Tamil Nadu fishermen – murder on the high seas
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

Twenty four hours after finalising her alliance with the Left AIADMK Chief Jayalalitha was seen touring Nagapattinam in coastal Tamil Nadu.  She was visiting one of the two fishermen killed in recent times for allegedly entering Sri Lankan waters. Sceptics might call it a political stunt designed to woo the coastal fishermen constituency. However those truly concerned with the increasing number of Indian citizens killed by the Sri Lankan navy for the meagre crime of casting a net can afford to welcome her intervention. The ruling DMK has as usual been quick to unleash empty rhetoric in the hope of assauging Tamil sentiment with the usual verve and vigour. With the never ending accusations of corruption against the DMK leadership political capital, it appears, is expended more on salvaging alliances to keep  the government propped up than to address the crisis in coastal Tamil Nadu.

The shooting of Tamil Nadu fishermen has been a recurring misfortune for years together. Earlier the killings were explained away as justifiable actions on the SL Navy’s part due to the LTTE threat causing legitimate security concerns. With the rebel Tigers now an extinct species even that inexcusable defence has been rendered void.  It is true that many Indian fishermen may accidentally or otherwise navigate into the Sri Lankan waters. Allegations of bottom trawling, an activity that apparently damages marine ecology of the waters has also been made. Whatever the case is there cannot be any justification for the reckless mid-sea murder of Indian citizens. The killings have to stop – the governments have to immediately look into putting in place modalities that would prevent further causalities.

It is to the credit of unrelenting Tamil blogsphere and Twitterati backed by grass groots activism by some organisations that the issue has for the first time survived the scissors of news-cycle management in Delhi. The plight of Tamil fisherman was until recently given less than adequate, some say negligble, coverage. In the duty of directing the nation’s attention towards the recurring brutal murders it can be safely said that most establishments were most certainly callous and delinquent.

However there are two unwarranted perspectives I have been unfortunate enough to hear on this issue. The first concerns a tendency amongst the informed sections to quickly conclude that the wanton killings are an attempt at one-manupship by the SL Navy, a cock a snook, if you will, at the Indian Navy/Coast Guard and more generally against the State itself.  While it is true that the SL Navy has been emboldened by the pusslianimous responses for previous killings it is important to realise that the SL Navy was also recipient of critical assistance from India during the decisive years of the civil war. Unlike the forces at Indo-Bangladesh border both the navies enjoy a good if not excellent relationship . The killings, despite the frustrating regularity with which they happen are acts of ill-disciplined SL Navy personnel – something India must convey in no uncertain terms will not tolerated anymore. The crisis must been viewed within its context.

Secondly, I should like to mention that the Tamil nationalist attempt to hijack this crisis into an issue of ethnic conflict is not only distasteful but also ridiculous. The constituency that is hurt most by Indian fishermen fishing in Sri Lankan waters (if at all) or damaging the fragile marine ecology is the ethnic Tamil minority of Northern Sri Lanka. People of this constituency suffered greatly during the civil war that lasted more than two decades. Peace, at the cost of defeat some would say, is returning to these battered communities and to make the most out of it they would need a steady income. If the fisherman of Tamil Nadu was indeed poaching into SL waters or indulging in bottom trawling, as allegations go, then it is the food of his brother across the narrow sea he steals. By ensuring fishing in the region is practised under fair terms for all involved we are helping the Tamil across the sea put a little more food in his child’s plate. Thus it is the quick and peaceful resolution of crisis that must be sought, not the nauseating chest-beating caused by meaningless ethnic fetish. There is no denying that Fishing communities on both the sides of the sea share an interest in preserving the marine ecology, and that drives the demand for an urgent need to  facilitate interactions between these communities to avoid further conflicts.

If I may also say something on the increased political attention to the crisis: any attention, minus the rabble rousing of the ethnic chauvinist brigade, is welcome. Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mrs.Sushma Swaraj shall be visiting aggrieved families in Nagapattinam on 4th February 2011. The BJP has further escalated the issue by promising to  raise the issue in the Parliament. Mrs.Swaraj’s tweets have prompted a crisis management of sorts by by External Affairs Minister that got him to has visit the Leader of Opposition to make his promises. Many such promises have been made before and yet the ground situation has hardly ever changed.

Sadly one cannot help but get the impression that the killings will continue until the external affairs ministry and Tamil Nadu political leadership are willing to look at the issue as a looming danger to the livelihood of large number of fishing communities and not as a recurring PR disaster that needs to be swept under the carpet.  Obligatory lip service constituted by condemnations and feeble protests may no longer enough.

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