue/black denims, black  head bands,  turban like yellow head gear , skinnies, Taliban  inspired  hairstyles and beards, earrings and  tattoos formed  the  attire  and  outward   appearance  of the male protesters. By a strange coincidence some diehard Catholic priests also sported the same hairdo. With these cultural signifiers male dominancy at the protest site was conspicuous.

Some groups sprang up with Black becoming prominent in their identification. We have horrifying memories of Black Hundreds” set up by the Tsarist police, Black Shirts” Italian fascists under Mussolini, Black Shadows” death squads in El Salvador and Sri Lanka’s paramilitary death squad Black Cats” sponsored by the then government to crush JVP/DJV and LTTE’s Black Tigers”.

(8) Galle Face Culture was Technology Based- A Culture of Millennials

We have discussed this earlier in detail denoting that the GF culture was based on technology and technology was its main feature. This aspect alone makes it a culture of new millennials. They were the people grew up in the Internet Age, a generation marked by usage and reliance on internet, mobile devices and social media. Sometimes called Digital Natives some studies have described them having narcissist traits. In Sri Lanka they suffered due to recent Covid-19 pandemic; they were the people who declined to take the jab, spreading canards about imagined after effects of the Covid-19 vaccination. Their problems aggravated due to fuel shortages and power outages. This alone makes Galle Face culture, a culture of the new Millennials having no roots to our rich cultural legacy. This corresponds with the calling for help from the Anonymous” and wearing Guy Fawkes masks.

Trained (by whom?) digital activists and digital artists did visual projections using digital media,created pop art and dada art photomontages to reflect political dissent, resentment and to vilify rulers and for humour.

One protester was heard saying that the use of digital devises was a Cultural Revolution” which shows their limited knowledge of politics. Through digital devises the protesters shared posts” and later for mobilising attackers. We should not forget the use of drone technology to attack private residences of government MPs and Ministers.

(9) Galle Face Culture was Archaic, Moribund and Feudal

Despite the fact that the majority belonged to Millennials some others brought a culture wrapped in myth, ritual, exorcism and sorcery as explained in the first part of this essay.

(10) Language of the Protesters

Language used by the protesters both in English and Sinhala in their slogans, placards, songs and other cultural expressions was mostly derogatory, insulting, offensive and humiliating. Many examples were given in the first part of this essay.

(11) GF Culture was Destructive

Protesters did not offer anything constructive, rather than destruction and anarchy. They did not address the real national issues, having only a superficial treatment of current problems mainly voiced through anger and malice and calling for punishment and revenge. One placard called for the help from the Anonymous, # Anonymous help Sri Lanka”. Anonymous is an internet based collective of hackers famous for cyber-attacks also working against corrupt governments maintaining anonymity. At the GF site Guy Fawkes mask was a familiar sign. Guy Fawkes was the person who plotted to blow up the palace with the King and the Parliament inside. Sri Lanka’s Parliament was saved with timely action.  

(12) GF Culture Was Alienated from the Masses, Will Not Remain in Our Historical and Cultural Memory

As a result, many of the cultural items pronounced were short-lived, which do not become a component of our historical and cultural memory. There was nothing permanent; nothing penetrated to the wider society; nothing contributed societally to change cultural norms or to create new cultural norms. One reason for their culture for not taking roots is, although there were numbers at any given time at Galle Face, they did not represent the masses.

This culture was alienated from the cultures of the rest of the population; a culture of some groups, whose majority did not take part in any productive work. 

 Reasons for the above are many: the protest has not won anything or  given anything to the people; people were passive onlookers; the protesters claimed that they were fighting for the people, but without peoples’ knowledge and  their active participation; hence, the protest failed to  mobilise the masses; peoplesaw it as a carnival; a money spinner; they observed its happenings from a distance.  There were no leaders; only fathers” and claimants.; people saw the emergence of RW. Nobody can deny that it was the immediate result. With this the opposition to ruling class diminished. People saw it as a Trojan horse, regardless the opposition painting the transfer of power as perpetuation of Rajapaksa regime.

