| by Pearl Thevanayagam
(December 19, 2012 –London – Sri Lanka Guardian) Some impoverished Indian fishermen poaching in the disputed Indian Ocean’s territorial waters are constantly being arrested by the Sri Lankan navy while India in retaliation are arresting ours. Meanwhile the Sri Lankan Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, apparently gave carte blanche to his co-ordinating secretary to clear a large consignment of heroin. Is Hikkaduwa heroin haul linked in any way?
Both are illegal smuggling operations and the difference is the former are dirt-poor fisher-folk who merely eke out a living while the latter purportedly have VIP seal from the reigning powers; ie the Prime Minister.
What has heroin-smuggling got to do with poaching Indian fishermen; one may ask. Both are illegal. Smuggling has been going on for centuries and many a politician’s wife had gone on pilgrimages in the pretext of worshipping St Anthony in Kachchathivu and Palaithivu, the disputed islands in the Indian Ocean and in the process returning with Kanchipuram, Kashmir silk, Katta voile pure cotton sarees, Palayakat sarongs and other goodies in exchange for spices such as cinnamon and cloves.
The fishermen are not averse to choppy seas in precarious boats. For many years they plied their fishing vessels to these islands around March transporting smuggled goods and people (many of them Sinhalese) to and from Gurunagar ostensibly to take part in the festival commemorating St Anthony, the miracle making saint of Catholics, Hindus and Buddhists.
It is indeed a miracle the smugglers and the VIP wives hardly ever get caught.
Sinhalese who would cast aside Tamils as not belonging to their Aryan Buddhist stock would happily travel to Jaffna to barter their goods in exchange for valuable imports of silk sarees, sarongs and coffee across the Palk Straight circumventing tax in their sea adventure captained by Tamil fishermen. When it comes to business and profit, race and ethnicity takes a back seat be it Sinhalese or Tamils.
Ask Padma Maharaja, one time social secretary to Chandrika Kumaratunga. Hardly a household in posh Colombo 3, 5 and 7 is without smuggled sarees. Weddings were not complete unless their brides are decked in Kanchipuram and Kashmir silk procured illegally from India.
Does Mrs Maharajah still supply VIP wives such as Nirupama Rajapaksa with Indian sarees at her Flower Road boutique calling them on the telephone she has got fresh supplies as it happened when this writer visited her boutique in 1996 on a Poya Day which is a holiday as she was doubling as social secretary to the then President and as such breaching her contract as a government employee?
So, smuggling and poaching are not just the prerogative of ordinary mortals such as simple fisher-folk; they are our VIP wives’ pleasure and profit oriented businesses circumventing the laws their husbands enact in parliament.
Japanese, Norwegian and Chinese vessels equipped with the latest fishing and canning technology are plying the Indian Ocean with permission from the government for large-scale fishing which take away our marine produce and who in turn export their canned fish laden with artificial preservatives for local consumption. The profiteers are Delmege Forsyth (JRJ’s daughter-in-law being its head) and other big import-export businesses affiliated to or related to our leaders present and past.
Prawns and crabs are not the daily cheap protein source in our diets of yester-years. They are now in the hands of foreigners and only available at exorbitant prices in star class restaurants and hotels. They are in fact off-limit to ordinary mortals and the preserve of VIPs and foreigners.
Whereas Tamil Nadu fishermen do not drain our marine resources, Japan and China with their modern fishing equipment certainly plunder our ocean leaving us with rising prices for fish which are hardly within the reach of an average Sri Lankan.
Besides, Indian fishermen are not equipped with radars to keep out when they reach our waters and they have neither the need nor purpose to spy on little Sri Lanka now that the LTTE is vanquished for all intents and purposes. One could hardly accuse them of supplying arms to Wanni. They traverse the choppy seas in their catamarans and lowly fishing boats to eke out a meagre living not knowing whether they will reach home alive.
Now this heroin consignment authorised by none other the Prime Minster would have caused mass demonstrations elsewhere and the PM made to resign but our PM is acting the innocent bystander pooh-poohing allegations he is somehow to blame if not directly complicit in clearing the containers of heroin. Either he is an irresponsible leader who should know better than to allow his co-ordinating secretary to use his seal to clear a consignment without verification or he is duping us all.
(The writer has been a journalist for 24 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)