Who are the ‘Aava’ Group? Mohan’s story
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan in Jaffna
A few years ago, folks on the Jaffna Peninsula as well as the South were deeply concerned about a sword wielding gang driving around on motorbikes, reputedly terrorizing people in the North. Were they criminals or were they the latest avatar of the Tamil Separatist terrorists, the media wondered aloud.Dubbed the 'Aava' group, the police vowed to crack down on them. On Friday Ceylon Today met a member of this group who has been released on bail and got his story.
Mohan Ashok is a tall, good-looking 20-year-old who has completed his Advanced Level examinations, but had to put a stop to further studies as his father passed away and he had to take over the family timber business.
He was among the many young men arrested by Police in the North for alleged involvement in the Aava group. Mohan says he met Kumereshwaran Vinodhan, in 2013, who has now been exposed as Avaa group leader by various sources, along with about 25 other boys who used to hang out together.
Mohan says that the group got its name because the Police used to come around looking for Vinodhan asking in Sinhala, Vinodhan aavada? (Has Vinodhan come?).
Other reports say Vinodhan was nicknamed Aava and that's how the group came to be named. Mohan says that the group of boys used to meet near the temple at Inuvil every evening after they had gone for sports practice.
Mohan who considers Vinodhan his best friend, says he was often in fights and had other issues in school. Once Vinodhan had beaten up another schoolboy over an argument and the other boy's parents had complained to police about him.
About a year after they met, Mohan recalls that the people living around the Inuvil Temple complained about the youth gathering there and that eventually there was open confrontation.
Roaming on bikes
However, they continued to gather there. Police then turned up and began dispersing the boys after there were several complaints.
"We never took notice of it seriously. Sometimes they make us come to the police station and inquire about our activities and let us go."
Mohan says most of the boys in other places did the same. 'Lots of boys roam on bikes and we thought it was okay.'
Mohan says that they were teenagers then "We enjoyed riding motorbikes without helmets and generally having fun at the time."
He recalls being stopped and fined by Police for riding without a helmet "we would pay the fine and ride again without helmets. Sometimes when the police ask us to stop we just grinned at them and kept riding."
"It was normal adolescent behaviour and we did not know we were a problem for the police," he says.
However, there were reports of clashes and Mohan says Vinodhan was blamed as he was known to police. Vinodhan is currently in custody and has been allowed bail and when we were there, his friends and relatives were looking for sureties to complete the bail conditions. He is expected to be released on Monday.
Then there were clashes with other gangs of boys, Mohan recalls. "Vinodhan was at the centre of some of these. Sometimes he would take a sword and threaten them, but there was no violence."
Police however, have blamed the gang of youths for several attacks on people and businesses as well as for an attack on two policemen in 2016. Mohan says that there had been a clash between two families in 2014 in Achchuveli and boys from the two families had cut each other with swords. Those boys were known to Vinothan and Mohan, but they say they were not involved in the clash.
"When the media in the South started talking about the Aava group saying that we were terrorists, we were scared," recalls Mohan. He has five cases filed against him and alleges that he has been threatened by police many times. Around that time, Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne made a statement saying that the Aava group had been created by former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and was responsible for terrorism.
This was later debunked by police who described the gang as a purely criminal gang engaged in robberies and kidnappings. They were suspects in 8 alleged murders, according to Police.
When Ceylon Today spoke to the Police Media Unit yesterday, they said that there are no new cases against the Aava group.
Today, Mohan spends most of his time sitting at the entrance to his house where his family has fixed a CCTV camera.
"I need proof that I am at home and that is why we fixed the camera," he says.
He is worried that there is no proof that he committed crimes and still he is only a suspect. "The Police are unable to prove me a criminal, but I have been made a criminal because of being with bunch of boys."
"For the first time we saw how media manipulated the events to make us look like terrorists," lamented Mohan.
Mohan was in Police custody more than five times over the last year. He says when there were sword attacks he has cancelled his bail and return to the Remand in fear. Similarly, Vinothan has been in remand custody for more than 8 months. Last year Vinothan has been out only for three months.
"I told my mother to go to the Human Rights Commission and lodge a complaint over these activities by the Police. My mother also lodged a complaint at the police about the Police officers behaviour."
Mohan is now in the habit of running to the Police Station whenever a sword attack takes place. Most of his old cases lack proof that he committed crimes. This is making matters tough for Mohan. He alleges that Jaffna police has targeted him and for any future crimes he knows how to take him into custody. This is due to their anger at his lodging complaints against the Police at other Police stations and Human Rights Commission.
Human Rights activists in Jaffna who say there are issues related to the youth in the north and east. Families and children were not given trauma treatment after the war ended. Most of them have trouble in their homes. Parents are living below the poverty line and unable to provide facilities for their growing children. Frustrations are growing among youngsters. What they do is that imitate what happens in movies.
Many commentators have observed that there is a rise in general crime, ranging from drug use to sexual exploitation in the former war zones. Currently a group of people have decided to work closely with the youth to make them understand issues surrounding them.
Arun Sitharth Maithreyan (40), has formed the 'Youth Movement for Social Justice – Jaffna' and says his movement is committed to transform the so called Avaa members into a non-violent Civil Rights Group. He says this group is no more a hidden group nor should be called so, and ready to have discussions with all authorities.
"We can't let any youth to take any kind of weapon, be it sword or an AK 47," says Arun.
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