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The cries of the Northern fishermen


“A bund is being constructed through the lagoon in Thenmaradchi. There are no conducive conditions for natural multiplication or breeding of fish in that area. The fish caught there is that coming into that area from else where. Thus if that bund is continued further fish cannot be caught there. There is a danger of that part of the lagoon turning into a kind of pond.”
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(June 21, Jaffna, Sri Lanka Guardian) "Sorry! We are unable to give details of the sources of the following quotations, not even the places or the names of the fishing societies, for fear of reprisals, even fatal ones," the Justice and Peace organisation based in Jaffna says in a statement.

According to the Statement, “we are unable to state even how and where we obtained the following statements.”

However we give our assurance that the grievances are really true and expressed by those concerned.

“If it comes to be known that we spoke to you, we are sure to be punished in very subtle ways by the local commander. They do not like our talking to any outsider about our difficulties or wants. If it comes to be known that we attended meetings organized by others, we are questioned by the navy and reprimanded. We are at their mercy and good will. We are treated like slaves.”

“There is no use talking to the higher officers, because always the commander on the spot treats us the way he wants and we are in for greater harassment.”

“The sea close to our areas is still rich but the fish must be caught at the opportune time of the day and not when the security personnel allow us.”

“Our methods of fishing started with the catamaran or raft with sails or rowing them, later we used outboard motors on them; still later we used boats advancing to still better and modern vessels and methods, but now we are back at the state of our very beginning – with the rowing raft only and using only human energy.”

“Then we went into deep waters and returned with a rich catch, but with the rowing raft we can’t go far especially within the short time interval and the methods of mobility allowed for us and fishing area limit too is highly curtailed.”

“The fishing time is itself limited. It is further curtailed due to the checking and issuing of the pass being done within that time and that too for many societies consisting of about 400 members at the same point entailing long delay.”

“The fishing area is curtailed very much. Moreover fishermen from many societies of other areas too have been assigned the same limited area. Thus we are crowded there reducing the catch. As we are crowded, nets and other implements too get entangled or damaged.”

“In most areas, we are not allowed to fish in our traditional grounds. Instead we are required to go 3-10 km away by land and enter the sea there where we are not welcome by those who had been fishing there traditionally.”

“Nylon nets used traditionally can be used only in night fishing. Thus all our traditional nets are lying idle and we have to use other alternatives costing much more and easily damageable, even before their cost can be fully recovered through income.”

“The catch will be better if we lay the nets overnight and collect the catch the following day. But our being allowed to go to sea the following day is not guaranteed. Quite often, fishing is disallowed without any notice. The nets left without daily attention are lost or badly damaged and the catch too perishes involving loss of the capital too.”

“We are not allowed to go to sea two days per week at random. Announcement of the stoppage is made only in the morning of the particular day of stoppage. Thus it is difficult to plan our activities.”

“Fishing is suddenly banned even if some ‘event’ takes place in another part of the country.”

“The fish vendors are delayed on the roads due the movement of ‘convey’ (of personnel and materials for the security forces taking hours at times). When they come late they quote very low prices for our catch saying that they are late and can’t sell them at the usual prices.”

“Many of us are displaced from our villages and our sea for 18 years and are treated as aliens or intruders by those of the places where we are now. Quoting security reasons, we are not allowed to occupy even the houses and the facilities constructed for us by the NGOs during the MoU period.”

“The relief granted to us is of the same amount that prevailed 18 years ago though the prices of things have increased many fold during this period. The maximum allowed for any family with 5 members or more is Rs.1260/= per month, reducing proportionately for those with less members. The price of 1kg of rice was then Rs.18/=, now it is Rs.90/=.”

“If any one is drawn by the current or inadvertently passes the sea limit, his pass is confiscated in the sea itself by the navy and it takes weeks or months to get them back.”

“All the boats and fishing implements issued by the NGOs during the MoU time are lying idle and perishing.”

