“We always give a signal to the Indian fishermen when they approach us in trawlers. We communicate that they should not come close, which will damage our fishing nets.But, they turn deaf ears to our plea, and often come charging in their high-powered trawlers, cutting our nets and disappear in the sea immediately afterwards.
We neither harm them nor their fishing nets. We as Tamil fishermen from Sri Lanka’s North equally respect them as our Tamil brethren across the strait.We also don’t want to cause any harm to them or to their nets. After all, we all are fishermen and human beings” explains a visibly moved fisherman Mahalingam Lingarajan.
These fishermen from Kaarainagar neither own trawlers nor big boats. They alos don’t have big fishing nets to cast. What they possess are modest manually cast nets that can bring them minimum catch. Their fishing nets are smaller and fragile, as their battered sea – dependent economy. They don’t know of deep sea fishing, and don’t possess the necessary equipment, and certainly do not know any other profession.
“The fishermen have claimed Sri Lankan Rupees 350,000/= as compensation for their damaged nets. Their nets had got entangled with Indian trawlers and are in unusable conditions. Their claims are fair, and we will compensate the Sri Lankan fishermen” said Yuvani Fernando Arulanantham, Tamil Nadu based fisher folk activist and President of “Niraparaathi”, Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF) while speaking toCeylon Today over the telephone.
The Sri Lankan fishermen at sea feel threatened by modern technology, and man power- the twin power of Indian fisher folk.
“The Indian fishermen are very well – equipped with modern mobile phones and GPRS system in place. We have a very few basic mobile phones which will work only in specific areas. Therefore, we are challenged by the Indian fishermen when they come closer to us. We have to always bear the loss of damaged fishing nets. And they (Indian fishermen) come in big numbers – with at least five fishermen on board – whereas we have only a maximum of two fishermen in ours” says Rajaratnam Kamalavasan, who had just brought freshly caught live crabs, which would be sent to Colombo immediately from the shores of Kaarainagar.
17 new fishing nets belonging to Indian fishermen, which got entangled to Sri Lankan fishermen’s boats are cleaned and carefully kept under lock and key in a store in Kaarainagar
The Tamil fishermen living in the fishing hamlet, Kaarainagar, sit in together as a group, pensively looking at an empty sea, in the scorching midday sun. The village has for generations been a fishing village, surrounded by Palmyrah trees, symbolic of the northern identity.
Most of these fishermen vow not to make their children fishermen, as they don’t want them also to go through the same life struggle, and be dependent on an unpredictable sea. Instead, they want their children to be educated and embrace other professions.
“I got displaced a few times. Like my fellow fishermen, I am struggling to rebuild my livelihood. I don’t know anything other than fishing” says Velupillai Krishnaswamy while showing a recently damaged fishing net.
Two meetings between the Sri Lankan and Indian fishermen were held in 2010 and 2011, but they was no conclusive outcome. Yet another meeting is scheduled for June according to Yuvani Fernando Arulanantham, who says “it is a particularly sensitive issue that should be carefully dealt with”.
The fishermen in Kaarainagar claim that it is costly to mend a damaged net or purchase a new one. It costs more than Rs.1,000/= to mend a net, and it also takes time to mend it to perfection.
Meanwhile, 30 Indian fishermen out of 56 who were arrested by the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) in April this year, were released recently. These 56 Indian fishermen have crossed the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), breaching the Sri Lankan waters. The remaining 26 Indian fishermen are likely to be released soon.