The uprising of the working people that shook Sri Lanka! – Part 2
Rajapaksa feared the working class!
In April, mass protests took place not only in Galle Face, but throughout Sri Lanka. Workers, businessmen, civil servants, doctors, university students, Christian priests, Buddhist monks and people from all walks of life all joined in their own way in the anti-government struggles.
In some places, police firing took place. Especially in Rambukkana, on April 19, the police fired to dissolve the protest which lasted for more than 8 hours. The protest was for condemning the rise in prices of fuels. One person was killed and 12 were injured in the firing.
The working class people had to take the matter in their hands to make Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign. He resigned only after being terrified by the protests of the working class.
After talks by diverse union leaders, 1,000 unions jointly announced a nationwide one-day strike on April 29. The trade unions belonging to the ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) also joined the strike.
The working people including Post office workers, bank employees, university professors, school teachers, railway workers, bus drivers, auto drivers, tea plantation workers had hampered the functioning of Sri Lanka for a day.
Colombo market, which is usually full of traders and thronged with people, remained vacant during the strike. Doctors and nurses, who are essential workers, used their lunch breaks to stage two-hour demonstrations in support of the general strike, as it was not possible for them to participate in the full-day strike.
After a successful one day strike, the workers warned that “Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa must resign immediately or else they will face a series of strikes from May 6”. As said earlier, the workers paralyzed Sri Lanka again
The workers hoisted black flags and staged demonstrations at the gates of the factories. And political circles began whispering that Mahinda Rajapaksa was about to step down from his position. The government declared a state of emergency in the wake of the workers’ uprising.
People retaliated, Manhinda escaped!
Before announcing his resignation on May 9, the angry Mahinda Rajapaksa summoned 3,000 thugs to Allari Palace by bus and rallied in the name of a party meeting. Hambantota prisoners were among them. Mahinda gave money and alcohol to everyone and resorted to violence against people who were fighting in Galle Face.
The thugs entered the protest camps and set fire to the tents. They attacked the people, who were protesting, with murderous weapons such as iron rods and sticks. People who were protesting peacefully were not just mute spectators. They retaliated by attacking the Rajapaksa mob and thrashed them.
The rallied crowd attacked the Rajapaksa’s party members, barricaded them and smashed their buses with JCB machines and set them on fire.
In many parts of the country, houses of SLPP party Ministers, MPs and Mayors were besieged by the people. They threw stones at them and expressed their anger. Protesters set fire to Mahinda’s house in Kurunegala. The house of the Mayor of that city belonging to the SLPP party was also set ablaze. People repeatedly tried to break into the Prime Minister’s official residence in Colombo. Ruling party MP Amarakeerthi, who was terrified of being trapped by protesters, shot himself inside his car.
The Rajapaksa mob never dreamt of such retaliation. Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned and fled and took refuge in the Trincomalee naval base to save his life. The angered people gathered outside the naval base and protested by shouting the slogan, “Don’t defend the looter!”, “Send him outside”.
The class unity that erased historical ethnic bigotry!
Above all, the significance of the struggle lies in the class solidarity which emerged among the Sinhala working people, who were overwhelmed by ethnic fanaticism deliberately created by the ruling class for many years. They have discarded it when they realized by experience, who their real enemy is. The highlight of the struggle was in the class solidarity with which working people of all religions and ethnicities – Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Christians – rallied together.
In 2019, when Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed power, he blatantly claimed that he had come to power with the support of the Sinhalese. He was ousted today by the same Sinhalese people. In order to advertise himself as a tolerant person, he declared Galle Face as a site for protest. But now the situation is that the Sinhala majority that chose the Rajapaksas captured the Galle Face and created a small town called “Gota Go Gama”. What a tasty revenge story!
On May 9, Sinhala protesters searched for the pro-Rajapaksa thugs, who attacked the people. By chance, they stopped a Tamil family. But after finding out that they were Tamils, the Sinhalese protesters immediately apologised to them. In another incident, one of the protesters stopped a vehicle and demanded Rs. 500 from the driver. Other protesters who saw this reprimanded him and demanded a refund. “We are revolutionaries, not rowdies” the protesters said.
The person who posted the above incident on Twitter is said to be a serious Tamil ethnic fanatic who hates Sinhalese. But, this is the personal experience of his relatives; He was moved by the way that the Sinhalese treated the Tamils. (Source: Kalaiyagam YouTube)
May 18, the day of the Mullivaikkal genocide, is usually celebrated every year by the Sri Lankan army as Victory Day. The Galle Face where the President’s official residence is located will be in a festive mood. But today, the Sinhalese are paying tribute to the Eelam Tamils at the same ground. This is the first time in 13 years that a tribute has been made to the remembrance of the massacre of Tamils in southern Sri Lanka, which is predominantly Sinhalese. The Mullivaikkal genocide is usually remembered only in the north-eastern provinces.
The Sinhalese people carried banners with slogans such as “We apologize for the massacre of Tamils” and “Rajapaksa government should answer to the massacre of the Tamils”.
A.R.V Loshan, a senior journalist in Sri Lanka, said, for the first time in his life he saw the problems of Tamils being talked about in a struggle by the Sinhalese people; He said that he saw slogans such as “war criminals must be punished”, “Justice for the missing must be served”, and “Justice must be done for the Mullivaikkal massacre”.
A Sinhalese man shared his experience with the BBC Tamil media, saying, “I can now imagine what the government has done to the Tamil people by directly seeing how the government is now oppressing the Sinhalese people so far”.
Not only in regard to the Tamil genocide, a silent protest has been held on April 17 (this year’s Easter day) in memory of the people killed in the attack on 2019. It demanded to find the culprits behind the 2019 Easter bombings. Similarly, on May 3, Tamils and Sinhalese were cooking together for their Muslim companions to break the Ramadan fast.
Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Christians are not enemies of each other. But religious fanaticism and ethnic hatred are the enemies of all the sections of the population. The working people of Sri Lanka have understood this through class struggle.
This understanding of the people on class unity has made the ethnic-hatred fascists fearful. Fascists are not invincible. The uprising of the working people of Sri Lanka provides us the hope to fight for the annihilation of saffron fascism in India.