rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » News » The stone throwing Sri Lankan navy

The stone throwing Sri Lankan navy

Last updated on: April 5, 2012 18:36 IST

The stone throwing Sri Lankan navy

     Next

Next
A Ganesh Nadar

Redif.com's A Ganesh Nadar travelled to Rameswaram to meet fishermen harrowed by the Sri Lankan navy, which has been resorting to stone pelting to drive them away from what it claims as its territory

Sri Lankan navy's attacks on Indian fishermen sailing out from Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu have been a routine affair.

Besides arrests and firing, the Lankan navy, which has been claiming that the fishermen often stray into its international maritime boundary line to lay their nets, has been resorting to pelting stones at the 'intruders'.
It, perhaps, is the only navy in the world that resorts to such an act.

The Indian fishermen, who have been at the receiving end on most occasions, are however fearful of retaliating. Till last count, their 532 counterparts have fallen to Sri Lankan bullets.

Sahayam, a fisherman in Rameswaram, says: "They bring the stones in white plastic bags; open them in front of us and then start pelting us with 1.5-inch-radius stones. We get hurt, our cabin glasses get shattered. They have guns too. If we throw the stones back they will start shooting. At least we are just hurt not dead."

Click on NEXT to read further...


Image: The Rameswaram fishing jetty
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

     Next

The stone throwing Sri Lankan navy

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Meanwhile, Rameswaram, situated in the Gulf of Mannar at the very tip of the Indian peninsula, is teeming with stories about how times have changed in the coastal area. The Rameswaram jetty, though, lies in the same decadent state since the last five decades.

In the condition it is today, the jetty still manages to accommodate 768 fishing boats.

Assistant Director of Fisheries Dr M Karthikeyan says that he is aware of the state of the jetty but has no idea what the government is going to do.

He also refuses to talk about the stoning of fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy. "It is a topic with international ramifications. I am not allowed to talk about it."

Click on NEXT to read further...


Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

Prev     Next

The stone throwing Sri Lankan navy

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Sesuraja, the fishermen's association secretary, puts things in perspective.

He says, "The problem started with the ethnic war in Sri Lanka. Before the war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government started, Lankan fishermen used to come to Rameswaram and our fishermen used to land up there. We used to fish together around the Katchatheevu island."

The ethnic war everything changed, he says, adding that the waters became a battleground for the Lankan Navy and the LTTE. Indian fishermen though went about their job in the region, as the Lankan Navy was busy hunting down the LTTE.

Once the war was over, the Lankan fishermen resumed operations. However, this time they objected to Indian fishermen intruding their waters. They have been known to capture and hand over Indian fishermen to the Lankan police.

From Thalimannar in Sri Lanka, Dhanushkodi in Rameswaram island is just 18 km away. That makes the International border 9 km away; too close for comfort.

Click on NEXT to read further...


Image: The Pamban bridge that connects the Rameswaram island to the mainland
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

Prev     Next

The stone throwing Sri Lankan navy

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Sesuraja then trains his guns on the Indian government.

"Giving Katchatheevu (to Sri Lanka) was the biggest blunder (late prime minister) Indira Gandhi did. It reduced our fishing area by 10 nautical miles. The Katchatheevu handover agreement clause 5 says that we can fish there and dry our nets there. This was in 1974. Then in 1976 two officials from both countries sat down and changed that. They now said that Indian fishermen could dry their nets on Katchatheevu but not fish there. Obviously this was drafted by an official who knew nothing about fishing. Why would a fishermen travel 12 nautical miles to dry his nets on that island if he was not allowed to fish there. He can dry it on the mainland," he grumbled.

Emirate, the leader of the fishermen's association in Rameswaram, has an alternate idea for resolving the issue.

"There are 768 fishing boats here and the government spends lakh rupees each on them in diesel subsidies. Let them give Rs 5 lakh to each boat for a voluntary resignation scheme. Half the boat owners will give up their boats; the rest can fish in Indian waters. We are ready to go if the government makes it viable."

Among other issues, one of Emirate's grouse was, "You are telling us where we cannot fish but you are not telling us where we can fish. For the first three kilometres here we cannot fish, that area is earmarked for country boats. The next three kilometres is rocky area; there are no fish there. Four kilometres later is Katchatheevu, and Lanka claims its territorial waters start even before that."

Click on NEXT to read further...


Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

Prev     Next

The stone throwing Sri Lankan navy

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Emirate added that they cannot go for deep sea fishing in the open ocean, as they get tokens from the fishing department for only 24 hours. That's because the country boats go out on alternate days.

"We had a meeting with the district collector recently. We told him that we need permission for deep-sea fishing for 50 boats. They should give us tokens for one week each. We will go fishing in deep waters north of Lanka and stay away from them," he said.

This could solve the problem, but it involves lots of repairs to the boats which could cost anything between Rs 1-2 lakh.

"We will do that ourselves; we don't expect the government to help us. You know banks do not give us loans at low interests like they give farmers. We have to pay normal interests even for our gold loans. That is unfair. They farm on land and we farm at sea," he adds.

Neither their legislator who lives in Chennai nor their parliamentarian has raised their problems.

"We catch the best prawns in the state. Exporters make money, the country gets foreign exchange, and what do we get? Stones from the Lankans! And we don't know when the bullets will start flying," Emirate says with disgust.

His anguish pours out further, "We Tamilians do not have any shame or pride. Over 500 fishermen have died and we cannot get a single rupee in compensation. Look at neighbouring Kerala. Two fishermen died there in firing by marines on board an Italian vessel and they impounded the ship. They are demanding Rs 10 crore in compensation.

They can take on Italy, a developed nation, and we cannot take on Sri Lanka which is half of Tamil Nadu."

Click on NEXT to go further...


Photographs: Reuters

Prev     Next

Top photo features of the week

Prev     More
Click on MORE to see another set of PHOTO features...


Tags: PHOTO , MORE

Prev     More