Some systemic correction is going on with regard to the fishermen’s problem in Tamil Nadu. The fishing folk who have been at the receiving end for long, have taken upon themselves the responsibilities to address their issues, evolving a possible rapprochement to address the recurrent attacks on their lives and livelihood.
The fishermen from Karaikal and Nagapattinam passed resolutions to this effect and the most important being that henceforth they will not cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IBML). Any breach of this would invite penalty and the fisherman concerned will be forbidden from venturing into the sea for not less than a month. Further, the catch of that fishing folk will be confiscated.
This is very significant development because the crossing the IMBL is the main causes of all tension and conflict involving Tamil Nadu fishermen and the Sri Lankan government. So far, more than five hundred lives of the Indian fishermen have been lost due to the transgression of the IMBL.
Those who have been witness to the scene at the IMBL when Tamil Nadu fishermen venture there, describe the scene as chaotic. The Indian fishermen in chase of their livelihood cares do not care about IMBL and all the warning from the Indian coast guard falls on deaf ears. They are aggressive and belligerent lot and may like go into the Sri Lankan territorial waters as far as they can, and sometime even reach their shores.
Recently, two Tamil Nadu fishermen were shot in the mid sea, apparently to having crossed the IMBL. Indian side accused the Sri Lankan navy for the cold-blooded murder, the Sri Lankan government denied any such act.
As its election time in Tamil Nadu, the incident triggered a flurry of activity in the state. There are twelve costal districts having sizable fishermen population and in terms of votes every political party may like to woo the fishing community by highlighting their plight.
The opposition AIADMK, attacked the ruling DMK, a partner in the ruling coalition at the center being callous towards addressing the fishermen’s problems. Many other political parties cashed on the incident and joined the chorus, castigating the government being negligent towards the fishermen community and making them cannon fodder of the Sri Lankan navy.
The surprise pack among the political parties was the BJP, a non-entity in the state, that flew in, its top leader, Sushma Swaraj, to highlight the plight of the Tamil Nadu’s fishermen. Evoking, nationalism, she promised to make this issue a national concern raising it the national Parliament.
It was for the first time, the national media woke up took to the news of the Tamil Nadu fishermen’s problems. The front page of the newspapers screamed about the plight of the fishing community in the state, so did the television channels. Its reverberation was felt on the social network groups active on the internet.
Well public memory is too short; one has forgotten the count how many times all this has happened before. After going through the usual motion the news has paled into oblivion
Even all this was going on; some misguided elements alleged to be belonging to the fishing community attacked monks living in a Sri Lankan monastery in Chennai. It was alleged to be a retaliatory measure to avenge the killing of their two folks by the Sri Lankan navy.
All this was a nightmare to the ruling DMK party. With one of its top leader and central minister, facing corruption charges in the 2G scam, the fishermen incident rattled put the party in a dock. In a firefighting exercise, the DMK tried to salvage its battered image, putting pressure on the central leadership, to take the issue of the Tamil Nadu fishermen, very strongly with the Sri Lakan government.
India’s foreign sectary Nirupma Rao, flew to Colombo for holding talks with highest level official on this issue. She got a categorical assurance from the Sri Lankan government that such incident of killing may never occur again. This prompted India’s Foreign Minister SM Krishna to come to Chennai to tell the DMK patriarch, that necessary action has been taken and henceforth there will be more security in place for the Tamil Nadu fishermen venturing into the sea.
Even before the cacophony of the shooting incident could drawn, Sri lankan fishermen from Jaffna rounded up 136 Indian fishermen from Nagapattinam and Pudukottai. They were taken to the Sri Lankan shores but better sense prevailed this time, and the Sri Lankan government released them quickly without any physical harm.
This incident was catalyst in some terms and actually led to soul searching by the fishing folks of Nagapattinam and Karaikal. They promptly passed resolutions to serve their interest. The next resolution sought a possible arrangement for joint fishing on contractual basis by the fisher folk from across the two boundaries. The fishermen wanted their Sri Lankan counter part to allow them fishing in their areas where catches are available.
It seems, Sri Lankan fishermen have no objection to the Indian fishermen wish of fishing in Lankan waters. They are only opposed to the use trawler fishing nets that may damage their sea assets. The Sri Lankan fishermen representatives had visited Tamil Nadu in August, 2010 and held talks in this issue, but nothing came out them.
Now, when the Tamil Nadu fishermen has come up with such a proposal, the governments is trying to facilitate such a talk and keen that both the parties should arrive at a negotiated settlement as quickly as possible.
Another resolution passed by the fishing community was to seek diesel subsidy from the government, that may deter them from crossing over in the event of a poor catch, and they may return empty and need not care about the diesel expenditure.
The fourth resolution demanded from the government to facilitate modernized occupational inputs and modernized fishing nets by providing them loans.
Well in the past, there also have been many such resolutions being passed like; revocation of Coastal Regulation Zone by the Central Government, to protection of Tamil Nadu fishermen from attacks by the Sri Lankan Navy, autonomy of Ministry of Fisheries in liaison with Central government and holding grievances redressal meeting in the interest of fishermen on a par with farmers every month. However, none have been implemented and the problem continues to stagger as before.
The fact of the matter is there is not much fish available in the Indian waters to cater to the needs of a large fishing community engaged in such vocation. Even the break in fishing activity for the catches to grow and flourish has not helped in the sufficient increase of the fish population.
There are number of proposals being made to ameliorate the plight of the Tamil Nadu fishing community. It seems all have been gathering dust in the offices of those making policies for the fishing community.
One such proposal was that the government should develop fish farms in its territorial waters for peaceful fishing activity. The government may arrange ships to take the fishermen along with their boats to such farms and let them go out for catching the fish and after some time bring them back to the shores. Many countries are following such practices and its being felt that the Indian government should also consider such an option to protect the lives and livelihood of is fishing community.
The other recommendation is to help the fishermen community to take up other occupation to decongest the crowded profession of fishing. Many traditional professions are being given up for better opportunities, why not the fishing folks are to be weaned away towards them. The non governmental organization may organize vocational training and micro fiancé for such activity. Actually, some efforts being made in this direction, but no significant impact have been felt on the ground.
The fact is Tamil Nadu fishermen continue to be a neglected lot. The incidence of them being rounded up is reported at regular intervals. Here is another one:
The Sri Lankan Navy rounded off some 2,400 Tamil Nadu fishermen that had set out from Rameswaram in 600 mechanized boats in complete violation to the understanding that no mechanized trawlers will be taken across the IMBL. The fact that the Sri Lankan navy did not open fire on them or formally arrested them, letting them off with a warning, is something noteworthy. The incident triggered a huge protest in front of the Indian embassy at Jaffana, with Sri Lankan fishing community demanding to keep the Indian fishermen away from their waters.
To cut the long story short, the problem of Tamil Nadu’s fishermen continues to fester in all its magnitude. After long hiatus, the Sri Lankan fishing community is venturing into the sea to pursue its vocation. The Indian fishermen who far had a free run are now finding the going tough. No one seems to look at the big picture, its only when blood spills in the mid sea, there is some uproar and then every thing gets normal till another such incident raises its ugly head.
As Tamil Nadu remains out of focus from New Delhi, Nagapattilnam, Pudukottai, Rameshwaran or Kanyakumari where the fishermen live, the fishing communities of Tamil Nadu are out of sight of those people who are sea blind but still guide their destinies.
To get more insight to Tamil Nadu fishermen’s problems, please read my earlier write on this link:
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com