When a night-out turns into a
How safe are the city's nightclubs asks Tania Fernando
The scene, you may think, is from a movie. A crowded
nightclub, packed with young people, dancing and making merry as the music
plays on. And then it suddenly turns nasty as a fight erupts with youth
brandishing weapons and even firing in the air in the ensuing melee.
It may seem like Hollywood or a bad nightmare but it's happening right
here, in popular nightclubs in Colombo.
Boisterous, badly behaved youth, often the offspring of wealthy businessmen
and politicos and even adults who go around with an entourage of bodyguards
are the root of many a rumpus at nightclubs, not only causing harm to people
and property but also ruining the evening for many innocent folk.
The increasing rate of such incidents has led to many people being wary
of planning a night out. "We don't feel like going to nightclubs anymore,"
was a common comment from several young people who spoke to the Mirror
Mgazine this week, voicing their disgust at the growing trend of violence
in city night spots.
Nightclubs are frequented by those who want to let their hair down,
listen to some music, have a drink and meet up with friends, but it seems
that increasingly, there are others who come there with a different agenda.
The 31st night incident involving the son of a prominent politician
at a hotel in Colombo was just one of the many fights that have erupted
in public places in recent months. Violence is increasing, that nobody
doubts, but why the management of such places does not take tough action
against the offenders is the question being asked today. Is it because
they do not want to risk offending this affluent and 'highly connected'
section of their clientele?
The craze to frequent nightclubs and be at the 'happening place' among
this set, just does not seem to stop there but extends to having a fight
as well; a fight which is not restricted to fisticuffs but includes weapons.
For those innocent bystanders who are out to have night of harmless fun,
it can be a nightmare.
Aruna** was an eye-witness to the 31st night incident.
"There was a fight between two women and when I tried to stop it, a
VIP's son came in with some bodyguards and I got hit. I went through one
table and then the next table," Aruna said. "It was like a movie."
"There was no security from the hotel trying to break up the fight,"
he added. 'After having paid so much of money for the 31st night, this
is not what we expected. We were not part of the fight, but we got hit
for no reason."
Aruna ended up at hospital for treatment and said he was bruised and
in pain for a couple of days. Understandably aggrieved at having to start
the New Year on such a violent note, he says that this type of thuggery
Aruna did not make a complaint to the police as he feared the consequences.
"I am an out-going person and the police are not going to give me any protection."
Meanwhile, Suren**, who used to be a regular visitor to nightclubs said
that he and his friends don't feel like going out anymore. "We go to have
some fun, but it makes us so uncomfortable when there are violent elements
around and we have to watch every move we make." Hotel authorities should
make sure that bodyguards of VIPs are not allowed to enter, he commented,
citing them as often being the cause of trouble.
According to Suren, there are businessmen who frequent nightclubs accompanied
by a bevy of body guards, sometimes even as many as 10. "Just because they
are high spenders, the hotels most often let them in," he said, adding
that even the hotel 'bouncers' are most often on friendly terms with the
bodyguards and therefore they are allowed in and a blind eye is turned
to whatever they do. "There are times when you could see them standing
on tables and chairs too, but who is going to stop them?"
Why this type of behaviour is on the increase is a question that just
does not seem to have an answer. Most often it's VIPs and children of 'big
wigs' who start the rumpus and then use the name of their parents to get
"I am so and so's son" is a common statement made and the night club
staff too turn a blind eye not wanting to cause any umpleasantness. But
most often such a lax attitude leads to innocent guests being placed in
a hazardous position.
Prasanna**, another young man who enjoys visiting a nightclub agrees
that the violence has to stop. "It's very scary. I am so scared even if
I bang on anyone by accident," he says.
He too feels that bodyguards should be banned from entering the clubs.
"Most often they don't buy tickets," he adds. Prasanna's complaint was
that while most hotels try to be strict about entrance requirements, when
it's a 'big shot', the rules are relaxed. "They say they carry out body
checks, but yet the weapons could be stashed away in their shoes, socks
etc.," he points out.
"I have never been involved in a fight, but I am always on the lookout
and try to steer clear away from the troublemakers," said Prasanna. "Since
we go out often, we know whom we should look out for. Normally even if
we are standing in one corner and they come towards us, we move to the
"I go out with my friends and generally try to stick to them," was what
Sonali** had to say. Sonali goes clubbing quite frequently, but says that
if she feels that someone is trying to get too chummy, she and her friends
move away from the dance floor. "We have had guys trying to buy us drinks
and sometimes even bodyguards trying to approach us on behalf of their
"We very politely decline and hope that they would leave," she said,
adding that they try not to frequent the same place, but go to different
"I don't want to go out to have fun and then get caught in a brawl,"
said James** who used to go to nightclubs on a regular basis, but has cut
back his visits drastically. He feels that security at hotels should be
improved and said that if the current trend towards violence kept increasing,
ordinary people too might have to resort to buying a weapon through illegal
means just to protect themselves.
For the management of the nightclubs, dealing with the troublemakers
is no easy business. Sati Watson who manages the Cascades at the Hotel
Lanka Oberoi said that they do use metal detectors to prevent patrons taking
weapons into the nightclub, but yet have to make allowances for certain
people. "If it is 'somebody's' son they do have an upper hand and we have
to be tactful about the way we handle the situation," Mr. Watson said.
According to him being tactful is better than using strong arm tactics.
" But we ban people who are always involved in fights. We know those who
will start a fight and we keep a close watch on them." He said although
most people talk about guys getting into fights, there are certain women
too who are always spoiling for a fight.
And in the wake of the 31st night shoot-out (not at their hotel), they
have started carrying out body checks.
Yasmine Cader, Marketing and Communications Director of the Hilton where
the popular Blue Elephant nightclub is located said that they too carry
out body checks and are very stringent about the rules and regulations.
"We are very strict about the age, dress code and that guests should not
come in alone."
She said that there have been no incidents at the Blue Elephant in the
last three months. "When a fight breaks out at the club, we try to get
our security to sort it out, but if that does not work we call in the police."
Ms. Cader said although the security are always faced with threats,
their main objective is to ensure the safety of the guests.
Meanwhile John Amaratunga, Minister of Interior said that he would summon
a meeting shortly with Managers of night clubs and request them to carry
out body checks.
But even though body checks might be carried out, the question that
seems to hang in the air is how successful these checks will be. With most
VIPs going in with an entourage of bodyguards, it seems hard for the hotels
to be tough with them. One hotel manager said that if they placed 50 security
personnel outside the hotel, the visitor too might bring 50 bodyguards.
Yet while it is the responsibility of the law enforcement officials
to bring the offenders to justice, the hotels too have a great responsibility
to take stern action against such unruly behaviour and not let big names
(** names have been changed on request)