Riots in London, grease yakkas in Sri Lanka and a pattern of growing youth unrest

Upali Tennakoon | Published on August 20, 2011 at 12:27 am

The latest terror to strike the already harried people of Sri lanka are the “Grease devils.” Called that for their strange costume with face hood and greased bodies these monsters have started to spread fear in many areas across the

Data from a Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) by Sri Lanka’s health ministry, published in the state-owned Daily News on May 29, revealed that child malnutrition is more than 50 percent in some areas of the East and North, with the national average at a record 29 percent.Photo taken from

country. Their presence has already disrupted entire towns and the day to day activities of the citizenry and created mayhem across the country.

Serial killer

The terror is said to have started in the Kahawaththa region in the Ratnapura district with the killings of several elderly women by a mysterious serial killer who was later apprehended according to media reports. With widespread accusations against the Police for turning a blind eye to the terror the incidents turned into a media frenzy before investigators finally managed to capture the perpetrators.

Most of these Grease Devils entered houses at night in an attempt to abuse women. Some of them were involved in robberies too. According to some victims, these Grease Devils were wearing only undergarments and had applied grease all over their bodies.

Prevalent in the east

Their presence was most prevalent in seven districts in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. As the Inspector General of Police Mr. N.K. Illangakoon said there were more than 30 reported incidents and 47 individuals were taken into custody. But then the arrests themselves was to plunge the country into further chaos.

The arrests themsleves plunged the country into further chaos


In Pottuvil, a massive demonstration ensued against the Police, demanding the release of 4 people who were taken into custody in connection with this situation.


In Gampola, the Police arrested 5 suspects involved in robberies and spreading fear among the public under the guise of ‘Grease Devils’. There was another demonstration in Nawatkudi in Batticoloa district in order to urge the Police to expedite the investigations.

In some cases the Police blamed rumour mongers for creating wide spread panic about Grease Devils and arrested some of them. The same fear psychosis was prevalent in areas like Badulla, Mahiyanganaya, Girandurukotte, Rambewa, Siyambalanduwa, Alawathugoda, Kanthale, Ampara, Nuwaraeliya, Hasalaka, Ridimaliyadda, Bibila, Nawalapitiya,Kinniya, Muttur and Pottuvil.

Not to be undermined

However, no one should undermine the threat the Grease Devils’ impose upon civil life in these areas. Parents who go out to work on a daily basis were scared to leave their children at home, and women were reluctant to go out alone, fearing that they will end up victims of these “Grease Devils”.

Who are these Grease Yakkas (Devils)?

Who are these ‘Grease Devils’ that emerged so suddenly, sending shock waves across the country? Was it something spontaneous or was this a carefully orchestrated mechanism to create terror?

The Police maintain the grease devils were used to create fear among the citizenry for petty personal gains. The Senior Superintendent of Police for the Central Province Mr. Pujith Jayasundara told media reporters that the public should not be afraid of ‘Grease Devils’ stating that some people were trying to fulfill their evil desires by spreading fear among fellow citizens.


The situation could have gone out of control due to opportunism on the part of some who used the mayhem to unleash their frustrations out on society as well. Certainly SSP Jayasundera also indicated that some elements of the society were using this fear as a smokescreen to carry out sexual abuse and robberies.

Clearly the demonstration at Pottuvil against the arrest of 4 people connected to the Grease devil saga sends a message to society about the background of such incidents. On one hand, it implies that the Police may have arrested a group of people who were not linked to these incidents in any manner. On the other it shows that there are many people who support these arrested individuals and that they are popular amongst the villagers.

London riots

Coincidentally, several days ago, there was a similar sort of turmoil in the United Kingdom as well. Even though it may have seemed different on the surface the core problem is still the same. In Britain it all started following the killing of a youth by the British Police. An independent committee was appointed to probe into this incident and the committee concluded that the youth had not done anything to provoke such an action and the police was entirely responsible for the killing.

Protesting a killing

As a consequence, a large number of youth in that area gathered in front of the Police station to show their agitation against the killing and following this protest a tense situation occurred. Furious protesters burnt down buildings, while

London's burning! Photo taken from

others started looting money and goods from nearby shops. Within hours, this turmoil spread across the United Kingdom and some people looted money in broad daylight even in the presence of the Police. Youth wreaked havoc in London severely threatening the stability of the democratic nation.


