Tamil Nadu

Who is Killing Tamil Nadu Fishermen and Where? (Sri Lanka and India)

Usha Ramanathan

TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2012 (ID. 2012-05-01)
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1. Introduction

2. Where were the Tamil Nadu Fishermen Attacked/Killed?

3. Who was Killing Tamil Nadu Fishermen?

3.1 Sri Lankan Navy?
3.2 Indian Navy or Coast Guard?
3.3 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)?
3.4 Some Unidentified Group?
3.5 Sri Lankan Fishermen?

4. Concluding Remarks

1. Introduction

Tamil Nadu (India) fishermen are being killed in the sea for the past two decades or so. Who is killing them and where in the sea are they killed?

In every one of these killings the surviving fishermen say that it was the Sri Lankan Navy that attacked and killed them. In case of the non-fatal attacks that did not involve guns, the fishermen again say that the Sri Lankan Navy was responsible except for about a dozen of these attacks out of the hundreds. In these few exceptions they say that it was Sri Lankan fishermen who attacked them.

As stated in the previous paragraph, there were hundreds of attacks during the past two decades. We restrict our attention to last year only (that is, Year 2011 only) in this article because discussing incidents of the past two decades would be time consuming and very lengthy. Hereon our discussion is limited to the Year 2011 only.

2. Where were the Tamil Nadu Fishermen Attacked/Killed?

Where were the Tamil Nadu fishermen killed or injured? Is it on the Indian side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) or on the Sri Lankan side? Actually it does not matter which side of the IMBL they are fishing? Even if Tamil Nadu fishermen were fishing in Sri Lankan waters, Sri Lankan Navy has no right to attack or kill them. The navy can arrest and prosecute them. That is what the Indian Navy and Coast Guards do when Sri Lankan fishermen enter Indian waters. That is what almost every country does. Have you heard of French and British navies killing each other's fishermen? Have you ever heard of American and Canadian navies killing each other's fishermen?

Actually the Sri Lankan Government agrees that Tamil Nadu fishermen should not be attacked on the Sri Lankan side or Indian side of the IMBL. For example, on January 13, 2011, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India, Prasad Kariyawasam, said that the Sri Lankan Navy is under strict orders never to fire at fishermen even if they cross the international boundary line towards Sri Lanka. Another example. At the end of Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's visit to Sri Lanka on January 31, the two countries issued a joint statement that said that India and Sri Lanka agreed that use of force could nnot be justified under any circumstances. One more example: India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on Fisheries held its third meeting in New Delhi (India) on March 28-29, 2011. At the end of the meetings both countries issued a joint statement that said, "The use of force cannot be justified under any circumstances".

So the question of whether Tamil Nadu fishermen were attacked/killed on Sri Lankan waters or Indian waters is mute. Everyone seem to agree that Tamil Nadu fishermen should not be attacked/killed even on the Sri Lankan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).

3. Who was Killing Tamil Nadu Fishermen?

3.1 Sri Lankan Navy?

In every case of attack in the year under discussion (2011), Sri Lanka says that its navy did not kill Tamil Nadu fishermen but Tamil Nadu fishermen point the finger at the Sri Lankan Navy in every one of those killings. Sri Lanka had denied killings in past years also. I do not know if it admitted to killing ever in all these years of killings. We present here two examples of Sri Lankan denials in 2011.

Veerapandian (age 25), a native of Chinnakudi village near Tarangampadi in Nagapattinam district, was fishing with other fishermen in a mechanized boat on January 12, 2011. According to the fishermen, a Sri Lanka navy vessel intercepted the boat and ordered the fishermen to jump into the sea. While the other fishermen did so immediately, Veerapandian was removing his clothes before jumping and the Sri Lankan Navy shot and killed him. The surviving fishermen reported the incident to local officials and there was uproar in Tamil Nadu. When asked about the killing, Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Captain Athula Senarth said, "No such incident had been reported (by the Sri Lankan navy)."

Ten days after the January 12 killing, on January 22, 2011, one fisherman was killed and two injured in the sea. Navy spokesman Captain Athula Senarath said, ""Our patrol crafts operating off the northern coast have nothing to do with this reported incident."

About a month later, in February 2011, Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister G L Peiris also said that Sri Lankan Navy did not attack or kill the Tamil Nadu fishermen in the two January 2011 incidents. He said, "The Sri lankan Navy's non-presence at the two locations where the two shooting incidents of Indian fishermen had been proved in the Sri Lankan investigations."

We know that Tamil Nadu fishermen have been killed in the sea; dead bodies have been brought back to Tamil Nadu. If the Sri Lankan Navy is not killing them, who?

3.2 Indian Navy or Coast Guard?

The only navies operating in the seas between India and Sri Lanka where the fishermen are attacked/killed are Indian and Sri Lankan. If it is not the Sri Lankan, is it Indian Navy or Coastguard? Actually no one is accusing the Indian navy or coastguard. Fishermen never identified the Indian navy or coastguard.

