(Published in Millennium Post, on 27 June, 2012)
A group of Indian fishermen was attacked near Katchatheevu island in the early hours of Tuesday, by the Sri Lankan Navy.
The fishermen alleged that they were first fired upon. Then, members of the Sri Lankan Navy climbed aboard their boats and threw their catch into the sea. The fishermen claimed their nets were also cut and torn by the Lankan Navy.
More than 600 boats had left the coast of Rameswaram on Monday. The fishermen said they were fishing in Indian waters off the coast of Katchatheevu. They were turned away by the Lankan Navy from the spot. Incidentally, the island was ceded by the Government of India to Sri Lanka under the 1974 and 1976 agreements between India and Sri Lanka.
The fishermen said they were waylaid again by the Navy during their return journey. No injuries have been reported thus far.
There have been frequent reports of attacks, detention, torture and killing of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy. However, the Lankan government categorically denies that the Navy is involved, despite the fishermen vouching that it was indeed members of the armed forces who had detained them.
As maritime boundaries cannot be marked clearly, it often happens that fishermen from one country may stray into international waters. Usually, in these cases, the norm is that the fishermen are questioned, and then returned to their own countries, along with their boats, with a warning. However, Indian fishermen have often been detained in both Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
According to some estimates, more than 500 fishermen from India have been wounded or killed in the Palk Bay in the last 30 years.
A Joint Working Group was constituted to deal with the issue of fishermen from India and Sri Lanka entering into each other’s waters, and modalities for the release of confiscated boats as well as prevention of use of force against the fishermen during questioning. This group has not met since 2006.