24 August 2015

When you are the last one standing…

This is the forty third in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'. Scroll to the end for other articles in this series.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness.

It happens.  Events, desertion, betrayal, fatigue, consideration of opportunity costs, fear and any number of reasons can result in numbers depleting.  In the worst case scenario you are left alone. Totally alone.  Not just alone, but vilified from all quarters, because those who leave tend to criticize, partly out of conviction and partly as an easy way of absolving themselves of guilt.  

One man or one woman is not a front, this we know.  It is hard to fight and win under such circumstances.  You have to start from scratch.  That’s when you feel that the entire universe has conspired to scream into your ears those dreadful words, ‘give up!’   

It all depends on the kind of fight.  If it is a no-holds-barred rebellion that seeks nothing less than capturing state power and if the fight has been bloody then the last person standing will in most cases be captured or killed.

The JVP uprising of the late eighties was all but done by the end of the year 1989.  A couple of months later, there was a story about the Matale District leader of the JVP being still at large somewhere in the jungles around Sigiriya.  A massive operation involving hundreds of soldiers was launched to capture the 26 year old Prematilleka and the cadres who were with him.  He was killed, finally.  There were just two others with him.   They were the last men standing.

So such things happen.  Towards the end of the insurrection, when it was clear that the JVP would be crushed, some kindhearted friends of the one time leader of the student movement, Ranjithan Gunaratnam (older brother of the present leader of the Frontline Socialist Party, Kumar Gunaratnam), tried to smuggle him out of the country.  Everything including ticket and visa was ready.  He simply said that someone else should be given the chance to flee.  Ranjithan was captured, tortured and killed. He was also one of those last-standing people.  

It doesn’t always end that way of course.  Not all struggles are about guns and blood, hand grenades and storming the high seats of power.  Regardless, the loneliness is not too different.  Do you stand or fall? Do you give up and give in or do you affirm the truths that you defended so tenaciously even if it means that the only way to affirm them is opening yourself to capture and assassination?  Do you negotiate the terms of surrender or do you prefer to lose your job, your position, your status or whatever because you’re still convinced that the fight was righteous? 

It is easy when there is a crowd.  It is tough when you are alone.  But the thing with this business of ‘the last one standing’ is simple: he or she has to remain standing.  Ramrod straight. Until the end.  And then, even if you are felled, that which made you fight will remain alive — a flag for anyone else to pick up and hold up high. 

Other articles in this series