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Hundreds of fishermen on Tuesday staged a demonstration in Rameswaram island to protest the killing of an Indian fisherman allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy, as Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami dashed off a letter seeking the Centre’s intervention. Tamil Nadu opposition parties also condemned the killing and sought action from the Centre.
The 22-year-old Indian fisherman was shot dead yesterday allegedly by Lankan Navy personnel while he was fishing in a mechanised boat at a short distance off Katchatheevu islet.
The protesting fishermen at Thangachimadam in Rameswaram and the bereaved family have refused to accept the body of the fisherman unless a Central Minister visits the island and gives them an assurance that such incidents would not happen again, Rameswaram Fishermen Association President S Emiret said.
Police said during the autopsy, an AK-47 bullet was found lodged in the neck of the deceased.
In a letter to the Centre, Palaniswami said the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India should be summoned forthwith and “the strong feelings of the Government of India and government of Tamil Nadu about the unprovoked firing on fishermen and non-adherence to earlier agreements on this issue should be conveyed in no uncertain terms.”
Lanka resorting to “such inhuman and barbaric tactics” completely belies all the diplomatic efforts that have been undertaken including the understanding reached in several meetings between the two countries, including the recent one at Colombo, Palaniswami said in the letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He said at the ministerial level meeting in Colombo in January, “it was clearly agreed not to use force against bona fide fishermen at sea.”
While the fishermen were fishing in their traditional waters of Palk Bay, at about 9.30 pm (yesterday), “a fleet of four Sri Lankan Naval vessels surrounded the fishing boat and opened unprovoked and indiscriminate fire on the unarmed fishermen,” he said.
“Two fishermen received bullet injuries and while Bridgo died while being brought to the shore, Saran has been admitted in hospital,” he added.
“Even as action is taken on longer term issues like retrieval of Katchatheevu (islet) and on diversification to deep sea fishing, under no circumstances can the present escalation of actions by the Sri Lankan side be ignored or tolerated,” the Chief Minister said.
He urged Modi to intervene “personally in this sensitive livelihood issue of our fishermen and use all means at the command of the government of India to curb the unacceptable aggressive actions of the Sri Lankan Navy in the Palk Bay, and to protect the life, limb and liberty of our innocent fishermen”.
In another statement, Palaniswami condemned the killing and announced a compensation of Rs five lakh for the victim’s family. He also announced Rs one lakh to the other fisherman, who was injured in the attack, and directed that the best medical treatment be offered to him.
DMK Working President and Leader of Opposition in state Assembly, M K Stalin, called for diplomatic action by New Delhi on the issue.
“Centre should convey to Sri Lanka, either through consular channels or by summoning its envoy to India, that killing of Indian fishermen cannot be tolerated and that it would face the consequences if such incidents recur,” Stalin said.
Stalin said Lankan Navy’s gunning down of the fisherman Bridgo was in contravention to assurances made in a meeting of fishermen of India and Sri Lanka last year that no force will be used on the Indians and criticised the “inhumane” incident.
“One gets a feeling if there is any meaning in calling Sri Lanka a friendly nation even after this incident,” he said in a statement.
The killing has given rise to apprehension among fishermen of returning alive after venturing into the sea, he added. The DMK leader also demanded that the next of kin of the victim be paid a relief of Rs 25 lakh.
MDMK founder Vaiko alleged that the Lankan navy has killed 583 fishermen from Tamil Nadu even as they were frequently arresting fishermen and detaining their boats.
He urged the Centre to to file a case against the alleged Lankan perpetrators and press Sri Lanka to hand them over to India. “Else New Delhi should snap diplomatic ties with Colombo,” he added.
India should also seek a compensation of Rs one crore for the victim’s family from Sri Lanka, he said. CPI, VCK, PMK and many other political parties and outfits have expressed concern over the killing.
The protesting fishermen in Rameswaram alleged that there was no proper coordination between Lankan and Indian officials on the issue of fishermen fishing in the Palk Strait.
They demanded release of all Indian fishermen arrested by Sri Lankan Navy and boats seized by them. Policemen have been deployed in the island to monitor the situation.