The major reason for the ensuing havoc was nothing but dissatisfaction among the youth. There wasn’t an organization or a specific leader behind this unrest and everything emerged spontaneously. The youth became involved in violent anti-state activities notwithstanding the orders issued by the British government to the police to crackdown on the violence.

Curtailing concenssions will lead to unrest

In the recent past, some of the concessions the English government provided to unemployed youth were curtailed due to various reasons. In this context it is not difficult to understand that the youth unrest in England was merely an expression of frustration at the prevailing situation. The killing of a youth by the Police merely provided the push for the entire scenario to take place.

When a society is ‘stressed out’ due to various socio-economic reasons, it will be displayed in various forms. In Sri Lanka it surfaced under the guise of ‘Grease Devils’. In the United Kingdom it emerged as ‘youth riots’.

Blaming the JVP for the Yakkas

The government, as usual, tried to blame the grease devil phenomena on the JVP claiming that it is the hidden hand behind these mysterious “Grease Devils”. The JVP has already issued a statement vehemently rejecting the accusations. This imprudent approach shown by the government will do little or nothing to solve the problem and will only exacerbate the prevailing situation.

Green light

Moreover it will become a green light for the Police to crackdown on members of the JVP and the public will lose faith in the institution which is established to ensure law and order in the country. Government interference in police activity and its attempt to make Police officers dance to its own tune will result in further distruct of the police force by the citizenry.

Rioting began in London August 6 and spread to several other English cities. Police were criticised for responding too slowly, particularly in London, but eventually deployed huge numbers of officers at riot zones to quell the mayhem. Across the country, some 3,000 people were arrested and about 1,400 of those charged with riot-related offenses. Courts opened around-the-clock for several days to deal with the flood of suspects.

In Sri Lanka, ‘the youth’ have to confront various problems such as unemployment and poverty. There is no transparent mechanism to recruit employees to the government sector. All these factors have collectively caused ‘dissatisfaction’ amongst the youth.

50,000 applicants for 50 jobs

Recently there was a tense situation in Colombo when the Foreign Employment Bureau started issuing application forms for the Korean language test for applicants who seek job opportunities in Korea. Some of the applicants who came to Colombo to obtain applications started a protest against the Bureau to show their agitation about, what they term as the unfair manner in which the Bureau issued application forms. More than 50,000 applicants will face the Korean language test in order to compete for 50 job vacancies in Korea. Little wonder the frustration and desperation among youth!

Poverty rate soaring

In Sri Lanka the poverty rate stands at 12.6 percent. In the estate sector, the situation is even worse since the poverty rate stands at 25.8 percent. If we consider the poverty statistics on a provincial basis, it clearly shows the gravity of this problem.

In the Uva province the poverty rate stands at 23.8 and in Sabaragamuwa it is 20.2% while the poverty rate in Central

Pro government and anti government protesters face off in Egypt. Photo taken from

province stands at 18.2. In all the provinces, except the Western province, poverty rate exceeds the 10% mark. These figures are based on the statistics issued by Census and Statistics Department for the 2006-2007 because those are the “latest” statistics available in the official website of the department.

Jobs jobs jobs

Unemployment of the youth, in the age range of 15-24, stands at 15.7 while the age range 25-29 has an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent. 10% of the students who passed the Advanced Level examination suffer from unemployment. 5.3 % of the students who passed the Ordinary Level examination have failed to find jobs. ( 2011 – 1st quarter )

It is no wonder that the youth in Sri Lanka are undergoing severe trauma due to various problems. These frustrations are bound to manifest in several ways and this pattern can be stretched out to any country in the world. These “Grease Devils’ of Sri Lanka should not be taken as an isolated matter but rather as an indication of the far greater socio-economic realities now facing Sri Lanka.

Egyptian unrest

To avoid such outbreaks, the government has to work with prudence and political foresight. If allowed to escalate it could climax in disaster and chaos. In Egypt, dissatisfaction among the youth was the major force that ousted President Hosni Mubarak who governed the country for nearly 40 years.

Kabir Hasheem warns

UNP Parliamentarian Mr. Kabir Hasheem at a press conference told media today that what may have begun as a joke should not be treated as one anymore as it has escalated to seriously dangerous proportions. The Grease Yakka situation

has created clashes between communities and villagers, there has been loss of life and civil society has clashed with police and other officials, Mr. Hasheem said.

