Forty young men and schoolboys have been arrested this month in a crackdown by the Vavuniya magistrate on teasing and harassment of girls and women.
Magistrate M. Elancheleyan has also ordered action against schoolboy gangs named after Tamil movies. Sixteen persons were arrested in this regard. All the miscreants were between the ages of 18 and 22 and include advanced level students.
The move has been hailed in other parts of the country, particularly crowded cities, where women and girls are often at the butt end of unsolicited jokes, comments and harassment.
`I received a lot of complaints from people saying that young people were hanging around some of big tuition houses and harassing not only tuition girls but teachers and elderly women,` Elancheleyan told the Sunday Island. `The letters were written to the judges and the magistrate. I have now given instructions to the police to arrest anybody creating trouble.`
Elancheleyan specified that the petitions did not relate to intimacyual harassment but to general bothering and nuisance. These boys would throw stones, follow girls, use filthy words or make comments. They would also accept dares and make women and girls the object of various challenges.
`Vavuniya has cultured people,` the magistrate said. `They were unhappy with the behaviour of these young people,`
According to police, the problems occurred mainly during the times that students went to school and tuition class or returned home. Young men usually gathered around ?tuition junction?, Vavuniya Maha Vidyala junction, Poonthottam junction, Pandarikulam junction and Kurumankadu junction.
The first batch of forty young persons was arrested two weeks ago. They were enlarged on police bail of Rs. 2,000 and ordered to appear in court the next day. Court released them on surety bail of Rs 5,000 and instructed them to appear at a future date. `If they show good behaviour during this period, they will be treated leniently,` Elancheleyan said, adding that he told parents to warn their children.
Sixteen others were arrested in connection with the formation of street gangs. The main gangs ? Karaddu Raja, Naritheepan, Theena, Samrad and Killi ? were all named after Tamil films. Groups of between 15 to 20 people were involved in each pack and were increasingly involving themselves in street fights. As a result, several persons had been admitted to hospital.
Police arrested members of the Karaddu Raja, Pandarikulam and Rambakulam gang. Eight of them were enlarged on surety bail of Rs 10,000 while the others were remanded.
`We gave consideration to the fact that some were advanced level students,` Elancheleyan said. `We did not want their futures to be affected by having criminal records against their names. But I?m very strict in these matters.`
The magistrate said that police action had resulted in Vavuniya being rid of such miscreants. He noted that the town had a large number of displaced persons and this had created certain problems of control. Many received funds from abroad and circulated around Vavuniya on trailer bikes, for which licences were not required. Most of them carried cellular phones.
However, the problem was not unique to Vavuniya, he elaborated. Street gangs have surfaced in Wellawatte, from where he hails, and also in other areas. `One gentleman asked me to come and put some order into Mt. Lavinia!`, he said. `The problem is that people are not reporting these cases to the police.`
Elancheleyan praised the Vavuniya police and said that during the last six months, there had been no murders or attempted murders, no armed robbery or motorcycle theft.
`We have a good DIG, Mahinda Baddewela,` he said. `He is personally involved in overseeing the Vavuniya and Mannar districts.`