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TamilNadu Fishermen : Blood In Sea Waters

By Pa. Thirumavelan

02 February, 2011

In cold midnights dogs used to think “First thing in the morning I will buy a blanket”.In the nice sunny morning it will think ” Blanket, What for?” This repeats everyday.

There is no difference between that and the happenings of TamilNadu Fishermen community.

The SriLankan Navy killing TamilNadu Fishermen has become a regular affair. TN CM will write a letter to Indian PM. PM will call the SL envoy and give a stern warning. This will be relayed to SL. This football game is happening for past half century.

By the Mullivaikkal siege Mahinda Rajapakse put a full stop to Eelam Tamilains to earn a fanfare “Maha Veera”(Very Brave) title from Singhala harliners. It is not very far that he is going to get a “Maha Soora”( Very Capable) title for wiping off Tamilnadu’sfishermen. This is the loud message we get from the recent killing of Pandian, a TN fisherman.

Ocean is the Safety Net

India has a natural safety. With ocean on all three sides and mountain on the north nature is a fort for us. There is unique wealth to TN. Only two States border TN. It is surrounded by water in other 2 sides. Chennai, Vellore, Kanchipuram, Villupuram, Tiruvannamalai , Kadalur, Tanjavur, Nagai, Thiruvarur, Pudukottai are North Shore Districts.. Sivaganga, Ramanad, Tuthukudi,Nellai, Kanyakumar are south shore Districts. There is a 1125 K.M long beach line. There are about 10 Lakh( One Million) people who do business based on sea. Around 25% are deep sea fishermen. These people contribute a lot to the sea farming.

Even though they catch millions of fishes, they are poverty stricken. They still use catamarans and homemade boats yet still there is a huge count of high-speed boats. The biggest threat to their lives is not the heavy winds or the natural fury of Sea but the SriLankan army.

When did this all started?

In the 70s when SriLankan Tamils were marginalised and treated as second class citizens and were being subjected to genoice this started for TN fishermen. SriLankan Govt feared that TN is giving indirect support to the angry youth of SL.Till that point Indian Fishermen particularly the Rameswaram folks fish in the waters of Paruthithurai & Yalpanam(Jaffna) without any problems. These fishermen were not allowed near SL maritime boundary after the uprising. SL started arresting and then releasing the fishermen. When the uprising gained momentum, SL navy and govt started showing their anger towards these poor fishermen which they werent able to show towards LTTE. They started firing at fishermen instead of arresting.

“From 1983 to 1991 Sri Lankan Navy has attacked fishermen 236 times. 3003 boats were damaged. 51 boats were destroyed. 50+ Fishermen were dead. 136 Fishermen were injured”, says a 1991 announcement. After that there were no new statistics that came out. “This is not the right statistics”, differ the Rameswaram Fishermen.”In the last 30 years, around 600+ fishermen have been killed”, they say.

What is the reason?

SL navy used to claim the fishermen were “smugglers”. LTTE “suppliers” of food, weapon and fuel. Then they started attcking them under the guise of “Stealing boats” meaning they steal fish from their boundary. When the armed struggle increased, they started calling them “Tigers”. In 2001, when there was a compromise between Tigers and SL govt the attack never stopped. When Mahinda Rajapaksa became the President, the attacks increased along with the attacks on LTTE. Fishermen were killed, chased, threatned with armed weapons and violently attacked. The Central Govt of India kept repeating what the Sri Lankan Govt says ” Fishermen cross the boundary, and hence getting fired”.

When Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand fishermen reach the Indian Maritime boundaries many a time. Indian govt arrests them, informs their nation and then release them in goodwill. Why SL govt doesnt have the same goodwill? Why Indian Govt is not able to demand the same from SL?

When Sinhalese Navy* attack TamilNadu’s Fishermen doesn’t Indian Navy has the responsibility to safeguard the fishermen? The Indian Governments have never answered these questions of Fishermen. When a Pakistani comes inside Kashmir territory and fire, it is claimed as an attack on India. It is unacceptable when SriLankan Navy entering Rameswaram kills 600 Indians and we being silent about it.

Kachatheevu – The solution

KachaTheevu is a beautiful island just 12 K.M from Rameswaram. Kachham means Tortoise. It seems they were abundant in that reason and henced named after them. Ramnad, Rameswaram Fishermen used to fish in these waters for centuries together. This is one among the eight islands that belonged to Ramnad Sethupathy Raja.

During British Rule it was considered as Govt’s land.When SL became independant, they claimed it. But that island was never part of earlier 300 years map of Sri Lanka. Nehru refused it. But in due course, IndiraGandhi gave up the rights. Sri Lank used to back US and to appease SL and to avoid US getting a stronghold in SriLanka she handed over the island to SriLanka in 1974.

Till then there were no issues for Indian Fishermen. After that SriLankan Navy started attacking and till today they are not stopping. In the agreement that gave up the rights Indian govt got the rights for Indian fishermen to reach till Kachha theevu to take rest and to dry the fishing nets. It also lets the TN fishermen to participate in the yearly celebration at St. Antony’s Church during March. Rajiv Gandhi’s accord with SL also endorses this clause.

But the Navy is attacking again and again to not let the TN fishermen anywhere near the island. It is the responsibility of Central govt to question SL on this.

Jayalalitha moved and passed a resolution in state assemly to get back KachaTheevu. In 2007, when a fisherman was killed Karunanidhi said “It is time to win back Kacha Theevu”. The bloodshed will stop only when they walk the talk.

What the fishermen can do?

Fishermen’s logical claim is “We dont know the maritime boundary. So we may be crossing the boundary and the catch is good in far seas”. M.K. Narayanan, PM’s Security Advicer himself accepted this. ” It is not correct that fishermen cross the boundary. But any fisherman will go to the place where the fishes are abundant. So can someone stop the fishermen who cross both Indian and SL maritime boundaries to catch fish? If fishermen cross a boundary why SL navy has to fire at them? Dont fire Dont Kill fishermen is the request we have put with Srilankan Govt. They have agreed” claimed M.K.Narayanan.

But still the atrocity contnues. Three years back to avoid this problem Karunanidhi threatend ” If this continutes, our fishermen’s hand will not hold only the fish…!”

But, does he remember that now?

* SL Tamils representation in SriLankan Navy is almost non existent, so it is correct to call them Sinhalese Navy – Translator’s note




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