UNP Parliamentarian Kabir Hasheem at the Press Conference

He also pointed out that even though this was holy month for Muslims, villagers and women were afraid to leave their homes or to even go to mosque.

Mr. Hasheem reiterated the importance of looking into this matter stating Sri Lanka has one of the oldest police forces and they should be able to take care of this situation warning that more politicisation of the force could lead to suspicion and a lack of confidence in the police. The parliamentarian suggested that community based protection units should be set up at village level and these civil protection organisations should work together with the police and the government agents to protect the communities.

Certainly most of the areas from which spawned these mysterious Grease Devils were some of the most poverty stricken areas in Sri Lanka. As long as we don’t address the root causes for social malfunction “Grease Devils” will appear in different forms and various degrees of fancy dress. It is a phenomena that should be examined and researched by social scientists and an issue that deserves the immediate attention of the government.


Defence authorities have ordered a crackdown on vigilantes hunting down the so-called “grease yakkas’ after five people were killed and several wounded in the ongoing drama which has reached such disturbing proportions that leave for policemen in the east has been cancelled with immediate effect. Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Pujith Jayasundara said the situation had gone out of control and stern action would be taken against those found taking the law into their hands. He, however, conceded that the police must share part of the blame. “These so-called “grease yakkas do not exist but the scare has been built up by different persons and groups with ulterior agendas. These persons include illicit gem miners, loggers, poachers, thieves, perverts and to a lesser extent common pranksters,” DIG Jayasundara told the Sunday Times. He also said senior police officers in the affected areas had been ordered to fan out into the villages and allay their fears. “This is something that should have happened in the first place. But it was not the case, and as a result the problem was allowed to develop into a full blown crisis, causing deaths, hatred, fear and a lack of trust in the police,” the DIG said. He said senior police officers had also been requested to work together with religious heads and form committees with respected elders and other individuals. “The fear needs to be overcome and everyone should work towards this end,” he said. The DIG said so far 47 persons involved in this scare drama had been arrested. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse also warned people against taking the law into their own hands, adding that the police must also take part of the blame for the current situation. Meanwhile tension was running high in Pottuvil in the Amparai district yesterday after one man was killed when police were forced to open fire on an unruly mob that had begun to stone the local police station. The protesters were demanding the release of three persons taken into custody on Thursday night. They were a part of a larger group that had attacked a group of army and police personnel who were mistakenly thought to be night stalkers or “grease stalkers”. Meanwhile two men were hacked to death inside a tea estate at Haputale after they were suspected to be grease yakkas while another youth was electrocuted while giving chase to a suspicious person in Kandy. Another man was hacked to death by a woman at Amparai after he tried to pull a “grease yakka” scare on her while she was sleeping at her home. A senior police officer was yesterday rushed to the East following protests and mounting tension at Akkaraipattu and Pottuvil after a man died in a police shooting. DIG Pujith Jayasundara was sent from Kurunegala to defuse the situation in the area, officials said. DIG Jayasundera had been successful in arresting the serial killer who hacked to death three women on an estate in Kahawatte early last month. PHOTO: Police in Sigiriya yesterday arrested a man who, according to them, fitted the description of a grease yakka.They said he was wearing a balaclava (face hood) and a pair of gloves and had applied grease on his body. Among the items found in a bag he was carrying were women’s underwear, the police said. Text and photo taken from The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka 14 August 2011. See original at by Kanchana Kumara Ariyadasa




15 Comments to “Riots in London, grease yakkas in Sri Lanka and a pattern of growing youth unrest”

  • […] In front of the Health Ministry was chanted, "O Mubarak, tell us where you get 70 billion dollars,".Thousands of Egyptian workers went on strike Wednesday in various locations throughout the whole cou…o reports that President Hosni Mubarak's family accumulated vast wealth while almost half the […]

  • This sounds like a bad joke by a few people who did not appreciate the fact that Sri Lanka has become a far safer place after the Tamil terrorists were killed and it seems as if some people still amuse themselves by fear and hatemongering but they are not the small criminals and jobless youths but people who call themselves Journalists who are seated thousands of kilometres far away from reality, seated behind computers in a far away country. Looking at the track records of these people we do not have to wonder when people who suffered in the hands of Tamil terrorists since decades will resort to any means to get rid of these fear and hatemongering menaces who have placed prize tags for their own heads. People who suffered terrible hardships since decades will resort to any means to get rid of every menace.

