In an unprecedented show, Sri Lanka’s northern Tamil fishermen protested outside the office of the Indian Consul General in Jaffna, asking the Indian government to prevent its fishermen from entering Sri Lankan waters. The protesters also demanded the release of four Sri Lankan fishermen, who have been held in Tamil Nadu.

The fishermen gathered near the Consulate from 7.15 am on Monday, according to one official. By around 10 am, about 275 fishermen from Mathagal gathered in front of the consulate holding placards asking the Indian government to ‘stop encroachments,’ ‘release Sri Lankan fishermen in Indian jails,’ and decrying officials of the Indian Consulate in Jaffna for their role in the release of fishermen from Tamil Nadu last week.

As many as 136 Indian fishermen, who were arrested for fishing in Sri Lankan waters were arrested and remanded to two weeks’ judicial custody last week. They were later released after hectic diplomatic activity and consultations between Indian and Sri Lankan governments.

“Initially some of the protesters also had tied a cloth over their mouth. Later they did shouted slogans asking why the Indian government was trying to spoil the umbilical relations between fishermen of Tamil Nadu and Jaffna,” said a person who witnessed the protest.

At around 10-15 another group of about 35 fishermen arrived from Girinagar and joined the fishermen from Mathagal. A few from the Mathagal fishermen met the Indian Consul General in Jaffna, V.Mahalingam, and handed over a memorandum, stressing the main points in their protest. The second group also met Mr.Mahalingam separately, and submitted their demands orally.

Asked about the protest, Mr.Mahalingam told The Hindu over phone that it was a peaceful protest. “They have handed over a memorandum to me. I have conveyed the contents to the government,” he added. The Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Ashok K.Kantha, is in New Delhi for routine consultations.

Protests are alien to Jaffna. Under the vigilant and intolerant LTTE, there has been no protest in about three decades. After Sri Lankan forces captured the peninsula in May 2009, the Army has maintained a strict vigil over the whole of the northern province. No foreigners are allowed to visit the area, except with the written permission of the Sri Lankan government. So far, there have been no protests from May 2009, according to people familiar with the Sri Lankan situation.