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Indian Parliament Debates Sri Lankan Navy Killing Tamilnadu Fishermen

(Half Truths and Cover Ups)

Usha Ramanathan

TAMIL TRIBUNE, October 2011 (ID. 2011-10-01); Updated December 1, 2011.
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1. Introduction
2. External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna's Statement to the Indian parliament on August 4, 2011
3. External Affairs Minister's Statement at the Lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha) on August 26, 2011
4. Final Remarks

1. Introduction

Sri Lankan Navy has been attacking, shooting and killing Tamil Nadu fishermen in the sea for many years.Scores have been killed and many more injured. Successive Tamil Nadu State chief ministers have pleaded to Indian government to stop these attacked. Indian Prime Ministers have routinely assured that there would be no more attacks but they continue. India had done nothing effective to stop them. Opposition politicians and even its allies in Tamilnadu wanted to discuss the issue in the Indian parliament. India's External Affairs Minister Mr. S. M. Krishna made two statements about the issue, one on August 4 and another about three weeks later on August 26, 2011.

What is appalling is the half-truths that the External Affairs Minister presented and how he downplayed the whole thing. Nowhere in the two carefully worded statements were any criticism or condemnation of Sri Lanka for killing Indian citizens. (Read the statements carefully. There is no criticism or condemnation.) In fact the August 4, 2011 statement does not mention any deaths or shootings at all; instead it talks of arrests, harassment and use of force. Why not tell the parliament that Tamil Nadu fishermen were injured and killed in these incidents of "harassment" and "use of force"? In the following days there was some criticism about the External Affairs Minister not mentioning the deaths.

So External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna mentioned the deaths in his August 26, 2011 statement. Instead of telling the parliament that there were scores of deaths of Tamil Nadu fishermen over the years, he said that there were 5 deaths in 2008 and 6 in 2011, giving the impression that about a dozen fishermen died instead of the total figure running into the hundreds. Another important thing to note is that the External Affairs Minister did not say that they were killed but said that they died (as if they died in some accident). The truth of the matter is that Sri Lankan Navy attacked and killed these unarmed Indian citizens. There are hundreds of eyewitness reports from surviving Tamil Nadu fishermen that Sri Lankan Navy men attacked and killed their fellow fishermen. The Indian External Affairs Minister conveniently, cunningly and cleverly hides the fact that neighboring Sri Lankan Navy has killed hundreds of its citizens in the sea.

Why is the Indian Government not doing anything effective to stop the killings of its citizens? I believe that the northern Hindi dominated Indian government feels that Tamil Nadu fishermen are acceptable sacrifices in order to keep a "friendly" relationship with its southern neighbor Sri Lanka,  lest it gets even closer to India's enemies in the north--China and Pakistan. It may be acceptable to northern-Hindi dominated Indian government to sacrifice its Tamil citizens for the protection of the north from its northern enemies, but it is not acceptable to us.

After her pleas to the Indian Government to protect Tamil Nadu fishermen did not bring any effective action, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms. Jayalalithaa Jeyaram, expressed her concern at the National Development Council Meeting. In her address to the National Development Council on October 22, 2011, she said, “Even attacks on fishermen belonging to Tamil Nadu in the Palk Bay by Sri Lanka are not looked upon as acts of aggression against India. This issue is merely looked upon as a minor problem concerning Tamil Nadu alone. The Centre seems to think that the lives of fishermen belonging to Tamil Nadu are worthless and do not call for any potent action.” (The Hindu newspaper online edition; October 22, 2011)

We present in Section 2 and 3 excerpts from External Affairs Minister's statement to the parliament and our commentary.

2. External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna's Statement to the Indian parliament on August 4, 2011

External Affairs Minister of India, Mr. S. M. Krishna, made a Suo Moto Statement at the Indian parliament on August 4, 2011, about the killings of Tamil Nadu fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy. Here are some excerpts from the statement, along with my comments.

2.1

"There have been reports of incidents of attacks on Indian fishermen, allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy... The Sri Lankan side, while denying that their Navy was involved, has promised to seriously investigate these incidents."

Our Comment:
If someone not familiar with the issue were to read it, in fact many Indians outside of Tamil Nadu are unfamiliar with the issue, they would not know that the attacks include hundreds of shootings resulting in scores of deaths and many more injuries. 

The Indian External Affairs Minister calls them "allegedly by Sri Lankan Navy" and goes on to add later that Sri Lanka denies these attacks. If it is not the Sri Lankan Navy, is it the Indian Navy? Both Sri Lanka and India used to say that it might be the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), although surviving fishermen had told Indian authorities repeatedly that it was the Srti Lankan Navy that shot at them. After LTTE was wiped out in May 2009, there are only two navies operating in the areas where Tamil Nadu fishermen were attacked, shot and killed--The Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Navy. Which one is it? Is the External Affairs Minister pointing his finger at the Indian Navy? I suppose not. Then it can only be the Sri Lankan Navy.