    If the killing of ruthless terrorists in self-defence is justified, who should care when a hate and fear mongering menace is eradicated? Return to the country where you came from to find the answer. With the latest and most efficient despatch services we could also deliver the answer right up to your doorsteps with the best compliments from the people of Sri Lanka..

  • You have 7 more days to furnish the proof of your allegations, failing that I will file a case against Sonali and two others in Sri Lanka and fight for your extradition from what ever country you people are hiding. Watch yr back when motorcycles are approaching you guys, maybe Santa will come with a Christmas present.

  • I have been in Sri Lanka for almost 3 months touring the whole country and interviewed many people but never heard of such things. Difficult to believe.

  • When I read what’s said between the lines, the only question that pops up in my mind is, if the comparison between the youth unrest in London and the comparison with the so-called “Greese Yakas” is intended to promote more hooliganism in Sri Lanka during a time when the personal contribution of every single individual is essential to steer Sri Lanka to what it was when our forefathers ruled the country. These forefathers left behind great monuments, developed an irrigation infrastructure that still helps feed the people with the food grown in the country and not to mention the the personal contribution every single individual made towards developing an intellectual society. What have we today after almost 400 years of colonization? …….. To the youths who allegedly have no jobs; did our forefathers wait for white-collar jobs? NO, they used every single inch of land to do farming and become self-sufficient. There is still enough potential in Sri Lanka for hard working youths and there is no excuse for them or the politician goons making capital by creating chaos in the country to squat on their haunches and howl like castrated donkeys complaining that there are no perspectives.
    After living abroad since almost 40 years and travelling to Sri Lanka only 4 times I saw thousands of motivated youngsters who only needed good examples set by the adult society to shape up their lives. Even the poorest kid whom I sent money, wrote back to say that they rather wished that I come to see them instead of sending money. These are the people who had almost nothing for them but had much love to offer to others, and I found these people in every nook and corner of Sri Lanka.

    There were also people who always complained about hardships and I am not surprised about the fussing by people who were continuously fed with subsidized food imported from somewhere. Their gage of measuring their well being was how much they got for Summa without having to contribute anything. They rather left their gardens neglected and ran to the nearby markets to buy their food and vegetables, only to fuss about the high costs of living. As for me, I would only believe that people are suffering from hardships when people die of starvation, and should that happen, I would say well deserved. Since over 30 years people lived under fear of getting killed by the LTTE. Today, in spite of the fact that the IC continues to instigate the next waves of violence and undermine the hard-earned peace, it is rather frustrating to note that people have still not realized that the main secret of success by the Tamil Nationalists and terrorists were the fractional fighting and divisions among our own people. Being a person who constantly monitor the activities in the International Community, and having studied their publications, I have come to the conclusion that they have nothing much to do towards undermining the peace and stability since the different political fractions are busy attacking each other on all fronts. That being the case, they are fully focused on cultivating foreigners in support of their sinister ideas to create the next wave of killings in Sri Lanka.

    Kings ruled Sri Lanka since many thousands of years and we enjoyed the respect from the whole world, until the colonial powers overturned the whole social structure and economy. During the 150 years under the British mockery system that is called Parliamentary Democracy we learnt the bad components such as raising opposition to anything that a political opponent did. The big ones were at each-others throats while the small ones made the best profits. That explains the success of those who had their own nationalistic agendas.
    I would summarize by saying that 150 years suffering under colonial power and 30 years of Terrorism is enough and that the past chapters should be finally closed after the Tamil terrorists were finally crushed down. As of not, our only objective should be focusing on the future to make Sri Lanka the paradise it was before and speak in one voice and work as one body to defend our country and society against foreign threats. This could be achieved only when all people stand under the one umbrella that is held by the man who offers shelter to every individual. Attack the umbrella holder and demolish the protective shield, and it will be far too late when people realize that they are exposed to a hazardous radiation.
    The Kings who ruled Sri Lanka and enabled that people lived in a paradise were born, not elected by public voting. Comparing to the ancient kingdoms and the current situation, I, as a foreign national would say that Sri Lanka would need a Prakaramabahu and Dutugamunu in one person if the country is to achieve the status it enjoyed prior to the invasion by colonial powers. What makes me sad as a fellow, who was born in Sri Lanka, is that the people are too stupid and ignorant to understand that they already got one. Secondly, some think that their chicken-feet will fit into the shoes worn by the current head of state and his team of ministers. Just take note that attempting to walk wearing over-sized shoes will only make the walker stumble and fall. In addition to the pain suffered after falling, there will be others anxiously waiting to tread on the….. fallen fellow.