Our criticism of the Indian navy/coastguard is not that they kill Tamilnadu fishermen but that they are not protecting them. I have discussed this in more detail in other articles and I would not repeat it here (for example, in Reference 1).

3.3 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)?

Sri Lankan military fought bloody battles with the minority Tamil rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), for decades. LTTE did have a powerful navy that fought the Sri Lankan Navy many a times. So the Sri Lankan government conveniently blamed LTTE for attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen. The problem with "LTTE did it" excuse was that, in the hundreds of attacks, the fishermen never identified LTTE as the attacker.

Also, LTTE was defeated and decimated in May 2009. No one, neither India nor Sri Lanka, claim that LTTE navy exists after May 2009. But the killings of Tamil Nadu fishermen continue. Dead men/women do not kill! So the "LTTE did it" excuse does not work. So the Sri Lankan government was looking for another scapegoat.

3.4 Some Unidentified Group?

With no LTTE bogeyman to blame after the demise of LTTE Navy (Tiger Navy), Sri Lanka blamed some unidentified group. After the killing of a Tamilnadu fisherman on January 22, 2011 (as discussed in Section 3.1 of this article), Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Athula Senarth said on January 24, 2011, "There may be some elements involved in trying to tarnish the good relations we (India and Sri Lanka) have." No one, neither the Sri Lankan Navy, Indian Navy/Coastguard nor Tamil Nadu fishermen, has ever seen an armed group operating in the seas between India and Sri Lanka after the demise of LTTE in May 2009.

3.5 Sri Lankan Fishermen?

 With no LTTE to blame and no one believing on "some unidentified group", a new group, so far not implicated in the attacks, showed up on the scene.

With the killings of the two Tamil Nadu fishermen in January 2011 (as discussed in Section 3.1 of this article) pressure was building on Sri Lanka to explain who else could it be, if not its navy? As discussed in Section 3.4, no one accepted Sri Lankan Navy's explanation of an unidentified group. Then, all of a sudden, on the very next month (February 2011), groups of Sri Lankan fishermen attacked and injured Tamil Nadu fishermen; no guns were involved and no one was killed. These Sri Lankan fishermen attacks happened three times in February 2011. Similar attacks happened in August, September and October 2011 also.

Is it just a coincidence these attacks happened the month after two Tamil Nadu fishermen killings and the Sri Lankan government running out of excuses to explain that its navy was not responsible for the killings? Or, did the Sri Lankan Navy planned and organized these attacks? It is noteworthy that, on the first attack in February, the attacked Tamil Nadu fishermen reported that they saw Sri Lankan Navy ships close to where they were attacked. Tamil Nadu fishermen saw Sri Lankan navy ship during the second attack in February also. If Tamil Nadu fishermen could see the navy ship, surely Sri Lankan navy personnel could see their fishermen attacking Tamil Nadu fishermen. Even if we are to assume, for the sake of argument, that Sri Lankan government and navy did not organize these attacks, they have the responsibility to stop those attacks, arrest the culprits and prevent future attacks. None of these happened. 

We point one more thing. Tamil Nadu fishermen clearly identified the attackers as Sri Lankan fishermen in these attacks. This shows that they know how differentiate between Sri Lankan navy and others, and so their identification of the navy in the other attacks should be correct.

4. Concluding Remarks

Where were the Tamil Nadu fishermen killed in the sea? We agree with the Indian Government that most of the killings could have taken place on the Sri Lankan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). However that does not justify the killings. Only legitimate recourse for the Sri Lankan Navy is to arrest the fishermen and prosecute them in Sri Lankan courts. Both the Indian and Sri Lankan governments agree with us on this as indicated in joint statements they have issued (Section 2 of this article). Actually, where the Tamil Nadu fishermen were killed is a mute question because the Sri Lankan government denies its navy attacking the fishermen on the Indian or Sri Lankan side of the IMBL.

If not the Sri Lankan Navy, who is killing Tamil Nadu fishermen? Our analysis (Section 3) shows that it is the Sri Lankan navy and Sri Lankan navy only that is killing Tamil Nadu fishermen.

Footnote: There were earlier attempts to deflect attention from the Sri Lankan Navy and find some other scapegoat. See References 2 and 3.


1. India, Sri Lankan Navy and Tamil Nadu Fishermen: Is Tamil Blood Cheap in the Eyes of Indian Government? (by Usha Ramanathan), TAMIL TRIBUNE, April 2007.

2. Gujral and the Fishermen (by Usha Ramanathan), TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 1997 (15 KB)

3. India, Sri Lankan Navy, LTTE and Tamil Nadu Fishermen: The Maria Episode and Investigation (by Usha Ramanathan), TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2007 (16 KB)


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