The decision of the Italian government to send back the marines, Massimilano Lattore and Salvatore Girone, has been widely welcomed by various sections of people here in Kerala, the State to which belonged the two fishermen who were killed by gunshots. Dora, wife of fisherman Valentine, who was shot and killed on February 15, 2012, off the Kerala coast, said she was very happy with the development. The marines must stand trial in India, she said, adding that she expected them to be convicted. "I leave everything to God," the young woman, a fervent Catholic who had had her schooling but nothing more by way of formal education, told The Hindu on Friday.
However, even while welcoming the move, the former Minister and the legislator from Kollam, P.K. Gurudasan, said the decision appeared to be part of a deal struck between the Indian and Italian governments rather than a move meant to comply with the directions of India's Supreme Court. It was on the basis of some assurances by the Union government that the marines were being sent back. "This is tantamount to infringement of the Supreme Court’s powers," he said.
Mr. Gurudasan insisted that the Kerala government file a review petition against the Supreme Court's verdict that had held that Kerala had no jurisdiction in the case. He said that the special court to try the case should be set up in Kerala.
T. Peter, secretary of the National Fishworkers’ Forum, said the Indian government’s assurance that the marines would not be given capital punishment was a folly. This had to be decided by a court of law. If the government was against the imposition of the death sentence, such a stand should be consistently applied and should not be restricted to the marines’ case alone.
General secretary of the Kerala State Fishworkers' Federation V.V. Saseendran said that though he welcomed the Italian government’s decision, he could not endorse the assurances that appear to have been given by the Union government, including one that the marines would not be given the death penalty.
According to External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, the assurance was given to Italy because it was not a "rarest-of-rare" case for which the death sentence could be awarded. The court, and not a Union Minister or any other representative of the executive arm of the government, must decide whether or not it was such a case, Mr. Saseendran said.
Mr. Khurshid's reported statement was a direct challenge to the authority of the Indian judiciary, he said. He added that it amounted to the government interfering in the judicial process. This created doubts in the minds of the fishing community whether there would be justice dispensed in this case.
H. Basilal, president of Vaddy-Tangasseri Fishermen Society in Kollam, said that because of the strong stand taken by the Supreme Court and the nation-wide protests triggered by Italy’s earlier decision not to send back the marines, that country had given in to pressure. Else, Italy would have been blacklisted globally, he said.
G. Mohanraj, who was the official special public prosecutor in the case when it was pending before the Kollam District and Sessions Court, said the decision to send back the marines had brought him much relief. The marines should trust the impartiality and credibility of the Indian judicial system. "It is also clear that they will be entitled to all fundamental rights under Indian law during trial," he added.
While leaders of fishermen's organisations thus seemed to give out these vocal statements, at the bustling fishing harbour of Neendakara near here, from where the fishing boat on which the unfortunate fishermen had set out to sea last year, the average fisherman seemed either oblivious of or unconcerned with the return of the marines in distant national capital city of New Delhi. Many of them were at work on this hot afternoon on the seafront area, mending their nets in the shade of fishing boats as usual, getting set of another day's toil out in the sea in search of a livelihood.