A Nation on the Edge: Sri Lanka’s Battle against Rising Crime and Violence

Amidst this rise in violence, it becomes evident that this is not a some class struggle, as some leftist elements seem to claim. Instead, it represents a profound national security challenge that transcends socioeconomic divisions.

5 mins read
A general view of city's skyline, amid the country's economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 19, 2022. [Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte]

by Jude Amory

In the shadows of Sri Lanka’s diverse and tumultuous history, a new chapter unfolds – one characterised by a disconcerting surge in crime and gang violence. A wave of criminal activity, punctuated by a rise in shootings, has once again begun unfurling its dark tendrils across the island nation. As one delves into the depths of this disconcerting surge, a narrative fraught with complexity emerges, from simmering gang rivalries and festering personal vendettas to the insidious web of a transnational drug trade that has found a new haven.

In Sri Lanka’s delicate socio-political landscape, the surge of criminal activity and gang violence threatens the very core of law and order in the country. As the nation grapples with ongoing political and economic instability, these criminal networks thrive in the void left by faltering governance. Their operations extend far beyond the mere confines of lawlessness; they undermine the very fabric of society, eroding trust in institutions and exacerbating the fragility of an already strained nation. The vacuum created by political and economic turbulence becomes fertile ground for the seeds of violence, and unless addressed with urgency, it risks paving the path to societal downfall.

The statistics paint a grim picture – over 23 lives lost in 38 shooting incidents within the first half of 2023. Each casualty is a testament to a society grappling with its own demons, where disputes once settled through words and reason now erupt in violence and bloodshed. Crime is often looked at by us commoners as yet another statistic; perhaps another shooting, robbery or murder in the morning newspaper – yet it is this very same ticking time bomb that can snowball society into anarchy, violence and gross instability.

At the core of this tumultuous narrative lies the age-old tale of rival gangs locked in a never-ending battle for dominance. These modern-day feuds, often rooted in personal grievances and historical animosities, play out on the streets, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Yet, the surge of crime in Sri Lanka is not confined to these turf wars alone. It finds an accomplice in the shadowy corridors of the narcotics trade, a global web of intrigue that has ensnared the nation. Historically a transit point for heroin flowing from neighboring shores, Sri Lanka now stands on the precipice of becoming a destination hub. Once a conduit for illicit substances, it now faces the perilous encroachment of drug culture, a menace that ensnares the nation’s youth. As criminal networks tighten their grip, the balance of power falters, testing the resilience of a society scarred by conflict and political unrest.

The roots of this surge extend beyond the present, reaching back into last year’s turbulent pages and beyond. A year marked by political upheaval and civilian unrest, 2022 witnessed a disconcerting 60 percent increase in grave crimes each passing month. Minor offenses, too, flew to astonishing levels, an unsettling reflection of society’s descent into near-chaos. But there is another layer to this narrative, one that is perhaps equally profound – Sri Lanka’s Aragalaya and its indelible mark on the nation’s psyche. The Aragalaya bred an overall distrust of law enforcement, creating a chasm between the alleged protectors of the law and the citizens they swore to serve. The allocation of significant resources toward quelling the disruptions of the Aragalaya inadvertently diverted attention and manpower away from the growing surge of crime, further exacerbating the issue.

In response to this alarming surge, authorities are said to have initiated clandestine operations, aimed at dismantling the entrenched criminal networks. Their mission is ambitious, seeking to cleanse the nation of organised crime within a mere six months. It is a commendable effort, but one cannot underestimate the resilience and adaptability of those who thrive in the shadows – both the criminal gangs and their friends in high places.

The failure to secure the nation and it borders carries profound implications for national security. It opens the door to a host of potential threats, ranging from the resurgence of separatist elements like the LTTE to the emergence of anarchist and insurrectionist factions. It further creates fertile ground for the propagation of extremist ideological beliefs that can undermine the very foundations of communal harmony within the nation. Safeguarding the borders and ensuring national security is not merely a matter of territorial integrity; it is the cornerstone of the nation’s peace and prosperity.

Amidst this rise in violence, it becomes evident that this is not a some class struggle, as some leftist elements seem to claim. Instead, it represents a profound national security challenge that transcends socioeconomic divisions. The recent chilling murder of State Minister of Power and Energy, D. V. Chanaka’s businessman father-in-law, serves as a stark reminder of this reality. This heinous act, orchestrated by the elusive underworld leader Kosgoda Sujee, hiding in Dubai, underscores the gravity of the situation, illustrating that the threat is far from confined to any one segment of society.

Alternatively, the common argument that crime is caused by poverty oversimplifies a complex issue and unfairly places blame on the impoverished. Crime arises from a multitude of factors, and addressing it requires a nuanced approach that considers the interplay of various social, economic, and psychological factors. This multifaceted crisis that challenges the nation transcends mere law and order concerns. The surge of crime, in all its complexity, beckons us to ponder the very essence of human nature, the fragility of order, and the indomitable spirit of those who walk the fine line between light and shadow.

As the news come in every day of another shooting, robbery or murder, one cannot help but wonder if it is a reflection of the broader human condition – a reminder that beneath the veneer of civilisation, primal forces continue to lurk. It serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of human societies – and perhaps human nature in itself.  The relentless pursuit of power and influence, fueled by vengeance, reveals the depths to which human nature can descend. Yet it is this very human spirit that should be counted on to steer the nation off this dangerous road.

It is no secret that corruption within law enforcement and judicial bodies run rampant – especially reinforced by the police constable’s assistance in the attempted escape of organised criminal and transnational drug trafficker Harak Kata from the CID. It is imperative that this corruption be decisively eliminated. The recent passing of the Anti-Corruption Bill could provide a crucial backdrop for this much-needed action, signaling a commitment to upholding the rule of law and integrity within these institutions. Additionally, law enforcement authorities in the country should actively collaborate with regional partners, including India and Southeast Asian countries, to collectively combat the transnational drug trade and organised crime. These networks often transcend borders, necessitating coordinated efforts for effective disruption and dismantling. Further, the severity of punishment must be a cornerstone of the government’s response. Strong penalties must be meted out to those engaged in criminal activities, particularly violent crime. Such punitive measures act as a deterrent and underline the government’s commitment to ensuring the safety and security of its people.

In contemplation of Sri Lanka’s current predicament, one cannot ignore the disconcerting surge of crime and gang violence that echoes through the corridors of society. As this intricate web of challenges unfolds, it becomes evident that the battle against crime is not waged solely in the streets but within the very soul of the nation. The resilience of its institutions, the trust of its citizens, and the resolve to grapple with multifaceted issues all define Sri Lanka’s journey forward. It is an urgent call to action, beckoning a collective commitment to tread the path of righteousness and unity, for only through introspection and resolute governance can the nation reclaim its harmonious essence and chart a course towards a brighter future.

Jude Amory is a national security analyst [amoryjude@gmail.com]

SLG Syndication

SLG Syndication is committed to aggregating excerpts from news published by international news agencies and key insights on contemporary issues published by think tanks. Our aim is to facilitate the expansion of its reach while giving due credit to the original source.

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