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Rediff.com  » News » Forgotten NRIs: 16 fishermen in Iran jail for over seven months

Forgotten NRIs: 16 fishermen in Iran jail for over seven months

Last updated on: September 04, 2013 15:36 IST

Forgotten NRIs: 16 fishermen in Iran jail for over seven months

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A Ganesh Nadar

The families of the poor fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who were arrested while fishing in Iranian waters for their Saudi Arabian employers, are running on faith and compensation from the state government, reports A Ganesh Nadar

Sixteen fishermen from Tamil Nadu have been jailed in Iran since December 2012, and their families are running on faith and ‘compensation’ from the Tamil Nadu government.

On December 16 and 22, 2012, the Iranian navy seized four Saudi Arabian boats for fishing in Iranian waters. The fishermen from Ramanathapuram, Kanyakumari and Cuddalore, all coastal districts in Tamil Nadu, were manning those boats, owned by their Saudi Arabian employers.

The 16 fishermen’s woes are strikingly similar to that of the 29 Indian sailors manning Qatari employers’ boats who were released by Iran on December 30, 2012 after a Rediff.com report alerted the Indian Prime Minister’s Office of their arrest.

Rediff Impact: 29 Indian sailors released in Iran

Kalliappan, one of the 16 held in Iran, is from Thiruppalaikudi village in Ramanathapuram, which has Muslim, Christian and Hindu fishermen.

His mother Devaki said he has gone to the Middle East many times; the last time he left for there was in July 2012.

“He calls once a week when he comes back from the sea,” Devaki said. “I came to know he was arrested from others in the village.”

The family has received Rs 100,000 from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Kalliappan’s wife Murugeshwari, a neighbour said, “doesn’t have brothers, so she doesn’t have outside support to help in this crisis.”

Kalliappan and Murugeshwari have two sons and a daughter.

Image: Muuthu with her daughter Uma Bharati ' Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar

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A Ganesh Nadar

Allimuthu, another fisherman arrested in Iran, is from the same village. “He goes regularly to Saudi Arabia,” Allimuthu’s wife Muthu said. “He went there in June last year. He used to call once a week and send money once in three months with villagers who came back here.”

She too got the news of her husband’s arrest from others in the village. She too has received Rs 100,000 from the Tamil Nadu government. She has four sons and a daughter.

“We have petitioned the district collector thrice and we even went to Chennai to give a petition to the chief minister’s special cell at Fort St George,” Muthu said.

Malai Murugan, another arrested fisherman, was on his second trip to the Middle East, said his father.

“He usually calls me once in eight days,” said his wife Sudhamayil. She has two sons, a five-year-old and a seven-month-old who has never seen his father.

“The last time he called was on December 9,” said Sudhamayil. When the calls stopped coming, they called others from the village there.

“They always said he will be released soon. Then they said six months. Nothing happened,” said Murugan’s father. “We have appealed to the district collector, the chief minister and Congress leader (E Sudarsana) Nachiappan. We have met the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Minister K A Jayapal. Nothing happened.”

Father John Churchill of the Muttom Church in Kanyakumari district, general secretary, South Asian Fishermen Fraternity, gave Rediff.com the names, addresses, passport numbers and photographs of all the jailed fishermen. 

Image: Malai Murugan with his daughter in law Sudhamayil, with her seven-month-old baby ' Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar

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A Ganesh Nadar

A press release by the SAFF says that a legal advisor has been identified in Iran to represent the fishermen in court, but the legal expenses for the 16 fishermen comes to Rs 28,80,000, which they don’t have.

These fishermen, Rediff.com has learnt, cannot even prove they are Indians because their passports are in Saudi Arabia, where they were working.

The Indian embassy in Iran – New Delhi is one of the few global friends Teheran has, ironically -- is unaware of the matter, as they have not landed there officially.

The Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia is also unaware, as the Iranian authorities will not inform them.

The Saudi owners of the boats pay fines immediately, but Iran releases the boats at its own time.

The fishermen – who go to the Middle East because they can earn more money by fishing there -- are victims of the Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry. Saudi Arabia is America’s ally; Iran is its sworn enemy. Arrests are frequent for crossing maritime borders.

“We have engaged a lawyer in Iran and we will get the fishermen back,” Father Churchill said. “If need be I will fly to Iran.”




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