By Anushka Kahandagamage
The protesters defeated the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime, forcing the Rajapaksa to step down as prime ministers and presidents of the government. After the collapse of the dynasty, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a Rajapaksa puppet, came to power with the support of a distorted majority in parliament. Having installed himself as president, without a mandate from the people, Wickremesinghe began to suppress the struggle – the very struggle that led to his rise. Hours after Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president, at midnight as protesters prepared to dissolve the main protest site GotaGoGama (GGG), the army burst in, violently assaulting some protesters, including women and people with disabilities. The military attacked media reporters, including BBC reporters, and destroyed structures built on the site, prompting many to come to the GGG site in support of the protesters. A witch hunt was soon to unfold and today, just weeks after Wickremesinghe came to power, arbitrary arrests are commonplace in Lanka, the most recent and largest being that of labor activist Joseph Stalin.
The classified character of the Speech:
The double standard
National and international activists, academics, journalists, students, have condemned the violent and arbitrary attack on the GGG site. Social media was flooded with video footage of the attack and posts condemning the government’s actions. Many posts on social media pointed the finger at the military, which was to be expected. But a notable and recurring theme was the link made between the behavior of the army and its low level of education – “Spent eighth year in the Army”. Meanwhile, ruling party politicians (and others) have publicly condemned the protesters’ actions, even calling them drug addicts (kuddo). Social media discourse targeting the military (low education) and protesters (drug addicts), although from very different places, was steeped in classist and classist language, and downplayed their actions, whether those of the demonstrators or of those who repress power. protest — to their level of education or social class.
Yet there has been surprisingly little discussion regarding the education level of the president, who ordered the attack on the protesters. There is no doubt that Wickremesinghe, whose past is linked to horrific acts of violence, ordered the army to attack GGG. He is also behind the arbitrary arrests of demonstrators, the very people who put him in power. While people are aware of Wickremesinghe’s violent tendencies, these inclinations are not discussed in relation to his level of education. During the protest, when his house was burnt down, along with his personal library, many condemned the burning of the library, stressing the importance of “reading” and “knowledge”. Ranil Wickremesinghe is considered an “educated” politician, cultured and well versed in foreign policy and politics. A double standard manifests itself where the acts of violence by the military (I am in no way trying to glorify the military) are criticized because of their “low” level of education, while the violence of Wickremesinghe elicits little comment .
Violence and education
There is no essential link between violence and education, rather capitalist structures have conditioned us to associate violence with disadvantaged groups and lower levels of education. Formal educational structures support hierarchies, power and, in our context, neoliberal market economies. Education socializes the individual in such a way that he/she comes to embody the values, beliefs and attitudes of the dominant society. Educational institutions are particularly effective in legitimizing the current social order since they play a role not only in training workers in the strict sense of providing them with the skills to be productive, but also in naturalizing social relations of production. Education thus enshrines the status quo and, in this sense, is not an innocent space, but rather a space where inequalities and hierarchies are maintained and reproduced.
We associate ‘low’ levels of education and deprivation with violence, because we are drawn into it by the political-economic structures that glorify the ‘learned’ and the ‘rich’. If the army should in no way be glorified, it should be understood that the soldiers who attacked the demonstrators, on the ground, represent the underprivileged classes, fulfilling their “duty” ordered by a so-called “educated” president. It is ironic that society views those directly involved in violence as the generators of violence, rather than the decision makers who commit the violence.
Formal educational institutions, guided by capitalist values, serve to produce, reproduce and sustain these hegemonic narratives. Indeed, there is a link between our pathological social condition and our educational system. While our mostly market-driven education is trapped in narratives of employability, efficiency, or productivity—necessary to understand a phenomenon beyond the given—human values and critical thinking remain neglected. back burner. In these circumstances, there is a great need for alternative forms of education.
Counter-narratives and alternatives
forms of education
Education was crucial in the struggle to overthrow the dictatorial regime of Rajapaksa. In this context, I refer to the “education” initiatives which have been a key element of the Aragalaya: education on democracy, the constitution, the history of struggles, the economy etc. On the GGG site, groups linked to the demonstration and other initiatives have organized debates and discussions to raise awareness of economic, political and social problems, to learn how to speak the right slogans and to direct the fight towards “straight” path. In doing so, hundreds of webinars have been held, numerous articles and posts written, and videos uploaded. At the main protest site of the GGG, a library, university, college and computer center were established to support the “education” of the people.
“Education” was a thread that wove the struggle. There have been (and are) different debates on education at different levels of the struggle where alternative forms of education have been discussed, challenging hierarchy and institutionalized education. The protest opened a space for people to research alternative educational structures and build counter-narratives. Unfortunately, most of these endeavors end up falling, directly or indirectly, into hegemonic educational structures, where Sinhalese Buddhist hierarchy and hegemony is maintained in different forms. Likewise, activists and scholars among the protesters who attempted to introduce alternative forms of education and counter-narratives often fell into capitalist hierarchical structures. The majority of webinars and outreach forums were top-down in nature and held in one language, discriminating against other language groups.
Moreover, these forums were often crowded with “experts” or the kind of academics who preach their opinions to the “uneducated”.
In conclusion, the existing capitalist educational frameworks form to discriminate, according to classes and levels of education, normalizing certain ways of life and being. For example, it is fascinating to see how Wickremesinghe was removed from the discourse on violence and education while the military was at the center of it. Alternative forms of education are needed to question and challenge these hierarchies.
(The author is a PhD student at the School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy taking place on the fringes of the amphitheater that simultaneously parodies, subverts and reaffirms social hierarchies.