We also want to point out what the Indian External Affairs Ministry said when the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency shot and killed a north Indian fisherman. This is what The Hindu newspaper reported on February 17, 2006: "India has lodged a protest with Pakistan following the death of a fisherman, Shantilal Mangal (21), who was "killed in firing" by the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency on Monday, the External Affairs Ministry spokesman said." There is no "allegedly by Pakistan". Why use "allegedly by Sri Lanka" when Tamil Nadu fishermen were killed? Indian Government came to the conclusion that it was Pakistan based on eyewitness statements of the surviving north Indian fishermen and the fact that only Pakistani and Indian military vessels operate in that area. Then why this doubt about eyewitness statements of hundreds of Tamil Nadu fishermen over hundreds of incidents of shootings over the years? Why this disparity? Why this discrimination?

2.2

"In the Joint Press Release issued in May 2011, India and Sri Lanka agreed that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstances and that all fishermen should be treated in a humane manner."

Our Comment:
The Indian External Affairs Minister seems to tell the parliament that India and Sri Lanka have resolved the issue and there would be no more "force" on Tamilnadu fishermen. What Minister Krishna hid from parliament is that Sri Lanka had used force after this May Joint Press Release, during the period between the press release in May 2011 and Krishna's statement in parliament on August 4, 2011. Here is a news item.

Fishermen complained to Tamil Nadu police that Sri Lankan Navy personnel who came in 7 boats, two of the boats fitted with machine guns and the personnel armed with guns, whipped them with a rope, and took away their catch and GPS equipment. Thirty fishermen were injured in this incident (The Hindu newspaper website, July 28, 2011). Is this not "use of force"? Why did the External Affairs Minister who told the members of parliament of the May Joint Press Release, hid from them that Sri Lanka had already violated the agreement?

2.3

"We [Indian Government] have emphasized that there is no justification for the use of force against our fishermen even though almost all instances of arrest and harassment of our fishermen seem to have occurred in Sri Lankan waters."

Our Comment:
I agree that most (may be almost all) incidents took place in Sri Lankan waters. I also agree with the Indian External Affairs Minister that there is no justification for Sri Lankan attacks even in their waters. The point I want to make here is different. Read the statement again. External Affairs Minister Krishna says,

"all instances of arrest and harassment".

Is the Indian External Affairs Minister calling the killing of Tamil Nadu fishermen just harassment?

On January 22, 2011, Sri Lankan navy men put a rope around the neck of a Tamil Nadu fisherman, Jayakumar, pushed him into the sea and pulled him by the rope as he was struggling to swim. He choked to death. Two surviving fishermen who were fishing with Jayakumar reported it to Tamil Nadu officials. (Thinathanthi newspaper; January 24, 2011). Is the External Affairs Minister calling this barbaric act as harassment? If someone did this to a dog, we would call it animal cruelty but when the Sri Lankans did it to a Tamil the Indian Government is calling it harassment? My blood boils.

2.4

"In 2010, a total of 137 Indian fishermen were apprehended and released by Sri Lanka. Till third August 2011, a total of 164 Indian fishermen were apprehended by Sri Lanka and all were subsequently released. At the same time, in 2010 a total of 352, and in 2011, a total of 131 Sri Lankan fishermen, have been apprehended by our authorities. A total of 104 Sri Lankan fishermen are still in Indian custody whereas all Indian fishermen apprehended on charges of fishing related violations in Sri Lanka have been released."

Our Comment:
The Indian External Affairs Minister is essentially saying that we (Indian Government) are doing things to Sri Lankan fishermen who come into Indian waters and they (Sri Lankan Government) are doing things to Indian (Tamil Nadu) fishermen who go into Sri Lankan waters. We are doing the same thing, so what is all this fuss about? In fact, Minister Krishna is going to the extent of essentially saying that India is worse than Sri Lanka because India has 104 Sri Lankan fishermen in custody and Sri Lanka has none (all are released). What Minister Krishna conveniently and cunningly fails to give is number of shootings in 2010 and 2011 at Sri Lankan fishermen by Indian Navy and the number of shootings in 2010 and 2011 by Sri Lankan Navy at Tamilnadu fishermen? I will give the answer. Over a dozen shootings by Sri Lanka and none by India. How many Sri Lankan fishermen did Indian Navy kill? None. How many Tamil Nadu fishermen did the Sri Lankan Navy kill? We know that six Tamil Nadu fishermen died in the sea in 2011 (as of August 4, 2011). We know from eyewitness accounts that Sri Lankan Navy killed two of them. There were no witnesses to the other four deaths--their dead bodies were recovered from sea days later, one of them with the head cut off.

