With U.M. Abhijith

CHINNAPALAM (RAMESWARAM): On December 22, 2016, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 12 Indian fishermen for allegedly poaching on the island’s territorial waters.

However, relatives of Justin Tharaviam, one of the captured fishermen said, the Government of India has not even informed us of the arrests, let alone take efforts to secure their release.

“No one has visited our home,” Janu Devi, a relative said. They came to know about the incident from television news, she added.

Soon afterwards, the fisherfolk of Rameswaram held a demonstration urging government action to secure their release, but to no avail.

In 2016 alone, around 500 Tamil fishermen were apprehended by the Sri Lankan Navy/Marine Police, according to one account. Most of them were released within a few days while the others are still behind bars. Many have endured torture.

It’s agonising back home for their families also. In most cases, the fishermen were the sole breadwinners and their capture has left their families penniless. Tharaviam’s family of six, including five children, is living on borrowed money.

“They are struggling to make ends meet,” said Devi. “It is time to pay the children’s college fees. They have no money,” she added.

The government has done little to help these families, alleged fishermen. While families of the killed fishermen are offered compensation, the government does little to help those lodged in Sri Lankan prisons, said Saravala, who was in Sri Lankan custody for 90 days. He was among the 29 Tamil fishermen captured by the Sri Lankan Navy on July 6, 2012.

Their families were often kept in the dark about the government efforts to secure the their release, he said. Indian officials in Sri Lanka rarely visited the captured fishermen in jails, complained the Rameswaram fishermen.

It is also a tale of neglect even after they have been freed.

“After we were officially released by the Sri Lankan authorities, it took three days for the Indian government to dispatch a naval ship to bring us back,” said Saravala.

These fishermen laughed at the External Affairs Ministry’s claim that whenever fishermen are captured, the matter is taken up immediately by the High Commission of India in Colombo with the Sri Lankan government for their expeditious release.

“The Indian Government does nothing. They are collaborating with the Sri Lankan government at our expense,” Saravala said.