In March 2015, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Shriyan Wickremesinghe, sparked off a controversy by claiming that Indian fishermen being shot dead by the navy — if found intruding into Lankan waters — does not amount to human rights violation. While the notorious agenda of clamping down on illegal fishing activity in the pretext of dissolving separatist insurgent groups has been garnering much attention in both the countries, civil rights activists have raised valid concerns on the crucial need to reform the prerogative powers of the authorities.
More than a dozen fishermen were harassed at gunpoint near Kachchathivu in Palk Straits earlier this September. Some were arrested on the same day in a separate incident that occurred near Nagapattinam. Their feeble attempts at warning the Indian coastguard yielded no response and they were left to fend for themselves in the ocean.
In October, scores of them were taken into custody by Lankan naval personnel off the coast of Vadamaradchi East near Jaffna district. This further led to a series of debates demanding the nullification and questioning the constitutionality of the Indo-Srilankan agreement of 1974 and 1976 which aimed to resolve territorial disputes over the islet.
“Innocent fishermen always become victims of politics. Like everyone else, we are striving our best to provide for our family. However, there have also been umpteen cases of people peddling drugs and indulging in other illegal activities between the shores. Of course, no one walks away unscathed in such situations,” said Kumar.
After some tea and snacks, we walked around the ruins for a while. Amidst a pile of bricks, shrubs heaved a bleak sigh as their spirits danced in repose with gusts of wind. Grains of sand gritted and gnarled against its walls. Not once rose a sound from its pitiless wave; not once did it sway with the melancholic waters. For, the strains of dirge were now far gone embracing the warmth and radiance of solemn tides.
We crossed a giant stone slab surrounded by wreckage; its texture mellowed into a somber grey. Embedded into its heart were faint inscriptions that read Thorma Jesties Silver Jubilee, 6th May 1935, erected by Janabkonmeeba Sahib Bahadur, President Panchayat Board, Dhanushkodi. As we explored hidden lanes, we told Kumar that we had come across a Shiva Ling on the way to Azhichal Munai (Land’s end) the previous day. “Those idols are quite old. People still come to offer their prayers here. Most of them hope it protects the land and its children,” he said.
We walked the entire stretch as skies transformed into livid streaks of mauve and amber. Like a flaming orb, the sun descended into an arc across the horizon. Millions of shells lay lifeless on the sides of a freshly dug path; some coloured at its rims others dipped in myriad hues. And, some were large enough to echo the depth of the ocean. In the rubble, we spotted what seemed like remnants of a broken shell. Kumar stooped down and picked it up gingerly placing it in the palms of his hand. He examined it for a while and declared, “This doesn’t belong to the ocean. It’s human bone. Perhaps, an index finger; I couldn’t be sure. A lot of skeletal remains were unearthed when they dug up the area to build the road. They even found a skull a few weeks ago. We are all aware of what happened here. So, it doesn’t really shock the community anymore. In fact, due to the ongoing construction work, we have been eating sand with our food for the past few months. No matter how difficult life gets, we will never abandon our homes.”
It was getting dark and we decided to head towards the settlement near the port. We drove to the other side with Kumar and his dog kolandhe. There, we saw some young men playing volleyball on one side while the others just stared into the Bay. A small decrepit building served as the office for exporting fish to Rameswaram and other neighbouring towns. This was set up for the welfare and betterment of the fishing community. “S N R Namburanjan started this establishment in order to help fishermen struggling to make ends meet. For instance, he would clear their debts and lend money to those who can’t afford to repair their boats. So far, none of us have faced any major issue with respect to selling our catch in the markets.”
As we left the settlement, Kumar confessed that although every household was sanctioned solar lighting by the government, 136 families refused to accept their offer. On probing further, we realised that the locals transporting the equipment demanded Rs 2000 per house as charges for delivery and maintenance. Desperate to make a quick buck off naïve fishermen, these middle men resorted to all possible measures to convince them that this was the standardised norm.
“We can’t let money govern our lives. Human connection is far more important. It is wrong to break the trust of a fellow companion. I earn close to Rs 20,000 per month today. I can earn more if I want to but I am happy with what I have. I don’t want my life to be driven by money. What’s the point of leading a prosperous life when others around you are struggling? If you have more money, you lose your inner peace. I would never trade my life for anyone or anything. I will always stay here. We may not be rich but we treat each other with unconditional love,” said Kumar with a smile.
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502