Exploring Sri Lanka’s Experiences with Democracy

Sarah Kabir and ROAR on “A Journey of a Demcracy: The Sri Lankan Story”

ROAR is embarking on the generation of a documentary thatseeks to create awareness and understanding of Sri Lanka’s post-independence history…… SEE INITIAL NOTICE: https://thuppahis.com/2021/11/19/imaginative-explorations-of-sri-lankas-history-on-the-cards/#more-56776







Project Intervention

It has been over a decade since the end of Sri Lanka’s protracted conflict, but what we have today is ‘negative peace’ – which is the absence of overt violence. Limited understanding of Sri Lanka’s history, politics, democracy, ambition, intent, and the refusal to acknowledge acts of intolerance and discrimination that destroyed lives and led to bloodshed makes it increasingly difficult to avoid the recurrence of violence and we risk repeating the same mistakes. Today, we are confronted with choices that could lead to positive peace or a resumption of cycles of violence. Even now, the difficulties of dealing with COVID-19 and the resulting economic fallout could lead to social unrest that may morph into inter-communal violence if manipulated.

The greater objective of this project therefore is to present an exposition of how choices made in the past and the events that unfolded, led to tensions in the present, through an unbiased, educational and engaging resource that may serve as didactic material through which the past can be acknowledged and accepted. The project will build awareness on triggers of violence and conflict in Sri Lanka across axes of ethnicity, religion, class and caste, and use effective research and documentation to boost civic literacy, tackle disinformation and gaps in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history. With this, we hope to increase understanding and respect for all faiths and beliefs, encourage meaningful coexistence between people of diverse ethnicities and religions, and promote an environment that will foster peace, equality, social cohesion, and development.

Delivery Proposed, Activities, Outputs and Anticipated Outcomes

The project aims to produce two key outputs:

  1. A Documentary: approx. 90-120 min, trilingual
  2. A Website: that will serve as home to the documentary and host additional material in the form of interviews, archives, bonus footage and other related research and content that will serve as a larger repository of information.

(See mock website: https://www.figma.com/proto/XWzCyZAfyCbfoY9FD6d6RL/72?page-id=0%3A1&node-id=61%3A5&viewport=-988%2C339%2C0.1827434003353119&scaling=min-zoom&starting-point-node-id=61%3A5)

In phase 1 of the project (completed), our team worked in consultation with over 40 academics, experts, and civil society members to build an in-depth research compilation that covers the complexities of our history. As part of a collaborative process between Sarah Kabir and Roar Media, and with consultation from Prof. Nira Wickramasinghe, Dr. Asanga Welikala, Prof. R. Cheran and Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, a script treatment was then produced, translating the wealth of research into an executable script, which will be used as a roadmap for production. The project has a strong research and documentation component conducted using credible and ethical data-gathering techniques. Ensuring the professional collation and curation of material and footage, and publishing outputs on open source platforms, the project will substantially add to existing research resources and archives on Sri Lanka, allowing for the impact of this project to be long-term.

The documentary will bring to the fore events and incidents that are not necessarily included in the mainstream or education curriculum, through the testimony of those who have lived through those times, political leaders and key decision-makers, civil society and activists, and the voices of academics and experts who have spent their lifetime researching these subjects. We will cover diverse perspectives to allow for a balanced, broad understanding and inter-ethnic memorialisation. Aside from the documentary, footage of 50 interviewees will serve as a rich archive that will be hosted on the website for the purpose of safekeeping Sri Lanka’s history and building civic literacy on important topics related to policy, politics, economics, democracy, equality, and rights. This will also serve to unpack the root causes of conflict and provide insight on how this might be prevented so that we can avoid the danger of perpetuating cycles of intolerance, injustice and violence in the present and in the future.

Timeline: Production commenced in November 2021 and will be completed by March 2022. In this phase we will carry out 50 interview shoots across Sri Lanka and overseas, film establishment shots (B-roll footage), and purchase archival footage. The post production phase is set to commence in March 2022 and carry on for 6 months. In this phase the outputs from production will be weaved together to create a 90-120min documentary and a website that will contribute to documenting Sri Lanka’s history and identifying triggers of conflict that can be shared with stakeholders. All content generated will be freely available, helping to address past grievances, combat inter-communal tensions, and promote peace by providing a keener understanding of Sri Lanka’s socio-political history and creating a space for reflection, debate and discussion.

Value for Money and Implementing Partners:

The project is led by Sarah Kabir and Roar Media. Organisational support is provided for by two leading civil society organisations: ICES and CPA. Roar Media is dedicated to producing content that helps people gain an appreciative understanding of diversity, through thoughtful, well-crafted, ethical narratives. Roar has over 500k pageviews and over 1.3m video views on the site per month and 4m social reach per month on Facebook in English, Sinhala and Tamil. Sarah Kabir is a researcher and author who has over 7 years of experience in peacebuilding and reconciliation. Over the years, Sarah has created a wide network of contacts across civil society organisations, political leaders, rebel groups, war victims, military personnel, activists and religious leaders. Thus, Sarah Kabir and Roar Media’s experience gives them unique access to the storytellers, and their specific expertise with storytelling will be valuable in transforming the large blocks of complex information into an engaging, educational and insightful telling of Sri Lanka’s history.

Once the documentary is produced and premiered it will exist on Roar Media platforms as an easily accessible resource and on independent content platforms (local and international). The website will be interactive and continue to function in the long-term hosting the documentary and other external (relevant) material that will help to build, and maintain, peace in Sri Lanka. The documentary will be designed to be screened at schools and universities, as well as the private sector and local and national authorities. Panel discussions will be organised independently or as part of film/literary festivals to continue debate and conversation. A campaign for civic engagement will be generated, through offline and online events that will be part of a sustained movement that promotes civic literacy, protects human rights and democratic values, and paves the way to a positive peace. The project hopes to encourage collaborative advocacy for the gradual reform of Sri Lanka’s school history curriculum which is integral for coexistence and understanding.

Risks and Mitigation Plans:

Risk: GoSL approval — Mitigation: We have engaged with the Ministry of Youth and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure the GoSL is aware of the project and has approved.

Risk: Covid-19 — Mitigation: In order to adhere to all covid-19 safety guidelines the production team will be split into three. One team will set out to film footage from locations. One team will focus on building the archive repository, and the other team will carry out the interviews with our 50 storytellers. These interviews will be conducted in one key location in each town/city, ex. Colombo – Roar Studios. This will help to maintain all COVID-19 guidelines in terms of sanitation and protection both for the team and for the interviewees.


Phase 1 and Phase 2 were completed with support from SCORE and Amnesty International. Phase 3 (production) is funded by the Swiss Embassy, the UN and Open Society Foundation.

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