Sri Lankan protesters say it with memes

One of the memes of Sri Lankan protesters inside former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence that has gone viral.
One of the memes of Sri Lankan protesters inside former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence that has gone viral.


Social media users pointed out how far these scenes are from those of violence in the US on 6 January last year

The revolution will be memefied, or so the Sri Lankan protesters have us believe.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Sri Lankans occupied former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence as he fled the country amid protests over the island’s unprecedented economic crisis. One would have expected acts of vandalism at the palace to follow. Instead came a stream of funny videos and images showing Sri Lankan citizens, across age groups, enjoying the various facilities of the palatial house. People from other countries, including India, have since amplified these posts, appreciating the humour at a dire time.

On Thursday, Mohit Khurana posted a meme on his Instagram page, @haramiparindey, using pictures of a Sri Lankan girl posing at different spots in and outside the president’s house, likening it to the ‘influencer life’ in India. “I went on Facebook to check popular Sri Lankan locations and noticed that a lot of people were ‘checking in’ to the president’s residence and uploading fun pictures from there," says the 29-year-old cybersecurity engineer from Bengaluru. “I think the Sri Lankan people’s humour is coming to the fore through these pictures. In any other country, there would have been mayhem," he adds.

A 30-second video of young protesters pretend-playing a wrestling match on the president’s bed—complemented by an actual match’s commentary—has fetched over a million views on Twitter alone. “Much needed humour after a long day filled with tear gas and police brutality," said Sri Lankan journalist Marlon Ariyasinghe while quote-tweeting the video that was shared by Colombo-based journalist Manjula Basnayake.

Protesters playing the president’s campaign song, ‘The hero that works’, on a piano inside the political leader’s house is being lauded by foreigners as a masterclass in irony. Many social media users also pointed out how far these scenes are from the scenes of violence in the US on 6 January last year.

“There’s something wonderfully subversive about political dissent coated in satire," says Anshuma Kshetrapal, a creative arts psychotherapist from Delhi. “While showing aggression is admitting to being hurt, when you ridicule something, you take power over your helplessness. It’s a way of saying that I’m so helpless now that I can only make fun of the situation," she adds.

This way, the protesters and their pain are humanised.

A picture of a young protester in a black outfit sitting majestically on the president’s sofa surrounded by four others wearing white T-shirts left netizens the world over in splits for its resemblance to the meme format that shows a caucasian girl sitting on a sofa, surrounded by five men staring at her. “The visual is from a semi-pornographic movie and is open to multiple interpretations," says Khurana, whose meme page @haramiparindey has close to 240,000 followers across Twitter and Instagram.

The picture also reminded the Indian online janta of a scene from Akshay Kumar starrer Bachchhan Pandey (2022), a popular meme format. The image evoked a common response: “Yeh scene kahin sunela lagta hai (This scene ‘sounds’ familiar)". The one-liner is a riff on another meme format, “Tera thopda kahin sunela lagta hai (your face ‘sounds’ familiar)" popularized by the movie Phir Hera Pheri, which also features Akshay Kumar in a leading role.

Kshetrapal says the picture overturns political leaders’ “performance of power". “We never really question why politicians speak, sit, walk in that aristocratic way. These images show how hollow that expression of power is."

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