Yesterday’s lead story of this newspaper highlighted the rise of an allegedly armed criminal gang in the North by the name of AAVA. It further alleged that the AAVA Group was, recently, responsible for assaulting two State intelligence officers in the North. The report added that this gang was mobile and its members riding on motorbikes were also involved in acts of extortion. The article said that the criminal gang was recruiting to its ranks, unemployed youth.
One charge that this newspaper has often heard currently is that Jaffna, once famed for its industriousness, has since lost this sheen.
Easy money from the West is attributed to this state of affairs. During the Tamil terrorist war years which had its genesis post-1977, saw hundreds of thousands of Tamils from all parts of the country, particularly those of Jaffna and Batticaloa origin, seeking refuge in the West, India and Australasia in particular.
Those of them who were successful in obtaining refuge in the rich West and Australasia, almost regularly used to remit monies to their families still living in Sri Lanka. The beneficiaries of such largesse also included, Tamils living in the North.
As a result of this conduit of funds, which made access to easy money in the form of remittances possible, there was no reason for the youth remaining in the North, such as in Jaffna, to find work. They were reasonably, if not well looked after by their families living in better economic climes.
This has naturally resulted in ‘plenty’ of idle hands living in Jaffna, particularly among its youth. This idleness is caused not necessarily on account of the lack of jobs, but due to the need of having or wanting a job not arising as such youth are well looked after by the members of their families now living abroad.
Such remittances sent in favour of these youth are generally denominated in US dollars or similar such high value foreign currency.
For example, a monthly remittance of US$ 300 as per yesterday’s average buying rate for telegraphic transfer quoted by banks will have amounted to Rs 43,707, probably more than sufficient for a young man living in his own house in Jaffna to meet his needs.
Therefore, why work?
In fact, this newspaper is privy to reports saying that a number of these youth, used to receiving easy money from the West, are currently leading indolent lives, one of which features is drunkenness. There are also reports to say that not only drunkenness, but even the taking of other more dangerous stimulants such as narcotics by the idle youth of Jaffna is also on the rise.
Jaffna is a society which has been scarred by 26 years of war. A spin off from those war years and even before, for instance during the period 1977 and leading up to the Sinhala-Tamil riots of July 1983, was the rise, first, of economic refugees.
Subsequently, the substance mainly took the form of political refugees, some even fleeing from their lives. They were caught up in the war between Tamil terrorists and the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). And, in between, not least by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), particularly in those 2½ years spanning the period July 1987, the month the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord was signed, to March 1990, the two poles in that calendar, when the IPKF, by force as it were, were first inducted to the war ravaged North and East of the country, followed by their subsequent departure, respectively, after being unceremoniously kicked-out by President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
It was those remittances, sent by those political and economic refugees, mainly Tamilians of Jaffna and Batticaloa descent, that have become the sustenance not only to those idle Tamil youth in Jaffna and elsewhere in the country, but also in part, to Sri Lanka as a whole.
Remittances are the island’s number one foreign exchange earner. That also may be the reason for the alleged crime wave in Jaffna.
Therefore, the need of the hour is to strengthen the law enforcement agencies in the Northern Peninsula, backed by intelligence. The alleged crime wave in Jaffna may not necessarily be driven by want, but by idleness, that will also have to be treated, the burden of which would once more fall on GoSL.