They are demanding the release of 65 fishermen jailed in Sri Lanka

Frustrated by the frequent arrest of fishermen from Tamil Nadu by the Sri Lankan Navy and the delay in their release, fishermen here on Saturday said that they might have to seek ‘asylum’ in Sri Lanka if the governments at the State and Centre fail to secure the release of 65 fishermen currently in prison in the island nation.

Members of the fishing community belonging to eight habitations of the Nagapattinam block, who are on an indefinite strike demanding the release of the jailed fishermen, held a Kudankulam-style offshore protest by lining up over 400 boats at sea bearing black flags. The fishing community has been on strike since the July 30 arrest of the fishermen from Nagapattinam and Karaikal.

“If the fishermen are not released on August 21, the date up to which they have been remanded, we will hoist white flags on our boats and move en masse into Sri Lankan waters as “refugees of livelihood,” Gauthaman of Keechankuppam said.

While over 400 mechanized and fibre boats, bearing black flags, lined up on the waves, several hundred women dotted the beach with black flags. The women played out mournful acts of bereavement and loss and demanded justice for their men. According to them, the repeated attacks were assaults on their traditional way of life and their right to livelihood. If the governments could guarantee them life and security, they should be given government jobs for sustenance, the women said in unison. At the same time, several hundred other boats remained docked in the harbour of Keechankuppam here for the 10th day.

Speaking to The Hindu, on their charter of demands, Manoharan, a fishing community leader from Akkarapettai, said a permanent solution would have to be found in the form of ‘seasonal fishing rights’ to avoid conflicts. Such seasonal fishing rights can alternate between the fisherfolk of both countries on a bimonthly basis. The fishing community from both countries could benefit from the marine wealth that keeps shifting with the ocean currents, he said. The fishermen have also demanded that a joint Committee of the Centre and the State, along with fishing representatives from both countries, be constituted to arrive at an amicable arrangement.

According to the fishermen, there were unconfirmed reports of fishermen being held for alleged smuggling of narcotics and fishing equipment from the Sri Lankan coast.

“If these were indeed true, the Sri Lankan state should refrain from foisting cases on the fishermen, who tread into the waters in search of livelihood,” said Gauthaman.

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