The fishing community in the Gulf of Mannar is facing increasing aggression from the Sri Lanka Navy. A 30-year-old fisherman from Kottaipattinam village, in Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu, reportedly died after drowning in the sea and two others were detained when their boat was intercepted by a Lankan patrol vessel on October 18 for allegedly crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
The fishing community of the village continues to sit on a hunger strike demanding that the state and the Centre put an end to the increasing attacks by the Lanka Navy, which have claimed several lives and damaged the boats of fishermen. Efforts to get possession of the mortal remains of the deceased fisherman have failed so far.
The community has blamed both the Union and the state governments for their lack of will to end the dispute with Sri Lanka despite several complaints in the last few decades.
ATTACKS HAVE BECOME A REGULAR AFFAIR
The Lanka Navy has been frequently accused of firing, pelting stones, intercepting and attacking Indian fishing boats for allegedly crossing the IMBL.
K Bharathi, president, South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association, said that the traditional right of fishing across the border, enjoyed for several decades, cannot be snatched away citing legal hurdles. “The mechanised boats don’t indulge in commercial fishing unlike big vessels. Since the Lankan border in the Gulf of Mannar region is very close to the Indian border, it’s common for fishermen to cross the border accidentally,” he told Newsclick.
In January, four fishermen were killed in a similar incident when a Lankan naval vessel collided with their boat. In August, 60 fishing boats and nets were damaged after Sri Lanka Navy personnel pelted the boats with stones.
FAILURE OF GOVERNMENTS
Blaming the Union and the state government’s failure to end the dispute with Sri Lanka for the rising attacks, Bharathi said, “Several conferences and discussions are held to protect the wealth of the seas, but no government discusses protecting the lives of fishermen. They are not committing a criminal offence.”
Fishermen unions acknowledge that despite the ban on trawling in Sri Lanka, some fishermen continue to indulge in it. “We don’t oppose action against illegal activities. The Sri Lanka Navy can arrest the culprits and seize their boats and nets. But killing fishermen for crossing the border has never been heard of in any other part of the world,” Bharathi added.
“Both India and Sri Lanka have turned the dispute into a huge political row without holding meaningful talks. Monetary compensation for damaged boats and dead fishermen is not the solution,” Bharathi said.
“Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, which too has the problem of fishermen crossing the International Maritime Border with Pakistan. He has failed to address the issue with Sri Lanka through diplomatic channels after becoming the Prime Minister,” Bharathi said, adding, “ever since the first firing by the Sri Lanka Navy in 1983, the loss of fishermen lives and their property continues without any credible step being initiated by the state and the Union governments.”