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Indian, Lankan indifference ruining fishermen: Rights activists
George Iype in Kochi | November 05, 2003 20:43 IST
The indifference of the Indian and Sri Lankan governments is ruining the lives of scores of fishermen, say human rights activists.
According to the Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen, which has offices in Colombo and Chennai, some 50 Sri Lankan fishermen are languishing in Indian jails. Thirty-six Indians are held in Sri Lanka.
Raghava Menon, who heads the Kochi-based Human Rights Forum, says, "India and
Sri Lanka are violating international maritime laws."
Menon says prolonged detention of fishermen is against United Nations laws. Once caught, the fishermen are remanded to judicial custody during the trial, which often takes more than a year.
"At the end of the trial, they are forced to undergo imprisonment in lieu of the hefty fine that they are unable to cough up," Menon said. "We do not want the poor fishermen to be victims of the tensions created by the civil war in Sri Lanka."
Indian naval and Coast Guard officials recently seized 16 Sri Lankan boats and arrested their skippers for violating the Indian territorial limits. The skippers and their crews -- all of them fishermen -- were remanded to judicial custody and their vessels confiscated.
The ARIF's southern India coordinator Vivekanandan says the organisation has succeeded in rescuing some of these fishermen.
"But we are yet to release many other fishermen," he says.
According to Vivekanandan such arrests 'are a big humanitarian issue'. "It has affected the livelihood of several families in both the countries."
He says the two countries must 'thrash out the problem of repatriation of fishermen immediately'.
Sri Lankan fishermen are caught because of suspicion that they have come to settle down as refugees in Tamil Nadu, which is already home to some 200,000 Tamils from Jaffna, Indian officials say.
Sirimal Pinto, director of the Fishermen's Development Solidarity Centre, Sri
Lanka, who recently travelled to Kerala to secure the release of the trawlers, says the poor fishermen who accidentally stray into Indian waters are taken into custody as 'criminals'.
Pinto, who managed to release 26 Indian boats and their skippers detained in Sri Lanka in March this year, says the lack of good relations between Colombo and New Delhi should not ruin the lives of the fishermen.
"I request the governments of India and Sri Lanka to be lenient and kind to these suffering fishermen," Pinto adds.
More reports from Kerala