Demonstrators and artists prepare themselves with body paint for a choreographed march opposite the Presidential Secretariat. Image by Sandesh Bartlett via Groundviews.
This photo essay was first published by Sri Lankan photographer Sandesh Bartlett in Groundviews, an award-winning citizen media website. An edited version is published here as part of a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices.
On July 9, 2022, former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa left the country after a peaceful mass uprising and he eventually resigned.
The strange poetic irony of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s fall from grace is difficult to miss. So palpable and stinging is his graceless exile and retirement that it is only fitting that he should spend his final days in the country as a president besieged in a place named Fort.
It is no secret that the majority of the Aragalaya’s [Editor's note: Sinhalese for “struggle,” now synonymous with the movement] demonstrators at Gotagogama, the occupy protest site at Galle Face Green in Colombo, that are presently encamped outside the Presidential Secretariat have displayed an astonishing ability to organise the protests, rally and manage themselves. How the Aragalaya plans to rebrand Gotagogama to uproot Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the rest of the Rajapaksa appointees remains to be seen.
This photo essay only reveals a sliver of what Gotagogama has been, or what the Aragalaya has been at large, it will hopefully shed some light on how the space has evolved from its early days into what it is at present. All photos were taken by Sandesh Bartlett and used with permission.
Galle Face, March, 2022: The protest site in the early days of the Aragalaya when the name ‘Gotagogama’ was yet to be heard.
The early days of the Aragalaya
April 9: With placards for table mats, Muslim protesters prepare to break fast on the Galle Road under the cover of a light drizzle.
April 10: With no compromise from the state, protesters begin to prepare for a protracted demonstration and set up tents at the site opposite the Shangri-La Hotel. Overnight, the space begins to evolve with more vendors setting up shops to cater to the swelling crowds of protesters.
Mid April: Firecrackers and gunpowder from incensed protesters near the Presidential Secretariat.
Exorcisms: Religious rituals take place to pray for the country and expel the Rajapaksas. ‘We want to exorcise the evil characters that have taken hold of the country.’
Late April: Invoking the gods against the Rajapaksa family at Gotagogama, holymen chant and cast offerings into a fire in the darkness.
April 15: Hopes of a new beginning for Avurudu (Sri Lankan new year) at Gotagogama. Protesters sing and drum to traditional Avurudu songs with the lyrics adjusted to #GotaGoHome slogans.
Public enemy: A protester holds up a muttiya (earthen pot) ready to be smashed in a game of kana muttiya to the jeers of the crowd.
A protester smashes a muttiya bearing the picture of a Rajapaksa family member for Avurudu at Gotagogama.
Young protesters at Gotagogama.
May Day: Protesters line up for refreshments donated by Gotagogama’s many supporters.
Protesters endure the intense heat at Gotagogama.
Children fly #GotaGoHome themed flags at Galle Face.
At the gates of the Presidential Secretariat, protesters continue their restless siege calling for the President to step down.
Protesters at the ‘MynaGoGama’ protest zone.
Venting anger, protesters strike a pose, punching and tugging at the sash of an inflated doll of then Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa
Young people enjoy the wide variety of books available at the renovated Gotagogama Public Library.
July 11: A banner reminds protesters of the culprits responsible for an organised assault on Gotaogogama protesters under the blessings of then Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
July 11: Infantry prop up the semblance of state authority at the Presidential Secretariat office now occupied by protesters, after security and police were forced to withdraw after overwhelming scores of protesters stormed state buildings two days prior.
July 11: Overwhelmed coordinators of the Aragalaya try to contain the waves of people gathering to view the lifestyles of the political class that enjoyed the Presidential House.
July 17: A portion of the Gotagogama Public Library, now in the occupied Presidential Secretariat, the only building not returned to the state and still accessible to the public at the time of writing.
The public enjoy the garden of the Presidential House in Fort.
‘PUBLIC JUSTICE?’ Occupied Presidential Secretariat building. July, 2022.
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