Two faces of the “Aragalaya”
Posted on September 29th, 2022

Prof. S. Amaratunga DSc

When goons attacked Aragalaya” at GFG one woman activist, an actress I think, shouted at her comrades Polu bima damanda. Passata yanda, bithiyata hettu wenakan yanda” (Drop your sticks. Retreat back up to the wall). That depicts the peacefull face of the Aragalaya”. On another day when a crowd surrounded the Navy base in Trincomalee where the former Prime Minister was hiding from the crowds a woman in the forefront was shouting Kapapiyaw, pethi gahapiyaw” (Cut them to pieces). That is the violent face of the Aragalaya”.

At the begining the Aragalaya” was very peaceful, disarming and even endearing in appearence. Apolitical ordinary people were attracted to this new phenomenon and they started visiting the site after work in the night and even participated in the cultural activities. The spokespersons claimed they were not affiliated to any political party. Nobody came forward as its leaders. Ordinary people were highly impressed by all this and thought that this movement could bring in meaningful change and solutions to the problems they faced. There were excellent scholarly articles in the media about the movement written by top political analysts.

However the peaceful facade fell apart with the dreadful happenings in the night of 9th June. In a preplanned well organized arson attack 90 houses belonging to politicians and their relatives were razed to the ground. The violent faction of the Aragalaya” had surfaced transcending the peace loving faction. They later torched the PM’s private house, attacked the parliament and took over the Rupavahini control rooms. They illegally occupied the president’s and prime minister’s official residences and the presidential secretariate. These acts may not have been in the original script of the peaceful faction of the Aragalaya”. Therefore all this violence do not mean Aragalaya” is not peaceful and has no place in peaceful politics in Sri Lanka. If carefully managed it would have a significant salutary impact on future politics. In the least it could give guidance to voters on how to elect suitable politicians and even force the political parties to give nominations to honest capable candidates. 

It is imperative that the peaceful Aragalaya” is rescued from the clutches of the militant, rebellious insurgents who mingle with the peaceful protesters to blur the distictions. The peaceful Aragalaya” was reasonable, justifiable, deserving empathy and could have developed into a peaceful country wide political movement had it not been hijacked by the violent faction. The movement appeared to have the potential of being creative, though it lacked leaders it had demonstrated leadership qualities. Unfortunately the movement has been pushed aside by a more powerful militant movement.

This is similar to the picture one observes in the state universities. The student unions in the universities are controlled by groups who are politically aligned with the same political parties that have hijacked the peaceful Aragalaya”. These militant groups control innocent students by violent means. They call it ragging but its human torture. Students who do not tow their line are subjected to verbal, physical and psychological abuse. Computers have been driven into the heads of students, huge container tyres have been rolled down the stairs aimed at anti-rag students, some have been forced to jump out of upper floor windows. Loss of life and limb have happened due to ragging. Girls are not spared and the raggers are senior girls. These are the girls who shamelessly displayed their underwear and hung them on police barricades recently as part of their protesting act.

Ragging in the universities is largely a political movement. Innocent students, particularly the less affluent,  are made to feel that they are alone and helpless and are at the mercy of the raggers. If they don’t comply they are harassed and made to feel outcast. Studying is made difficult and extra-curricular activities almost impossible. Rag leaders seldom do well in studies as they are busy doing politics.  Ragging seems to be the driving force of the student movement in this country. How tragic! These students who undergo such a brain-washing process are ready to get on to the streets when ordered and march to topple governments or chase away presidents. Thousands of them came marching to Colombo and were a party to the seige on the president’s and prime minister’s residences. If they are not allowed to break the barricades and go to their selected target which could be the president’s house they shout that their fundamental right to protest is being denied!

Present President while talking to a group from the Aragalaya” recently said that the main reason for the decline of standards in the state universities is ragging. He has hit the nail on the head. Saving the peaceful Aragalaya” from the insurgents is as important as saving the poor students from murderous raggers. Militant Aragalaya” and ragging in universities are related phenomena. Ragging has developed into an intractable problem in the university and it has political relevance as it effectively provides a large army of young men and women who could be mobilized to join anarchic political forces.

The militant Aragalaya” also has the potential to develop into an intractable socio-political problem. The political parties associated with the Aragalaya”  now has the opportunity to reach out to the people and win them over to their side thanks to the bungling and corrupt politicians. It is up to the mature political leaders of the country to solve the problems of the people and stamp out corruption and other evil that pervade Sri Lankan politics if these insurgents are to be kept at bay. Unless the political system that seems to ensure the repeated election of the same corrupt lot into parliament is changed to enable the voters to elect decent, honest, capable people it will not be possible to prevent raggers and insurgents grabbing state power. Our non-violent people will have no moral scrupple in joining even with the devil when driven to despondency by the evil activities of depraved rulers. This was the clear message our non-violent people had sent to our politicians when they joined the Aragalaya” disregarding the fact that their politics is driven by violence. It could happen again unless the system is changed.

Prof. S. Amaratunga DSc

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