Chennai: After Sri Lankan navy troubling fishermen from south coastal districts, especially Nagapattinam, Karaikkal and Ramanathapuram, here is a new problem that has allegedly risen from one of India’s own forces.
The incident of Ramanathapuram-based fishermen being attacked by Indian Coast Guard on Monday has shaken up the State in the past three days. With a number of political parties and Tamil nationalist movements accusing the State and Central governments following the attack on Tamil fishermen by their own country’s forces, News Today tried to analyse the scenario.
On Monday, around 3.15 pm, K Pichai Arokiyadoss along with a crew of five was fishing in the high seas, about four nautical miles from Olaikuda hamlet, near Rameswaram. The crew was sailing in a trawler named, ‘Jehovah Jireh’ (IND TN 09 MM 221), and cast their net.
It is said it was during the time, Indian Coast Guard vessel – 77, Rani Abbakka, asked them to stop. However, the crew kept moving, stating that they they had cast the net and could not stop the boat. Following this, the Coast Guard personnel allegedly opened fire at them. During the firing, the owner of the boat, Pichai Arokiyadass, and another fisherman, S Johnson, were said to have been injured.
According to the fishermen, the bullet pierced the arm of Arockiyadoss and hit Johnson.
Following this, the trawler was taken under control by the Coast Guard personnel who interrogated the fishermen mid-sea. They reportedly asked the fishermen to stand on their head and also tortured them. Since the fishermen answered in Tamil, they were said to have been beaten up by the Coast Guard personnel who asked them to speak in Hindi. In the meantime, the Coast Guard personnel also received the signature of the trawler’s driver, Sandro, on a piece of paper. However, none of the crew members knew what was written on that.
Following this, the fishermen were set free and reached the shores the next day. On reaching the shore, Pichai and Johnson were admitted to the Rameswaram GH and are undergoing treatment.
The families of the fishermen and members of fishermen associations across the State started to stage protests demanding justice. Pichai and Johnson have filed a complaint against the ICG personnel with the Mandapam Marine Police. The marine police officials are investigating the issue.
Following the row, the Coast Guard officials released a statement which said, “As the Coast Guard vessel approached, the fishing boat tried to leave the site, abandoning their the nets in the water and did not stop despite repeated warnings. During the chase, the boat rammed the Coast Guard ship. The boat was finally stopped and boarded after a chase of 50 minutes. The boat crew was interrogated.”
The ICG’s statement also added that “No fisherman had been fired upon by any CG ship in the Palk Bay. Further, rubber bullets are not used by Indian Coast Guard ships. No injury or bruises have been inflicted by any Coast Guard personnel by firing or otherwise as alleged by the fishermen. It may be an attempt by the fishermen to divert the attention as they were checked and warned by the Coast Guard ship for ‘pair trawling’ and for not stopping when directed to do so.”
CASE FILED UNDER 2 SECTIONS
With the ICG mentioning that they do not use rubber bullets, Pichai and Johnson had produced a 0.22 cm diameter aluminium bullet as proof of firing. The marine police took possession of the bullet.
Dr Meena Kumari, who treated the fishermen, described the wounds as ‘gun shot injury’ in her report.
With these evidences, the marine police had filed the case under sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 307 (attempt to murder) of IPC and Section 27(1) of the Arms Act, 1959.
However, when News Today tried to contact ICG personnel, they refused to comment.
Despite the fishermen raising allegations with strong evidences of firing, the ICG has been denying the allegations. According to Sesuraja, president of Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association, the ICG officials are coming up with lame reasons against the fishing community.
“They have said the fishermen have been using paired nets for trawling that would cause ecological imbalance due to loss of fish hatchlings. We agree that paired trawling causes ecological imbalance. But the thing is that, it is not proved yet. Even if it is proved, the ICG is not the authority to investigate this,” he said.
Further, he added that the responsibility of the ICG is to prevent crime from being committed on Indian waters. Paired trawling is the concern of the Fisheries Department.
“Paired trawling will be a trap for a lot of fish hatchlings that causes a major threat to the aquatic ecosystem. So, we do not recommend that,” said a top official of the Fisheries Department.
When asked who was the authority to investigate this, the official said, “We have to keep a check on fishing methods of all fishing communities in the State every now and then. The Fisheries Department is doing that properly and we are also maintaining a log.”
There was also an allegation from ICG that the trawler Jehova Jireh seemed to be of Sri Lankan origin and that was why they had to take them into custody. But, the fishermen said all Indian boats from Rameswaram are painted the standard green colour. Even Jehova Jireh was painted green. Similarly, sources said a Sri Lankan fishing vessel was spotted near Dhanushkodi during the wee hours of Monday.
“The ICG still has not taken any investigation on that foreign vessel, but they have started to trouble Tamil fishermen of Indian citizenship,” Sesuraja claimed.
Following the attack by ICG officials, the Rameswaram Fishermen Association launched into a day-long strike on Wednesday. They also announced that they will be staging a protest on Thursday at Rameswaram bus stand.
During the strike, the association passed three resolutions against the ICG demanding immediate action against the ICG personnel and compensation for the injured victims.