“As wood was scarce here to make wooden rafts, we obtained the necessary security clearance and MOD pass for bringing materials necessary for making plastic rafts here. Most things were brought by ship but the most important constituent – the chemical - was disallowed even after it was loaded into the ship at Colombo. They had to be withdrawn after 16 days and paying Rs 64,000/= as demurrage. The project too lies in suspension for how long???”

“The fishing societies and Unions are financially constricted and unable to function since the income of the members is much reduced resulting in minimal contribution to the Societies and Unions.”

“The fish caught in the Islands has to be brought to Jaffna for sale, but it is difficult to bring them out owing to difficulties in transport and stringent checks on the way. A boat with cooler facilities was given by an NGO, but the cooler section is not yet in working condition. Ice is brought from Jaffna, but much of it is wasted due to extensive delay en route.”

“We are at times required to do ‘shramadana’ around camps cleaning, clearing etc. If any one does not attend them or does not carry out other occasional errands requested by them, he is ‘punished’ – His pass may be temporarily withdrawn or not allowed to go to sea for a few days etc. We have to act according to the whims of the navy personnel.”

“Compensations have not been paid yet for the cases of death and injuries sustained as a result of the war shelling bombing etc whereas they are paid immediately after an incident in the South.”

“Fishing is now limited because of all these reasons and the income too is minimal. Thus the youth are not involved in fishing now. We fear that the next generation will be out of touch with fishing or the sea. Even we are not familiar with the present state of our own deeper sea.”

“A bund is being constructed through the lagoon in Thenmaradchi. There are no conducive conditions for natural multiplication or breeding of fish in that area. The fish caught there is that coming into that area from else where. Thus if that bund is continued further fish cannot be caught there. There is a danger of that part of the lagoon turning into a kind of pond.”

“Most affected people are being transferred into ‘Samurthy’ scheme which has less direct relief payments and more alternate benefits. But such benefits available to those in the South are not available to those here. Thus they are worse off than those receiving direct relief. However it is regrettable that such transfer is being encouraged by the State officers here too.”

The fisher folk are looking out for viable alternative means of livelihood. Their preference is rearing of cattle especially milking cows.

“The Allaipiddy people who opted to return to their own village homes were taken there on 20th May 21st April and made to occupy improvised huts in another area. They are allowed to move about only within one square km area of ground around them, stating that it is the only area cleared of mines. They feel as if they are in a 1km square open prison.

Their usual fishing ground is denied to them and they are told to travel to Velanai South 8-10 km away carrying their implements and fish in the sea there. The catch is meagre there.

A shed is put up for a school. But many children are unable to attend due to various shortcomings such as educational materials, proper dresses and their basic needs not being met satisfactorily.

An unfamiliar kind of insect is seen in the area allotted to them. It and the chances of spread of malaria cause anxiety.

They are not allowed to kill cattle for beef. They have to buy it from Kayts the nearest town but ------ km away. However, they are also not allowed to bring more than 2-3 kilos of beef (even with receipt from the beef stall) for their own consumption and of their relations.”

“Many of our leaders are no more with us – killed or made to be disappeared – for being leaders and speaking for our rights. Many office bearers have either resigned or gone into hiding.”

“We are utterly helpless. Only NGOs or Religious organizations can help us by intervening on our behalf without disclosing our identity and by rendering other constructive helps. We still exist because of such helps. Outside world needs to be informed about our condition and enforced slavishness. We are afraid we will be forced to live on only one meal a day soon.”

LATEST PUNISHMENT

There was a confrontation between the Security personnel and the LTTE during the night between the 29th and 30th of May at a tiny island called Siruthivu within the Jaffna Lagoon. The fishermen from the 3 villages on the Jaffna side of the lagoon have since been punished by banning fishing in that area, though obviously they could not have any hand in the attack, since they are allowed to enter the sea only for a few hours of daytime. 19,000 families are without any means of livelihood as a result of this ban since they depend only on fishing for their living.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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