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Murder at sea

 | February 24, 2012

How can anyone even imagine that two Kerala Christian fishermen are pirates?


It seems incredible that folks fishing at sea for their meagre livelihood are mistaken for pirates and shot dead by naval marines.

Last week, this is precisely what happened to two fishermen trying to net their day’s catch, just off the Kerala coast in Kollam district. They were killed by two marines on board an Italian navy ship.

The incident appears so ridiculous when one looks at the facts that have emerged till now.

One, Indian coastal waters are not infested by pirates. There are no Somali pirates prowling around there.

Two, how can anyone, least of all men from the armed forces, even imagine that these two Kerala Christian fishermen are pirates. They were not even armed, and were not in a motorboat.

Three, Rome has been making this absolutely unreasonable demand to have the marines deported to Italy. They should not be tried in India, Rome contends.

The Italian government conveniently overlooks the fact that two of its citizens were so trigger happy that they pulled the lever first and, well, did the asking later – maybe the thinking too!

The fishermen, who were with the victims and somehow escaped the bullets, said the crew of the Italian vessel, Enrica Lexie, fired indiscriminately and without any provocation.

One paper has written that the murder by the marines was as ruthless as what Italy’s mafia indulges in. Whatever it be, two innocent lives have been lost.

So far, New Delhi has not bowed down to pressure, both political and religious.

Italy’s Deputy Foreign Minister Staffan de Mistura flew down to New Delhi the other day, and met his Indian counterpart. He was clearly told that India’s Foreign Ministry could not intervene, because the case was in court.

Agenzia Fides in Rome has reported that India’s new Roman Catholic Cardinal, George Alencherry, “has taken an interest in mediating and seeking a peaceful solution to the delicate issue. The cardinal has confirmed that he has contacted the Catholic ministers who are in the government of Kerala, assuring them of his constant interest until the case is clarified and resolved peacefully, removing the risk, however real, of political exploitation”.

Dishonest and belligerent

One learns that the Latin Catholics, most of whom live on Kerala’s coast with many of them in the fishing business, may not be happy with Alencherry’s attempts to arbitrate, unsolicited that it is, because he is from the more powerful socio-political Syro Malabar Church.

There are fears that Alencherry’s reported statements can divide the two sections of the same Catholic community.

Beyond all this is the dispute about where exactly the tragic incident took place.

India says it was 14 nautical miles off its coast and well within its territory. Italy says no; it happened in international waters, and hence the accused should be tried under international law.

While this may be a point to be proved, the Italians have been dishonest and belligerent. They said the fishermen had fired at their naval ship. No bullet marks were found on it, though!

The story of the dead fishermen conveys the haughtiness of the rich West that has often perceived India as weak and poor, yet fertile to be a lucrative market. Obviously, the attitude is exploitative.

I hope New Delhi would be firm this time, and this could be one way of salvaging India’s sinking standing, both at home and abroad.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.


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