PK Balachandran, Sri Lanka Correspondent,
Colombo, March 11: The Tamil Nadu coordinator for the Kachchativu St. Anthony’s festival, Fr.Sahayaraj, had asked for a postponement of the event fixed for Sunday, but the Jaffna Diocese had informed him that it could not be postponed for reasons beyond their control, reliable sources in the Tamil Nadu Catholic church told this correspondent.
However, personnel of the Jaffna Diocese could not be contacted to confirm this.
According to sources, Fr.Sahayaraj had on Thursday, sought from the Jaffna Diocese through an email, a postponement of the festival in view of the growing fishermen’s agitation in Tamil Nadu over the killing of a young Rameswaram fishermen allegedly by a Sri Lankan naval rating on Monday. The Diocese came back to Fr.Sahayaraj later in the day, with a negative reply.
Arrangements continued to be made by the Sri Lankan navy to receive 4991 pilgrims from Tamil Nadu with dinner packets for Saturday evening and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. In the normal course, the pilgrims would have attended the main mass on Sunday at 9 am, had lunch and sailed back to Tamil Nadu later in the afternoon.
Earlier in the day on Saturday, a Sri Lankan Caholic priest involved in organizing St. Anthony’s Feast, told a Sri Lankan TV channel that the pilgrims want to come for it but are being prevented by the agitators.
The agitators are asking for the arrest of the Sri Lankan navy man; have rejected the compensation offered by the Tamil Nadu government; and are insisting that Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj should see them and give them a concrete assurance that the guilty Sri Lankan navy man is arrested and there will be no more shootings.
But neither Swaraj nor any of the other two junior External Affairs ministers have come. The on-going election process in Uttar Pradesh is cited as the reason for the ministers’ inability to respond. That the Indian government has not issued a single statement condemning the killing and expressing sorrow is a major grievance of the fishermen.
The Sri Lankan government has already denied that its navy had done the shooting as the shooting is alleged to have happened on the Indian side of the Maritime Boundary Line, which the Sri Lankan navy never crosses. However, the government has announced a thorough inquiry based on GPS data which will hopefully prove that no Sri Lankan naval vessel was on the Indian side of the IMBL. But the fishermen contend that the bullets recovered were from a military Self-Loading Rifle (SLR).
Sri Lanka is yet to set up a court of inquiry or say how the matter will be investigated.
Due to the intervention of India’s Vice President Hamid Ansari who took up the issue with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Indonesia on the sideline of the recent Indian Ocean summit, the Indian and Sri Lankan governments agreed to release fishermen held by them. Orders were passed on Friday to release 53 of the 85 Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody. On Monday, the rest will be released too.
The speculation is that the Sri Lankan government will in all probability do nothing more than what it has already done (release of the fishermen but not their boats). Perhaps, it hopes that the issue will peter out in a while.
The solution probably lies in either Sushma Swaraj or a senior minister visiting the agitators and giving them an assurance that the government of India will ensue that the Sri Lankan side does not resort to the use of firearms of any kind of violence against Indian fishermen in the future as it is part of the commitment made at the Indo-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on Fishing.
Only Sri Lankan fishermen are currently participating in the Kachchativu festical. The Sri Lankan navy had renovated and expanded St.Anthony’s chapel. The renovation was executed for the Diocese of Jaffna by the Sri Lankan navy, free of charge. The navy also helps conduct the festival as per the wishes of the Diocese of Jaffna.
(The featured picture at the top shows pilgrims from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka taking an idol of St.Anthony in a profession in Kachchativu island)