(13) GF Culture Was Basically Wrapped in Rajapaksa Denunciation

Slogans, placards, songs and other renditions, witchcraft and all other cultural manifestations were aimed at demeaning Rajapaksas. In the condemnations of protesters even the Rajapaksa parents were not spared. A poem addressed to Dhammadinna Hamine (mother of Rajapaksas) blamed her for giving birth to her progeny.  Laser projections scattered Red sataka” (shawls) all over the façade of Presidential Secretariat. Garbage bags were tied with red shawls. Asu Marasinghe, now a Presidential Advisor messaged, the protest site is very creative: what’s inside shouldn’t be recycled”.

Placards against Colombo Port City, Stop Port City immediately” was also a part of this which showed their anti -China antics.

(14) A Culture Backed by NGOs, Reflecting Class Relations and Class Ideology

Two distinct class identities and ideologies were discernible at Galle Face.  Colombo upper class elites, as Marx and Engels had expounded, the class which has the means of material production at its disposal consequently also controls the means of mental production brought cultural items of their own as against the cultural items brought by the hoi polloi who lack the means of mental production” .

Music, theatre, dance performances, murals, sculpture, and digital art became the preserve of the English-speaking elite, although they visited site occasionally. Many of these people performed at the Pride March”.

Tear gas cinema” showed films and documentaries and they were followed bydiscussions; we do not know whether the Sinhala speaking protesters participated. High” culture female dancers danced in the streets. Theatre workshops were conducted. The Workshop Players”, an English theatre group in Colombo performed Do you hear the people sing”, from the celebrated musical and movie Les Misérables”. It is the music of a people; Do you hear the people sing; We will not be slaves again; Singing the song of angry men; The blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France”.

We do not know whether the JVP, FSP and IUSF activists understood this. Although as many as hundred singers from Colombo upper class participated in its rendition it was a non- event for the majority, (courtesy of French Embassy in Colombo and Alliance Francaise? Who knows?). Will this Colombo gentry join if the JVP or FSP or a JVP-FSP-IUSF combine start the third insurrection to mix their blood with the waters of Diyawannawa?

The key person of this project had conducted similar workshops in Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincomalee during the height of Ealaam war.

Slogan shouting Artists of the Peoples’ Movement” was led by a Managing Director/CEO of a leading technology company. The word PEOPLE was the most corrupt word in politics and NGO activities; now in art. We ask: who are your people?

Some who were involved in foreign -funded biannual art festival Colomboscope, took an active part in charting Galle Face culture.

Testimony of the Disappeared” called for government to account for its atrocities committed during the 30-year Civil War, death of thousands of civilians, and the disappearance of LTTE cadres who voluntarily surrendered to Sri Lanka Army”. 

 The Asia Foundation’s ‘InAsia” blog and some other foreign blogs such as, ARTnews”, The Art Newspaper” and capitalist press in Sri Lanka glorified these events. For them it was confronting injustice with art”.

Recent issue of e-Con e-News” revealed that NED (US funded National Endowment for Democracy) funded 10 rock groups in 2011 in Venezuela to produce new songs depicting freedom of expression”. How NED funded the cultural activists of GF will remain unclear. 

 (15) A Culture of Many Contradictions

Anti-Buddhist slogans although there was a Buddhist godfather; opposition for making Buddhism the State religion. Some opposed singing of national anthem in Tamil. As against promoting ethnic harmony Sinhala songs championing the Sinhalayas reverberated everywhere. (Tun Hele Kaela Thula Sinha Paetaw””; Sathara Desin Sinhayan Wage” were some examples).

(16) GF Culture was Predominately a Popular Culture

Their songs, dances, re-enacting popular TV programmes and reality showspredominantly giving entertainment of a new type; this was enhanced by the presence of an array of anchors of reality shows.  Earlier the urbanites were accustomed only to outdoor musical shows, Galle Face gave them a cultural masala.

(17) GF Culture was Euro-centric

The form of the struggle itself was euro-centric; Its hashtag, name of the village”, placards, slogans, behaviours of the protesters were some examples. It was just an addition to capitalist world’s so-called Protest Democracy”. There were no national features. Compared to Bracegirdle episode at Galle Face in 1936, 1947 General Strike, 1953 Hartal and other trade union action, strikes, demonstrations, May Day rallies and protests after 1980 July strike, Galle Face protest pales into an insignificant noise.

