Sri Lanka's Aragalaya protests demonstrated nested sovereignty

This nerve centre of protests proved to be a fertile ground for new ideas and creative approaches to digital activism and served as a beacon of hope for many Sri Lankans seeking positive change. 

Sri Lanka's Aragalaya protests (Photo: Twitter)

In March 2022, Sri Lanka witnessed a significant event in its history with the commencement of the 'Aragalaya' (struggle) protests. These demonstrations were a result of a grassroots movement that emerged without any discernible leadership. Interestingly, the entire organization and support for the movement came entirely from the participants themselves. 

First, the Sri Lankan demonstrators resisted the expansion of Rajapakse's nepotistic regime. Second, there was a presence of nested sovereignty throughout the protests in 2022. Two arguments from Nasser Abufarha’s book ‘The Making of a Human Bomb: An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance (2009) and Audra Simpson’s book Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States are being discussed. Nasser Abufarha describes the Palestinian resistance to the expansion of the Israeli State. Her book’s discussion of resistance helped me understand how to interpret the resistance during the Sri Lankan protests. She discussed how Palestinians opposed geographical expansion. 

The Sri Lankan political scenario witnessed a resistance movement by demonstrators against the expansion of Rajapakse's regime. During this time, allies of the Rajapakse regime attacked a significant gathering area of protesters in Colombo, known as 'Gota Go Gama.' This event led to a widespread protest by protesters across the country, who mounted a resistance movement against the regime. Initially, the protesters were peacefully demonstrating. However, the nature of the protests turned violent over time. In an attempt to suppress the protests, the government portrayed them as a threat to national security. Additionally, there were allegations that the government attempted to incite violence in the otherwise peaceful demonstrations. 

Use of social media

The widespread use of social media platforms enabled the public to access information regarding the violent actions perpetrated by the government against peaceful demonstrators. This contributed to the intensification of the pre-existing opposition against the government, eventually leading to the formation of a substantial movement. Undoubtedly, social media played a crucial role in the resistance against the Rajapakse regime. The power of social media to unite people and amplify their voices cannot be underestimated. Without it, the resistance movement against the regime may not have been as effective or widespread.

Fertile ground for ideas

In her book Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States, Audra Simpson discusses the idea of nested sovereignty and how sovereignty may exist within sovereignty. After conducting a thorough analysis, I posit that the Sri Lankan protests exhibited a complex system of nested sovereignty. Specifically, the 'Gota Go Gama' region emerged as a hub of innovation, inclusivity, and peaceful protest. This nerve centre of protests proved to be a fertile ground for new ideas and creative approaches to digital activism and served as a beacon of hope for many Sri Lankans seeking positive change. 

Despite the challenges faced by protestors throughout the country, the 'Gota Go Gama' locality demonstrated remarkable resilience, and its impact on the wider movement should not be underestimated. In a certain area, the existing sovereignty did not follow the directives of the government. 

As a result, a group of protesters emerged intending to overthrow the government and create a better Sri Lanka through a grassroots approach. Social media played a significant role in mobilizing people from diverse backgrounds who were part of this nested sovereignty. By examining the Sri Lankan protests through the lens of resistance and nested sovereignty, we can gain a deeper understanding of the situation and the various power dynamics at play. 

(The author is a graduate student pursuing an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada. She is a former Assistant Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Views are personal. She can be contacted at

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