ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Fishing Conflict in Indo-Sri Lankan Waters

Fishermen die in conflicts but communities show encouraging signs of equitable and joint management.

The deaths of Indian fishermen in late January, believed to be caused by Sri Lankan Navy personnel in waters close to the maritime boundary between the two countries, have led to a measure of bilateral discord and, more important, evoked strong feelings in Tamil Nadu. Two fishermen died in late January, one was strangled and another had been shot dead. While the number of violent incidents involving fishers has come down considerably since a 2008 agreement between the two countries that called on the governments to handle situations involving a breach of the international maritime boundary in non-lethal ways, the occurrence of such incidents makes it a live political issue in Tamil Nadu.

The Sri Lankan government has denied that its navy had a hand in the incidents and speaks of a “conspiracy” to disturb relations between the two countries, while the Indian government has registered a strong note of protest on the deaths. In Tamil Nadu, any issue involving Sri Lanka inevitably becomes a matter of strong political import as various political parties have continued to posture, sometimes with chauvinistic positions that are related to the recently concluded civil war between the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil insurgents. The January deaths have also given a new voice to a few political outfits which have demanded that the 1974 agreement that gave control over Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka should be scrapped, though the recent incidents have little to do with fishing near that island.

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