The death of a Tamil Nadu fisherman on Tuesday in alleged firing by the Sri Lankan navy personnel has revived the demand for the Katchatheevu island. Several political leaders have argued that the alleged atrocities by Sri Lankan navy would only end if the 285-acre is brought under India’s control. The 285-acre uninhabited island in Palk Strait lies within the maritime boundaries of Sri Lanka. An agreement in 1974 between Sri Lanka and India handed over its ownership to the former, on a condition that Indian fishermen would have access to Katchatheevu.
DMK working president and the leader of opposition in the Assembly M K Stalin has written to the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, demanding immediate steps to retrieve the island, “to restore the traditional rights of the Indian fishermen and to stop the inhuman killings by the Sri Lankan navy.” He said retrieval of Katchatheevu is the only solution the problem.
As the agreement did not specify fishing rights for Indian fishermen, the Sri Lankan government interpreted it as the right “for rest, drying nets and for visit to the Catholic shrine without visa” for Indian fishermen.
Meanwhile, protests against the killing of 22-year-old K Bridjo, hailing from Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, continued in Rameswaram and nearby areas on Wednesday. The fishermen community have declared an indefinite protest, and demanded a visit by the External Affairs Minister and a permanent solution to put an end to alleged atrocities by the Sri Lankan navy in Palk Bay.
The protesters have said they will not accept Bridjo’s body till they get justice. Over 2,000 people gathered at Thangachimadam in Rameswaram on Wednesday and demanded the immediate arrest of Sri Lankan navy personnel who fired at Bridjo and another fisherman, Saron (22), who was injured in the incident.
The protesting fishermen have also declared that they will boycott the annual festival at the St Anthony’s Church on the island, scheduled for March 11 and 12. The decision has come at a time when the authorities have made arrangements to ferry pilgrims in 140 trawlers to the island next week.
On an average, about 4,000 devotees from Rameswaram visit the church during the festival every year.
Amid the protests, the Madras High Court on Wednesday asked the Centre and Tamil Nadu government to look into the grievances of fishermen who were attacked in such incidents and sought details of the measures for welfare of their families.
A bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Huluvadi G Ramesh and Justice M Sundar was hearing a PIL, seeking a direction to central and state governments to formulate welfare schemes to rehabilitate families of fishermen attacked by navy of a foreign country.