With deep wounds from a 30-year long civil war still healing, the island nation of Sri Lanka is caught up in the worst ever economic crisis in its history. With record inflation sweeping across the country, citizens are seen scrambling for essential commodities such as fuel, food, and electricity. Large public demonstrations and widespread protests reverberate on the streets of Colombo with no real respite in sight.
The Rajapaksa-led government has witnessed a steady decline in the country’s economic growth since early 2019. Fuelled by the ongoing COVID pandemic, Sri Lanka’s free-market practices and an acute balance-of-payments debt crisis with the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the island nation has plunged further into this deepening crisis from which the prospect of recovery seems bleak.
The Fears On Ground Zero
The origins of this crisis is time and again linked to its ruling party under the leadership of its president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The ethno-nationalist leader was notoriously known for his majoritarianism politics which rose him to power in 2018. The deterioration of the government’s funds backed by its lack of policies to foster local economic growth has flung this struggling country into a crisis that now brings its people to the streets.
In the weeks gone by, the country has faced power cuts lasting up to 13 hours, leaving hospitals helpless; having to cut back on critical surgeries, procedures, and more. Schools have also indefinitely suspended examinations due to an acute shortage of paper in the country. Fuel prices have soared beyond expectation, bringing even the better-to-do citizens of Sri Lanka’s middle-class, white-collar population to the streets in unison demanding the resignation and arrest of its president.
Young Voices of Change
In a surprising turn of events, the youth of Sri Lanka are standing tall against the poor economic reforms that deprive them of the lives that they aspire to live. Students, young adults, and even children were seen holding up boards that scream, “Go home Gota” at the protests across Colombo and Nelum Pokuna.
With medicines, food, and electricity; almost the basics of survival being highly expensive or unavailable altogether, the country’s youth are reeling from the direct effects of this financial crisis that has now morphed into a humanitarian disaster.
Harnessing the power of social media to engage, educate, assemble, and allocate resources to a larger audience, the youth of the country are providing a phenomenal response and are certainly rising to the occasion in the wake of a crisis.
Unlike protests in the country’s history where youth involvement was also party affiliated, it is for the first time that the youth are populating the front lines at the protests. The protestors who are resorting to non-violence were met with tear gas and water cannon attacks from police forces who are attempting to break the spirit of their dissent.
Colombo-based photographer Jonathan Wijayaratne has beautifully captured the power, strife, collective anger and solidarity amongst the people straight from the protest sites. Here is his visual documentation.
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