Hasn't the Indian government let TN fishermen down?
Late Monday night, an Indian was shot at on Indian waters by a foreign country's navy. Hours later protests broke out, the state government wrote letters and announced compensation and the central government 'took up the matter with the neighbour' but within hours of escalating the matter, Sri Lanka conveniently gave its navy a clean chit and declared that it had nothing to do with the killing of an Indian. They did show great courtesy of being 'deeply concerned about the alleged incident and loss of life'. A courtesy that is nothing more than mere lip service, the lip service that Indian government itself has been extending to its fishing communities in Tamil Nadu.
In his letter dated March 5, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy reminded the government of India that 85 fishermen who were illegally arrested by the Sri Lankan navy continued to be in their custody. A total of 128 boats belonging to the fishermen were also seized. Many times, fishermen are arrested and released but their only source of livelihood, their boats and nets are never returned. The issue was highlighted in the letter written to the prime minister. The Tamil Nadu chief minister wrote another letter on Tuesday condemning the killing of an Indian.
"I am informed that five fishermen in a mechanised fishing boat set sail for fishing from Rameswaram fishing base. While they were fishing in their traditional waters of Palk bay, at about 9.30 PM, a fleet of Sri Lankan navy vessels surrounded the fishing boats and opened unprovoked and indiscriminate fire on the unarmed fishermen," Palanisamy said in the letter.
The phrases chalk up images of helpless, unarmed Indians left at the mercy of a foreign navy who feel it an entitlement to harass and do as they please. The situation may not be very different in reality if Palanisamy's previous letter is considered. Tamil Nadu has been time and again requesting that the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1975 and 76 be annulled to restore the traditional fishing rights of fishing communities in Tamil Nadu especially in the Katchateevu region.
A legal battle rages on in the Supreme Court but until the time a solution is drawn, are Indian fishermen to bear the harassment and threat to life?
The Union government, in an attempt to better the sensitive livelihood issue, had advised that fishermen be trained in operating deep sea long liners to replace the existing mechanised trawlers. In his letter, Palanisamy claimed that the Tamil Nadu government had already trained the first batch of fishermen for the said operations but the union government was yet to approve a package of Rs 1,650 crore that will provide these deep sea long liners.
Despite multiple promises during diplomatic intercourses and agreements signed between the two nations, Indians continue to be victimised. Such mindless violence undermines the understanding that both countries have arrived at during diplomatic efforts. In the recently concluded joint working group meeting at New Delhi as well as the ministerial level meeting in Colombo, it was agreed that no use of force will be permitted against bonafide fishermen at sea and Monday's incident in a clear violation of the same, alleges Palanisamy in his letter.
Are fishermen from Tamil Nadu second class citizens in this country? Why won't their concerns be addressed and why won't the leadership speak about their issues that not only bother them but threaten their very existence? Did we have to wait for a life to be lost to react, engage and work towards a solution?