Buddhist monk takes up cause of 12 Lankan fishermen

by Padma Kumari Kankanamge, The Sunday Times, Sept 11, 2011

Dependents all at sea as the men languish in Indian jail for more than one and a half years

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- A group of Sri Lankan fishermen languishing in an Indian jail for over one and a half years has asked the State to intervene to get them released. A Buddhist monk heading a campaign on behalf of the fishermen from Puttalam has launched a fast seeking their release.

Ven. Bendiwala Diyasena Thera, chief incumbent of the Samudrasanna Vihara in Kandakuliya who visited the men last month told The Sunday Times that the fishermen who had left the shores of Kalpitiya on February 28 last year, had drifted into Indian territorial waters after their multi-day boat had developed engine trouble.

The 12 fishermen, P.M.S. Prethikumara (31), T. P. S. Muthukumara (30), J. A. Nilantha (26), W. R. Srilal (21), P.Sanjiva Fernando (29) and R. C. A. Appuhamy (44) had been apprehended by the Indian Coast Guard close to the Andaman Islands on March 8.

Ven. Diyasena Thera said the fishermen had handed over letters, to be given to their loved ones pleading for them to get them released. Since then there has been no communication between the fishermen and their relatives, he said.

The monk said when he visited the fishermen were mentally down and appeared frail. He said their lawyer in India Krishna Rao had told him that the Sri Lankan Govt. must negotiate their release. The monk who was fasting to invoke the release of the men said this was all he could do and asked the Indian and Sri Lankan Govt. to work together to get them released.

Meanwhile more than 20 immediate dependants of these fishermen face great hardship. The owner of the boat said that according to his lawyer, it was the Sri Lankan Govt. that had to make the first move for their release.

The wife of Sanath Preethikumara who had piloted the ill-facted boat said they had appealed to authorities including local council officials to Deputy Minister Neomal Perera, Minister Basil Rajapaksa and even the President.

Meanwhile North Western Provincial Council Fisheries Minister S. Nishantha told the Sunday Times that the Government had contacted Indian authorities regarding the release of the men.

A representative of the fishermen’s association said that the Sri Lankan Government released Indian fishermen within 48 hours and it was strange that more than a year had passed and the Indian government had still not taken any action regarding this group of fishermen and others. At present 51 Lankan fishermen are in Indian jails.