Just giving the number Tamil Nadu fishermen jailed but without any mention of the numbers killed is outrageous. In fact, nowhere in the August 4 statement is any mention that Sri Lankan Navy killed our fishermen. After criticism of the External Affairs Minister's omission of any information about the killings in the August 4 statement to parliament, he gave some limited information about the deaths three weeks later on August 26, 2011. We discuss this in the next section.

3. External Affairs Minister's Statement at the Lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha) on August 26, 2011

External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna, made a statement again at the lower house of the Indian parliament (Lok Sabha) on August 26, 2011. 

He gave parliament the number of "reported dead" Indian fishermen. [He was referring to Tamil Nadu fishermen dead in the sea between India and Sri Lanka.] The numbers he gave are: 2008 - 5 and 2011 - 6 (none in 2009 and 2010; 2011). Although there were no deaths in 2009 and 2010, there were several reports of Sri Lankan Navy attacking Tamil Nadu fishermen, resulting in injuries. We list here a sampling of news items published in the Tamil daily newspaper Thina Thanthi during the first four months of 2009: January 10, February 7, March 23, April 5.  There are more such news reports in 2009 and 2010. [Note that there were scores of killings before 2008.]

Krishna said,

"There were six cases of Indian fishermen who died during 2011. We learnt about the death of Shri Pandiyan on 12th January 2011 and that of Shri Jayakumar on 23rd January 2011. Four other fishermen from Tamil Nadu were reported missing on 5th April 2011, and their bodies were found subsequently. In all these cases, the High Commission of India in Colombo took up the matter on the same day of receipt of information about the death of Indian fishermen. It is very important to note here that, following the India-Sri Lanka Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements of 26th October 2008, the incidents involving Indian fishermen declined significantly."

Krishna says, "We learnt about the death of Shri Pandiyan on 12th January 2011". He conveniently omits that he was shot and killed. According to the Times of India news report on their web site dated January 14, 2011: A. Jambunathan, assistant director in the state fisheries department reported that Pandian was fishing with C. Baskaran, M Meyyappan and M Manikandan in a mechanized boat. They were intercepted by a Sri Lankan navy vessel. The Navy personnel ordered the fishermen to jump into the sea. Meyyappan and Manikandan jumped into the sea immediately. Pandian waited to remove his clothes and was fired upon by the navy personnel. He was hit on the chest and collapsed in the boat. (Obviously this is the eyewitness statement from the survivors to the fisheries department.)

Krishna says, "We learnt about the death of Shri Jayakumar on 23rd January 2011". The Tamil newspaper Thina Thanthi reported Jayakumar's death on January 24, 2011. Thinathanthi has the largest circulation of Tamil newspaper and is more than half a century old. Here is a summary of the news as reported in Thina Thanthi on January 24, 2011: Jayakumar was fishing with his younger brother Senthil and another fisherman Rajendran. About ten gun Sri Lankan navymen with guns came in a boat and ordered the three to jump into the sea. Senthi and Rajendran did so. Jayakumar pleaded to the navy men that his hands were injured in an accident some years ago and he could not swim. The Sri Lankans put a rope around his neck and pushed him into the sea. Jayakumar struggled to swim. The Sri Lankans pulled him by the rope around his neck and he choked to death. This was the eyewitness report of Senthil and Rajendran.

Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna hid this horrific murder from the members of parliament by simply stating, "We learnt about the death of Shri Jayakumar on 23rd January 2011".

Krishna said, "Four other fishermen from Tamil Nadu were reported missing on 5th April 2011, and their bodies were found subsequently." What he hid from the members of parliament (MPs) was that one of those bodies was found with the head cut-ff. So it was not a natural death but murder. We do not know by whom. Yet why did the Indian External Affairs Minister hide this information from parliament? (These are the 6 deaths I mentioned in Section 1.4. I do not want anyone to count them as additional six deaths. The total death count in 2011 was six.)

4. Final Remarks

Senior Indian Government officials are downplaying the Sri Lankan Navy attacks and deaths of Tamil Nadu fishermen for the past few years. I request readers to read excerpts of statements by Indian Navy Commodore P. E. Van Halteren (July 2008), Indian Navy Vice-Admiral K N Sushil (October 2010), National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon (January 22, 2011) and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (January 22, 2011) in Reference 1.

[Summary: Point-by-point rebuttal to Indian External Affairs Minister’s statement to parliament on alleged killings of Tamil Nadu fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy.]

REFERENCE

1. Indian Government "Justifies" Sri Lankan Navy Killing Tamil Nadu Fishermen (by Usha Ramanathan), TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 2008; updated in March 2011 (11 KB)

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Killings of Tamil Nadu Fishermen in the Sea

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