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SRI LANKA: Man thrown into a barrel with a cobra

SRI LANKA: A man is thrown into a barrel with a cobra and left to die


Mr. Dammika Nishantha - Photo Courtesy of the BBC

A man was bitten four times by a venomous cobra after being forced into a barrel with the snake by a criminal gang operating a baby elephant stealing racket in Sri Lanka

This story was reported in several news channels.

The victim, Dammika Nisantha, a resident of Sevanagala, a village area in Sri Lanka, is the father of two children. Dammika, is presently being treated at the Embilipitiya General Hospital. According to Dammika, he was made to undergo this cruel and inhuman act on the suspicion that he had provided information to the police regarding the attempted theft of a baby elephant by an unidentified criminal gang in the area.

Following this inhuman act, one of the suspects surrendered himself to the police after being in hiding for several days. He was later produced before the Embilipitiya Magistrate’s Court who ordered that he be remanded until the May 22, 2014. Several other suspects are still at large and are suspected to be in hiding.

This gruesome attempt at the murder of an innocent villager, following the scuttled attempt at the theft of a baby elephant, exposes yet again the depths of the collapse of law in Sri Lanka and the extent to which organized gangs operate in order to achieve their criminal objectives.

This is the second attempt to capture wild baby elephants from a protected area in recent days. According to reports, criminals arrived in two Pajero type jeeps and were accompanied by a truck in which they intended to load the baby elephants. In this instance too, the villagers intervened to obstruct this criminal gang and it was at this stage that the police had arrived at the scene.

Upon arrival the police made no attempt whatsoever to arrest the culprits and instead, intervened to assist them to escape unharmed from the angry villagers.

During this incident a cameraman who was trying to take photographs of the incident, including that of the registration numbers of the vehicles used, was brutally assaulted by these persons. The cameraman had been dragged inside one of the Pajeros and further assaulted. It was only after the angry villagers intervened that the cameraman was later thrown out of the moving vehicle. He thereafter complained that his camera had been stolen by the criminals and it was only returned to him after the storage device had been removed.

That incident led to several statements being made by many organizations involved in the protection of elephants and these statements all highlighted the extent of and alarming increase in the practice of stealing of baby elephants from wildlife sanctuaries. These environmental groups also exposed that the baby elephants are captured by those who are engaged in providing elephants to hotels and other religious institutions on hire. According to the activists, the daily hire of an elephant could easily go up to around Rs. 100,000.00 (USD 850).

In this particular incident of the attempted murder of Dammika Nisantha, the only person who is in custody so far is the man who surrendered himself to the Courts through a lawyer. There are no reports available of any attempt by the police to arrest the others who were involved in this crime.

What is even more striking is that there seems to be no attempt at all to investigate the conspiracy behind this attempted murder. The man who surrendered to the courts so far is an ordinary villager who had been engaged in river bed, sand mining in the area. However, it is apparent that more powerful persons are behind the organised racket of stealing baby elephants and the attempted murder of Dammika was carried out in order to silence him and with a view to eliminate a suspected informer. It would have also been the intention of these criminals to intimidate any villagers that dare to reveal information about the racket of capturing wild baby elephants in these areas.

Dammika escaped by pretending to be dead. The criminals had taken him out of the barrel and left him in the forest to create the impression that he had been bitten by a snake. They also killed the snake and left it near his body.

Fortunately, Dammika was later able to reach a hospital in time to save his life. If the original scheme of the crime was to succeed, this would have been recorded as a case of death due to a snake bite.

This is the extent to which organized criminal gangs operate in pursuit of their aims in Sri Lanka. They feel so uninhibited that they dare to come in Pajero jeeps and with trucks to engage in this daylight robberies of baby elephants that are a protected species in Sri Lanka. The robbers are so brazen that they believe the law enforcement agencies are deaf and dumb to their activities and that they can escape without any consequences.

On this occasion they took their arrogance to the next level when they tried to murder a person they believed to be an informer.

Such a collapse in the control of crime is possible only when the governments have abandoned their primary role which is to protect the community. It is only in a country where politicians holding power cynically laugh at their own system of crime control that the citizens are exposed to this kind of situation. This attempted murder by throwing a man into a barrel in order to be bitten by a venomous snake is not some isolated and rare incident or an exceptional case. These crimes manifest the failures of law enforcement that take place all the times and everywhere in Sri Lanka.

Even under such extreme conditions, the opposition political parties have blatantly failed to put up an organized campaign to expose these failures of governance and to give leadership to the people who are frustrated beyond measure as a result. The very fact these opposition parties fail to grasp how deep the frustrations of the people actually are when their most basic rights to protection is denied is an indication of sheer absence of political sensitivity of these parties. Under these circumstances, it becomes the duty of the civil society itself to make all possible efforts to make their sufferings and their frustrations to be heard and known to the ruling regime. The only alternative left, in the failure of such attempts then, is to expect worse crimes taking place with more frequency in Sri Lanka.

Ends

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