COLOMBO: The 5,000 Tamil Nadu fishermen who were to attend the annual St. Anthony’s Feast in Kachchativu island on Saturday and Sunday failed to turn up today.
Only Sri Lankan fishermen are currently participating in the festival which is being held at the renovated and expanded St.Anthony’s chapel.
The renovation was executed for the Diocese of Jaffna by the Sri Lankan navy, free of charge, Sri Lankan officials said.
Indian officials said that they will proceed to the island only if the Indian fishermen change their mind and come.
“Our presence will be useful only if the Indian fishermen come,” they said.
Sri Lankan officials and churchmen from the Diocese of Jaffna are disappointed as they, in conjunction with the Sri Lankan navy had made all arrangements including breakfast, lunch and dinner packets for the thousands expected to come from Tamil Nadu. Sri Lankan and Indian coast guards were in readiness to escort the pilgrims up and down.
However, there is still hope that the fishermen will change their mind and come on Sunday-- the actual Feast day.
To bring peace to the fishing community stretching from Rameswaram in the South to Nagapattinam in the North of Tamil Nadu, the Indian and Sri Lankan governments have started the process of releasing fishermen in each others’ custody. Fifty were released by Sri Lanka on Friday.
India is expected to follow suit.
The fishermen of Tamil Nadu on the Indian side of Palk Strait which divides the two countries have been agitating for action against the Sri Lankan navy for allegedly killing 22-year-old Britjo of Rameswaram on the India side of the maritime border near Kachchativu island. They have refused to take charge of Britjo’s body till the concerned Sri Lankan naval rating is arrested. They are demanding that the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj come and see them and assure action against Sri Lanka. They are also seeking the expulsion of Sri Lankan diplomats.
The agitation has spread to all coastal areas of Tamil Nadu and has elicited strong statements from political parties in Tamil Nadu.
Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari took up the issue with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena when he met the latter at the Indian Ocean summit in Indonesia. After the meeting, the Indian and Sri Lankan governments decided to release all the fishermen in each others’ custody. Out of the 85
Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody, 53 were released on Friday. There are 19 Sri Lankan fishermen in Indian custody still.
But this has not assuaged the feelings of the agitating Indian fishermen. They consider it to be inadequate. They are also sore that Sri Lanka has not uttered a word about releasing the 134 Indian boats in its custody.
Sri Lanka has denied that its navy had shot Britjo. To prove this, Colombo has said that it will investigate on the basis of GPS evidence. India is yet to make its views known on the investigation.