Rameswaram fishermen take out procession demanding release of colleagues jailed in Sri Lanka

They dispersed after Ramanathapuram Collector promised action by the State and Centre for the fishermen’s release. However, they warn that they will resume their procession from Pamban after a week if their demand is not met

Updated - February 21, 2024 04:49 pm IST

Published - February 20, 2024 08:49 pm IST - Rameswaram

Fishermen taking out a procession in Rameswaram on Tuesday.

Fishermen taking out a procession in Rameswaram on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: L. BALACHANDAR

Agitated over a Sri Lankan court convicting and imprisoning four fishermen from Ramanathapuram on charges of poaching in its waters, over 1,000 fishermen from Rameswaram, Pamban, and Thangachimadam took out a massive procession from Rameswaram island to Ramanathapuram Collectorate on Tuesday.

They only dispersed after Ramanathapuram Collector B. Vishnu Chandran met them midway at Pamban and assured them that the State and Centre were taking efforts for the fishermen’s release. However, they warned that they would resume their procession from Pamban after a week if their demand was not met.

The fishermen took out the procession from the Rameswaram fishing harbour to hand over a petition to the Collector seeking the immediate release of the fishermen after several rounds of talks failed earlier. The protest was led by Sahayam, an office-bearer of the Mechanised Boats Fishermen Association.

| Video Credit: L. BALACHANDAR

Over 1,000 fisherfolk, including women, participated, braving the scorching sun. Despite a huge presence of police personnel, who tried to stop the procession at three locations, the rally proceeded for 11 km. However, Mr. Vishnu Chandran and Superintendent of Police, G. Chandeesh met the representatives at Pamban, and after prolonged talks, the fishermen agreed to suspend their march.

“We have agreed to suspend the procession based on the Collector’s promise. However, our indefinite strike abstaining from fishing will continue till all four fishermen are released,” Mr. Sahayam said.

The fishermen would wait till February 22, and if the jailed fishermen were not released by then they would resume the procession, he said, cautioning that they would even resort to an indefinite fasting.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sahayam said the fishermen from Ramanathapuram district would not go to Katchatheevu for the annual festival of St. Antony’s Church to be held on February 23 and 24.

Mr. Vishnu Chandran told reporters that a few community leaders had met Union Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar in New Delhi in connection with the present crisis. The State government has drawn the Centre’s attention to the issue, and the latter was taking efforts for the release of the fishermen.

“But, it will require some time (to materialise),” he said, and added that the fishermen also demanded the retrieval of 150 fishing boats impounded by the island nation.

Mr. Vishnu Chandran also said the Department of Fisheries had formed a team, comprising three officials and three fishermen association representatives. Efforts are being made to get government permission to inspect the boats seized by the Sri Lankan Navy and salvage seaworthy boats. The Collector also announced that considering the livelihood of the families of the four jailed fishermen, ₹250 would be given daily to each family.

The Sri Lankan government had awarded jail terms of six months for the boatman and one/two year imprisonment for the fishermen for the repeat offence.

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