Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Third Law #4: Indian Coast Guard vs Tamil Fishermen - A new villain arises

In today's scenario, when any outsider questions, "Where is Tamil Nadu?" a Tamil fisherman or his family member would probably say that "It is near India" rather than "It is in India". That is the situation right now.

In a row pathetic incidents caused by Sri Lankan Navy that were troubling the fishermen of down South coastal districts, especially Nagapattinam, Karikkal and Ramanathapuram, here is a new problem, that has arouse in the form of India's own armed forces. The unexpected incident of Ramanathapuram based fishermen being attacked by Indian Coast Guard on Monday has shook the political mechanism of the State in past three days. With a lot of political parties and Tamil nationalist movements accusing the State and the Central government following the attack on Tamil fishermen by their own country's armed forces, here is an analysis on the persisting scenario from ground zero.

Representational image
On Monday(November 13, 2017) at around 3.15 pm, K Pichai Arokiyadoss along with a crew of five were fishing at high seas about four nautical miles from Olaikuda hamlet of Indian coast. The crew that was sailing in a trawler named, 'Jehovah Jireh'(IND TN 09 MM 221), had cast their net for trawling.

At the time, the Indian Coast Guard vessel - 77, Rani Abbakka had asked them to stop. However, the crew kept on moving appealing that they had laid the net and could not stop the boat. Following this, the coast guard personnel allegedly had opened fire at them. During the firing, the owner of the boat K. Pichai Arokiyadass and another S. Johnson were said to have injured. According to the fishermen, the bullet is said to have pierced the forehand of Arockiyadoss and had hit Johnson.

Following this, the trawler was said to be taken under the control of Coast Guard personnel who had carried out an interrogation midsea. During the interrogation, the Coast Guard personnel is said to have asked the fishermen stand on their heads and also, they were tortured apparently. Since the fishermen had answered to the questions in Tamil, they were said to have beaten by the Coast Guard personnel and were asked to speak in Hindi. In the mean time, the Coast Guard personnel have 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 in that.

Following this, the fishermen were let free from custody and they had reached the shores the next day. After reaching the shore, the injured fishermen Pichai and Johnson were admitted to Rameshwaram GH and are undergoing treatment.

The injured fishermen
At this juncture, the families of  fishermen and members of Fishermen association across the State started to stage protests demanding justice for them. The victims Pichai and Johnson had filed a complaint against the ICG personnel in Mandapam Marine Police. The Marine Police officials have been investigating the issue subsequently.

Denial from ICG:

Following the row of complaints and counter actions by fishermen associations and political parties, the Coast Guard officials had released a statement. In their statement, it is said that, '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 fishermen 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 two sections:

After the ICG mentioning that they do not use any rubber bullet, the petitioners Pichai and Johnson had produced a 0.22 cm diameter aluminium bullet as proof of firing. The marine police took possession of the bullet.

Apparently, Dr. Meena Kumari who treated the fishermen described the wounds as ‘gun shot injury’ in her report. With these to 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.

The Blame Game:

Despite the fishermen raising allegations with strong evidences of firing, the ICG has been denying the allegations firmly. According to Sesuraja, president of Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association, the ICG officials are coming with lame reasons against the fishing community. "They have said that the fishermen had 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 responsible authority to investigate on this." Further, he added that the responsibility of the ICG is to prevent any crime from being committed in the Indian waters.

As said by Sesuraja, the paired trawling is the concern of Fisheries department. "Paired trawling will be a trap for a lot of fish hatchlings that apparently causes a major threat to aquatic ecosystem. So, we do not recommend that," said a top officials from Fisheries department. When asked who is the authority to investigate on this, the official said, "We  have to keep a check on the 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 of it."

There was also an allegation from ICG that, the trawler of the fishermen, Jehova Jireh seemed to be of Sri Lankan origin and that is why  they had to take them to custody. But, the fishermen said that all Indian boats from Rameshwaram will be painted standard green colour. Even Jehova Jireh was painted green and there was no need of any suspicion. Similarly, sources said that, 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.

The Strike:

Following the attack by ICG officials over Tamil fishermen, the Rameswaram Fishermen Association has been involving in a day long strike on Wednesday. They have also announced that they will be staging a protest on Thursday at Rameshwaram Bus Stand to mark their opposition.

During their stike, the fishermen association had also passed three resolutions against the ICG. The resolutions demanded immediate action against the ICG personnel and compensation for the injured victims.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, November 15, 2017.

This column, 'Third Law' will feature current affairs that break out to be the news of any day. In this column, I will try to figure out and put to the public debate, the reactions of any incident that might cause some serious effects on the society. Because, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

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