By N.S. Venkataraman
An Indian fisherman was reportedly shot by the Sri Lankan navy as he went for fishing in the sea and the poor fisherman lost his life, leaving his poverty stricken family in deep sorrow. The Sri Lankan government has denied that the fisherman was shot by the Sri Lankan navy. However, it has not explained as to how it could have happened otherwise in Sri Lankan waters.
The fishermen issue between India (Tamil Nadu) and Sri Lanka has been persisting for many years now. Rarely a day passes without the noisy Tamil television channels and newspapers in Tamil Nadu complaining about the harassment of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy. The Tamil Nadu government has taken a strong stand in the matter on several occasions. The Indian government, too, has often expressed concern.
The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly said that it has no ill will against the Indian fishermen. It has only asserted that it has to necessarily prevent the Indian fishermen from fishing in Sri Lankan waters to protect the interests of the Sri Lankan fishermen, most of whom are of Tamil origin. It appears that the Sri Lankan fishermen have appreciated the stand of the Sri Lankan government
It is necessary that this vexed issue should be resolved as early as possible, as it is causing considerable unhappiness and bitter conflicts.
It is known that in Tamil Nadu (India), there are many political parties and Tamil activists who seem to have developed considerable feeling of animosity against the Sri Lankan government and they have never failed to take the fishermen issue to a bitter level, often stating that any arrest of fishermen by the Sri Lankan government deserves strong condemnation and protest and they want the Indian government to initiate counter-action to deter the Sri Lankan navy.
It is possible that Indian fishermen may have crossed into Sri Lankan waters unknowingly on several occasions, as there is no visible border in the sea. It may even be possible that some fishermen really have marginally crossed into Sri Lankan waters knowingly to get a good catch. However, it is seldom reported that Sri Lankan fishermen have crossed into Indian waters.
It is reported that a number of business houses and politicians in Tamil Nadu own powerful fishing trawlers and such trawlers move on the Indian waters to catch large number of fish. In such circumstances, the fish left for catching in the Indian waters become much less for the poor Indian fishermen who adopt conventional techniques. In such circumstances, it is possible that they may have been forced to go into Sri Lankan waters.
Many concerned people in India have demanded that use of trawlers for fishing in Indian waters should be banned by the Indian government to ensure that the interests of the poor Indian fishermen would be protected. In spite of such suggestions having been made repeatedly in various forums, it is not clear as to why the Indian government is not considering this option.
In any case, the fishermen issue has to be tackled by the Indian and Sri Lankan governments with great care and speed as such sensitive issues are not in the interests of India and Sri Lanka.
Many concerned people have also suggested that this issue has to be discussed and an appropriate solution arrived at by the Indian and Sri Lankan governments, without allowing the politicians from both the regions to dominate in the issue.
Suggestions have been made that a joint forum of Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen should be constituted immediately, so that they can discuss the matter and arrive at an appropriate and mutually acceptable solution. Perhaps, devoid of politicians in such forum, it would be possible to discuss the matter in healthy and proactive climate by the fishermen of both the countries, who are the real stake-holders in the matter.
(The author is Trustee of Chennai-based Non-Profit Organisation Nandini Voice for the Deprived. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)