Feature Article

Oil, canal and security cause call for retrieval of Kachcha-theevu

[TamilNet, Saturday, 11 June 2011, 16:34 GMT]
The Tamil Nadu State Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution to legally associate the Tamil Nadu government with a case already pending in the Supreme Court of India on Kachchatheevu. The petition in the Supreme Court filed in 2008, by AIADMK General Secretary and present Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalitha, seeks the Supreme Court to declare India’s ceding of Kachchatheevu to Sri Lanka as unconstitutional. According to the CM and some Indian policy planning writers, the ceding of the islet under the 1974 and 1976 bilateral agreements affected fishing rights of the Tamil Nadu fishermen and resulted in the killing of hundreds of them by the Sri Lanka Navy. But oil in the Palk Bay, a canal project and security fears of India count more than the interests of the fishermen, writes TamilNet political commentator in Colombo.

Kachchatheevu Map
Satellite image showing the location of Kachchatheevu [Image courtesy: NASA, Visible Earth, Legend by TamilNet]

The decades long woes of the fishermen of Tamil Nadu, are not due to the ceding of Kachchatheevu, but due to militarization and genocidal orientation of the military in the island of Sri Lanka, and at the same time due to unsustainable exploitation of marine resources by the trawler-using sections of the Tamil Nadu fishermen.

Even though the uninhabited islet was ceded in 1974, until the late 1980s there were no cases of killing or harassment of the Tamil Nadu fishermen. The Tamil fishermen community on either side of the Palk Bay shared the waters peacefully, carried out their petty trade, a historical right of them which in the eyes of establishments was ‘smuggling’, and gathered together to observe the annual fete of the church at Kachchatheevu.

Violence against Tamil Nadu fishermen by the SL Navy and denial to their fishing activities around the waters of Kachchatheevu begin with the Eezham war when several thousands of Eezham Tamil fishermen found refuge with their sympathetic brethren across the Palk Bay and when militants started using the waterways. In the perception of the Sri Lanka military, the Tamil Nadu fishermen are as enemies as the Eezham Tamils. Whatever was the stand of the establishments in New Delhi, Chennai and Colombo, the bondage between the fishermen on either side of the waters remained the grass root ‘umbilical code’ relationship.

The war is claimed to be over, but the genocide is not. In fact the genocide is now institutionalised and is escalating in structural ways. The establishments refuse to accept it, for they are either committing it or are a party to it.

If the war is over, then there shouldn’t be any reason why the woes of the Tamil Nadu fishermen should escalate after the war and a ceded islet has to be retrieved.

The Indian government is able to explore oil, build its canal and develop KKS harbour in Jaffna without being harassed by the Sri Lanka Navy. But, the Tamil fishermen on either side of the Bay are set against each other by allowing or prompting Tamil Nadu trawlers to poach close to Jaffna, Tamil Nadu fishermen are more brutally attacked by the Sri Lanka Navy and now the Tamil Nadu state calls for the retrieval of Kachchatheevu. Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka military builds more permanent bases in the islands off Jaffna, at closest proximity to Kachchatheevu and the Tamil Nadu coast.

Either Colombo’s genocide of Eezham Tamils abetted by New Delhi is extended to the fishermen of Tamil Nadu too, or there must be something else not connected to contributing to the cause of fishery at all. The latter may eventually work against the interests of the fishermen of both sides.

* * *

Tamil Nadu was not consulted when Kachchatheevu was ceded, write Indian policy analysts who provoke Tamil Nadu whenever they need it for their agenda. When have they consulted the nation of Eezham Tamils that has an equal historical claim on Kachchatheevu?

In the wake of complete occupation of the genocidal military of Sri Lanka, thinking of possible future security balance coming from India - if not from the abetters of genocide at present - the Eezham Tamils may prefer to be silent today on the Indian claim for Kachchatheevu and the rich marine resources. But the irony is that they were always made use of in the bargains and they don’t get anything in the bargains.

The case filed by Ms. Jayalalitha in 2008 cited an earlier ruling by the Indian Supreme Court in 1960 that whenever ceding a territory the Indian government has to get it passed by two third majority in both the houses of the parliament – a requirement needed to change the constitution. This requirement was not met with in ceding Kachchatheevu, therefore it was unconstitutional, is the argument of Ms. Jayalalitha.

In the event of the Supreme Court giving a favourable ruling, the bilateral agreement between New Delhi and Colombo will be null and void. The Colombo government has already set a precedence in this regard by making the Supreme Court of the island to decide against the unification of the north and east provinces of the island that was effected through the Indo-Lanka Agreement of 1987.

The Indian side argues that the Raja of Ramnad had claim over Kachchatheevu in the British times. The Catholic Diocese of Jaffna and the Nedun-theevu (Delft) parish also since colonial times had a claim over the islet.

The tragedy is that even after undergoing genocide and extermination of their nation, the international system of our contemporary world has no means for the Eezham Tamils to have a ‘Supreme Court’ to place their case to retrieve the sovereignty they lost to the Portuguese.

* * *

Meanwhile, writing an editorial on Saturday, Dinamani, a Chennai-based leading Tamil daily of an Indian media corporate, gave priority for welcoming the Tamil Nadu State Assembly resolution to retrieve Kachchatheevu, projecting entirely a perspective of fisheries interests.

Giving secondary importance to the resolution on war crimes investigation and economic sanctions on Ilangkai (Sri Lanka), the editorial argued against economic sanctions as means of pressure, and favoured Tamil Nadu taking over rehabilitation of Eezham Tamils – in other words, a colonial minded thinking of economic integration.

The editorial couldn’t envisage anything beyond ‘Indian model’ federal and restoration of parliamentary rule as solutions to the national question in the island, where two nations have gone to the extent of one of them committing genocide on the other.

Tamil media in India, even though they may not belong to Tamils, should have the courtesy of at least recognizing the full right to self-determination of the genocide-afflicted Eezham Tamils, to democratically decide on their own about their independence, is the expectation of Eezham Tamils.

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalitha was careful and abstract in stating ‘equal rights’. It could even be interpreted as two equal countries. The Tamil media in Chennai need not give unnecessary interpretations going against the democratically demonstrated aspirations of Eezham Tamils. The CM who has facilitated a fresh space to Eezham Tamils is very well aware of the consequences of Karunanidhi erasing the word Tamil Eelam, destroying the international space of even a democratic struggle of Eezham Tamils after the war.

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