(18) Militarism of FSP

Started as a candle light vigil” and a lamentation in kitchen” in several suburbs very soon the protest was hijacked by JVP and FSP and latter’s fighting brigade IUSF. Tents were reserved for their leaders with bodyguards providing round the clock protection for them. Others were not allowed to roam around. Accordingly, slogans were chanted preparing for the final battle”, Aragalaya Diyawannawata”, Rajapaksa samaga mesaya peralamu”, Tsunamiya itha bayanakai”.

(19) GF Represented a Low”, Lumpen Culture, A Haven for the Underworld

There were many known advocates of free sex among the protesters; names of their organisations such as Sex Factory and behaviours of some prove our point. One placard pointed out, never seen such love acts” (not the correct translation) even in the Pornhub (a well subscribed pornography site). One woman carried a poster, Llight kapanna epayako! Minihagen karadare”. (You devil! No more power outages!  I can’t escape from my   man!). Their Raban Pada” was outrageous, vilifying the parents of Rajapaksas.   

Some newspapers reported that female therapists of city massage parlours had infiltrated into the protest site to lure the protesters. Many vociferous female protesters, including some known actresses and singers puffed out pangs of their   lonely lives and antagonism towards males.  

Hanging underwear publicly, they added underwear fetishism into their culture. Exhibiting and taking off underwear in public places are parts of this fetish culture. One sarong clad protester was overjoyed enough to take off his underwear in public and hanging it on a police barricade.  He was the man behind the Nandeta Jangiyak” (lingerie to GR) campaign. Unashamedly and surprisingly high society women too answered this lumpen call; normally it is the petti-bourgeoisie and lumpen proletariat slavishly follow cultural traits of the bourgeoisie. There was no wonder why GFP being fantasised   by the local NGOs and INGOs.

At some stage vagabonds began to occupy some tents. Galle Face Green has turned into an urban ghetto, so its culture. It became a hive of activity during meal times as hundreds of hungry paupers wormed their way into Galle Face. There were reports that thieves had entered the site; there may have had many items which lured thieves.

The female vocalist glorified by the Youtubers as the voice of the protest” was none other than a protégé of a Sinhala Tuition Master who introduced eroticism into modern Sinhala prose writing with a set of young female writers.

Ganjaplants were grown. Growing vegetables by an uncle” was only a coverup.   This absurd thing was glorified US funded media as first community garden at Galle Face Green.”

Underworld elements, criminals, hooligans assembled at night from their hideouts in the Wathu” of Colombo to evade police arrest and to hide stocks of heroine, ice and to carry out their businesses from there as there were no police raids. Later an assortment of narcotic related material was found including needles, empty syringes, capsules, medicine cards used by drug addicts.

(20) Filthy Lucre

Since an enormous amount of money flowed from various undisclosed sources, several extortionists sprang up, some actresses, YouTubers, TV anchors and self-proclaimed patriarchs. It was alleged that for them funds were pumped through diaspora sources, NGOs, Catholic Church and some former members of the UNP hierarchy.

 (21) Casteism  

Protesters, men and women both castigated an MP who was critical of them calling him in his full vasagama. Casteism of these Sinhalayas was an open confrontation with the female drummers (headed by a feminist) Meedikkana Melangal” (Mothers for Equal Justice) who were brought to the protest site from Batticaloa. At Galle Face they performed Paramelam” (parai” in short; similar to Mala Bera”) dispelling the belief that drumming was reserved for a particular caste and a taboo for women.

(22) Their Culture Was Primarily a Mob Culture

It will be interesting to study how the Psychologists and Sociologists explained mobs, mob mentality or herd mentality and mob culture relating them to Galle Face protesters. What we saw at Galle Face was how individuals were influenced by large groups and how they acted under strong emotional conditions, how riots erupted later as in mob violence – seizing and occupation of public buildings and destruction of public spaces, ransacking, looting and vandalism, creating chaos and anarchy, destroying documents, libraries, historic paintings and artifacts and stealing of antiques.  What prevailed at Galle Face was mob rule. 

Before the final cleanup   many had decamped leaving only some diehards. Galle Face culture will also fade away leaving only memories of political gambits and Sri Lanka becoming a pawn in US sponsored Indian Ocean Region (IOR) programme.


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