Religious extremism in India: Hereto and the aftermathReligious extremism in India: Hereto and the aftermath-This post is written by Sanchari Bhattacharjee and edited by Bilal Khan. The author and editor are students of Christ University, Bengaluru.
Sri Lanka- The island nation known for its tourism and tea is experiencing one of the worst economic and political crises. Destruction is so widespread that it has become challenging to obtain even the necessities. The island nation has experienced clashes, resignations, and shutdowns in the last couple of months. This has upturned the lives of the commoners, causing them immense trouble and despair.
Let’s first see what has become of Sri Lanka.
The Economic Crisis
An extreme shortage of foreign currency has ultimately led to a lack of goods that the country has to buy from other nations for sustenance. This caused significant power cuts and led to massively hampered essential services. Fuel shortages have led to restrictions on who can fill up their vehicles. The island nation’s people are struggling to get through their daily lives due to such massive shortages. The skyrocketing inflation has led to the citizens scrambling for daily necessities. Even the nation’s education system is collapsing due to a paper shortage.
This pretty much sums up the current condition of the island, but why is Sri Lanka under such economic and political crisis?
It all began when tourism in the country was affected due to bombing by extremists. These bombings pulled down the tourist numbers because people were scared to travel to Sri Lanka. Because the bombings targeted many expensive and luxurious hotels, tourists were also involved in the death toll. The pandemic was then hit, which gave the already suffering island nation no time for revival from the bombings. Then the government further cut down taxes, emptying the reserves faster.
Economically the country underwent a gigantic twin budget deficit. A twin deficit is essentially the situation when a nation’s income is less than the nation’s expenditure, and the goods that can be traded are not sufficient in quantity. So when we understand this term, it signals that Sri Lanka already had an internal budget issue and then trade balance added on to push the economy further down the rabbit hole. In 2019, the then President, Mr Rajapaksa, promised massive tax cuts during his election campaign. These tax cuts were the death trap for the nation.
Now, this island nation depends mainly on its tourism, and the workers from other nations had their allowances cut down or stopped due to the pandemic. This eventually led to the loan givers reducing the country’s credit ranking, which led them to be locked out of the international money market required for the development of a nation. Sri Lanka has a debt management programme. This programme lost momentum due to being locked out. Therefore, the country’s foreign exchange reserves went down, free falling. Agriculture, too, couldn’t contribute much due to Rajapaksa banning artificial fertilizers. The country now only has very few resources left; therefore, it couldn’t repay its foreign debt, which added monetary pressure.
Politically, it began many decades ago. Sri Lanka is a complex space with diverse cultures and a postcolonial past. Multiple ethnicities reside in the island nation. Georg Frerks and Mathijs van Leeuwen while tracing the conflict, accounts for the numerous populations. One of the most interesting issues was the perception of the Sinhalese population (74%) considering themselves a minority and the Jaffna Tamil (18%) population as a majority because of their ties to the larger Indian Tamilian population (18-19). The issue is that the Jaffna Tamil are not considered citizens of the island nation. Due to this divide, Sri Lanka was under a grotesque civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist group Liberation Tamilian Tigers Eelam (LTTE). The group got international disapproval from most nations after notoriously killing the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi
As mentioned above, the bombings in 2019 ruptured the already tensed and forceful “peace” of Sri Lanka that President Mahindra Rajapaksa established. He served as the President of Sri Lanka till 2015 and was known to violate human rights during the civil war. His brother is Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the present President of Sri Lanka. Nira Wickramasinghe, a professor of South Asian Studies at Leiden University, calls post-war peace an “oppressive stability”. Rightly so, the Rajapaksa brothers were involved in multiple human rights violations during the war. The former President, much after the wars ended (2009), came into scrutiny and criticism for an incident in Weleveriya involving Jaffna Tamil protestors’ killings (Wickramasinghe 204). The peace that is supposed to keep the state together has faced issues even after the war. These small cracks create huge crevices, one of which was the incidents that followed up in 2022.
The country further fell into an economic crisis when the whole cabinet resigned, leaving the then President and the prime minister without any support. While the crowd was quite happy about the President quitting, this led to the crowd falling apart in one of the most devastating ways. Public property was destroyed on a large scale. Several people were injured, and there were casualties too. The political mismanagement within the nation caused a humanitarian crisis that also grabbed the United Nations’ attention. The public also infiltrated the President’s residence while the President was escorted to Colombo by the troops. The President had to ultimately resort to fleeing the country along with his wife for their safety.
The protests in Sri Lanka are as complex as the country’s population map. Even though the Rajapaksa brothers are hailed as war “heroes” for suppressing the LTTE, the current protests involve all the communities. The economic crisis created by the Rajapaksa brothers is affecting the country and leading it towards a rather stark turmoil. It is stark as the protests were violent and victorious, but we also have to understand that this forced removal of Gotabaya Rajapaksa created a vacuum of power. And voids of political powers have very rarely resulted in good decisions. For now, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is the acting President, but even he has a somewhat corrupted past. The protestors set his house on fire as a show of dissent. Yes, there are multiple candidates for the seat. Still, with the restructuring of the country and the victorious protests, Sri Lanka has the reigns in its own hands to do something about its economic and political crises.
Is Sri Lanka meeting a dead end?
So, what do we learn from this? Or should we learn from this? Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the so-called “Terminator”, now seems to be affected by the angered crowd. As we have raised our voices quite strongly when it comes to protests in one of our older blogs, I can but only quote Orwell’s 1984 here:
The proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies.
In one way or the other, the Parole class in Sri Lanka did become conscious, and the flies are but seen flying and resigning.
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