    • I seriously doubt that this opinion piece was trying to create more hooliganism in Sri Lanka.

      • Grease Yakkas in Sri Lanka ?

        Does it mean that Fonseka has escaped from jail?

  • ….. Of course the young people all around the world are not happy, these tough economic situations are testing times for the young and the old alike. The UK’s budget cuts to universities may be the largest of the cuts, but that has not been implemented yet, the youth should not have felt it at all. The story is the same in any sector. The looters in the UK only looted because there was opportunity, the gangsters, as well as posh kids were involved. One Olympic ambassoador, a young girl was seen on TV smashing a car, was that frustration? she had all her bright future ahead of her. Her Facebook message says it all. Nothing to do with frustration…….On the other hand, Greese-yakas who have been caught were all ex-army deserters. They still have issues, not having come out yet. This is also an opportunity they were using for their advantage.
    ………Greese-yakas and Yoda-Martins were there even in 1980s when our economy was at its peak. These are opportunists, rogues and such people do always exist……… In 1990s, one very prestigious bank in Colombo called for applications from graduates for two Management Trainee positions.Do you know, somebody from the bank said to me that there were 12000 applications. So don’t be too excited when there are 50000 applicants for 50 positions. This is the case for any job, anywhere in the world, under any economic conditions.

    • Well said, but let me add the following;

      As for the riots in London, the British colonial power experienced only a small sampling of the looting they did in the colonies they controlled since many hundred years with their divide and rule policies. What happened in London was not looting but self-servicing, In colonies the British looters created townships and ghettos to confine natives and the same thing was done in London to confine people from their colonies who were always on the receiving end of hardships and sufferings, but now the youth in Great Briton have discovered what Common Wealth mean and they are serving themselves as done by their colonial masters. That being the case, should we be surprised NO, I am amused very much. Secondly, the same colonial powers, the Brits, EC and the USA, the so-called western democracies supported, as they called it, “peaceful demonstrations” when in the background we TV viewers were shown buildings and vehicles set ablaze by the peaceful demonstrators, but when the youngsters in London took too the streets in the same manner as their friends in the ME, they were called “Rioters”. Why this double standards? What was good in the ME directed against their leaders, who were in fact allies of the west, is certainly good to happen in Briton. My only frustration is that the same Peaceful Demonstrations aren’t happening in the capitals of other western democracies. Why not? A bit more peace and democracy wouldn’t harm anybody with those peaceful demonstrations.
      As for the alleged happenings in Sri Lanka; after 30 years of bombings and killings by the Tamil Tigers, I feel that people find it difficult to adjust to peace and make their contributions by joining hands with the GOSL to move as one body and speak with one voice when it comes to defending the national security and interests of the country. ……

  • Upali good analysis once again, you should have this translated into sinhala as well.

    • Thank you…we don’t have a place to publish Sinhalese article.

  • Yes Sumana but there was also talk that these grease devils were really military men in disguise and these were reported in the newspapers locally. Then the govt said they were JVP. Could have been the government trying to keep the fear alive to justify many things. But it also could be some group within the military who are now frustrated and don’t know what to do with themselves. After all they are feeling powerful, they feel they dont need to be accountable because whatever they do gotabaya will back them and they have weapons. It is a good mix for disaster

  • Mr Tennakoon you are right. The youth of Sri Lanka are frustrated and when they have nowhere else to go and nothing better to do even looting and robbery becomes a way of life. I think if we don’t address our social problems then we leave the youth vulnerable to be exploited and manipulated by unscrupulous elements.

    • Are you suggesting the looters in London were all Sri Lankans?

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UNP Parliamentarian Kabir Hasheem at the Press Conference

Riots in London, grease yakkas in Sri Lanka and a pattern of growing youth unrest

The latest terror to strike the already harried people of Sri lanka are the “Grease devils.” Called that for their strange costume with face hood and ...