Tamil fishermen were yet again target practice for the Lankan Navy. Two fishermen were shot dead by a murderous Lankan Navy on July 12th 2008. More than 800 Tamil fishermen have been killed since 1983 and the centre has done little to address this issue. The roots of this contentious issue can be traced to India granting Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka in 1974. It is significant to note that Karunanithi, who recently demanded that Katchatheevu be retrieved, slept over this blunder all these years.
The Indian government, however, which considers Sri Lanka as a ‘strategic ally’, does not wish to antagonize it – even at the cost of the genuine interests of the Tamils.
But are Tamil people worthy of attention? Any person accustomed to the ‘national’ media in India will think otherwise. The ‘national’ channels that spent hours to debate Aarushi Talwar couldn’t find minutes to spare for the issue of Tamil fishermen. But then, Aarushi is the ‘ideal Indian’ stereotype – fair skinned, North Indian, Hindi speaking, upper caste. Why waste footage over some dark, low class, non-Hindi person who in no aspect conforms to the Indian stereotype? Of course, Aarushi’s tragic demise was a monumental tragedy for her parents, but was the tragedy any less for the kith and kin of the butchered fishermen? The theory of equality works strangely in a supposedly democratic country that has a heritage of racism sanctioned by religion. Some Indians are always more equal than others.
If the attitude of the North-centric government and national media towards the issue was apathetic, the reaction of the Tamil politicians was pathetic. Even amateur political observers could deduce that Karunanithi’s fast on July 19th was a farce. The ‘Tamizhina Thalaivar’ (leader of the Tamil race) would never jeopardize his political interests for some random fisherman. He probably has better issues to address. The other Tamil political parties, even those that were genuinely concerned about the issue, put up insignificant protests. The silver lining? For once, Jayalalitha and Karunanithi had a consensus – that Katchatheevu must be retrieved.
The issue of indiscriminate firing on Tamil fishermen was addressed at the SAARC summit, held on Aug 2nd and 3rd. As usual, it was just one insignificant issue which recieved slight attention from the Indian diplomats – they were more concerned about ISI and Afghanistan. Unless India comes down hard on Sri Lanka this issue cannot be resolved. And India will not do this unless there is adequate pressure from Tamil Nadu. And the Tamil politicians are living in a fool’s paradise if they think they can pressurize the Indian government to act on this issue through fasts and empty protests.