The death in a Colombo prison of an Indian fisherman has raised tempers in Tamil Nadu, with allegations that India is not doing enough to bring back its prisoners from Sri Lanka despite a bilateral pact.
Fisherman Thangaraj, 63, who became paralysed some three months ago, died Sunday at the Wellikade prison, sparking a wave of anger in the coastal region of Tamil Nadu.
“If only India had brought back its prisoners from Sri Lanka under the prisoner exchange pact, then, perhaps, Thangaraj might be alive today,” fishermen leader U. Arulanandan told IANS.
Speaking on phone from Tamil Nadu’s Ramanathapuram district, to which the dead man too belonged, Arulanandan said they had run up against a brick wall on the issue of transfer of prisoners.
“There is an agreement under which India and Sri Lanka ought to exchange their prisoners so that they serve their prison sentence in their own countries,” he said. “But somehow things don’t just seem to move here (in India). Is it because the Indians in Sri Lankan jails are mostly from Tamil Nadu and Kerala and not north India?”
Indian prisoners who have repeatedly spoken to IANS on telephone from the Wellikade jail in Colombo have made similar charges, alleging that India was going slow on the prisoner transfer programme.
Thangaraj, who died Sunday, and another fisherman, Munisami, 40, had set sail from Tamil Nadu Dec 24, 2004, just before the tsunami. Sri Lanka was then at war with the Tamil Tigers.
Sri Lankan security forces caught them on the sea and accused them of possessing drugs. They were given life sentences and have been in prison since then.
A father of four sons and one daughter, Thangaraj had pleaded innocence and had – like other Indians serving jail sentences in Colombo – seeking transfer to an Indian prison.
“But this never happened,” said Arulanandan, who is also the founder of the Alliance for Relief of Innocent Fishermen group.
“When we make enquiries, we are never clearly told who is responsible for this mess: the Indian foreign ministry or the home ministry. We believe it is the home ministry,” he said.
An Indian prisoner in Colombo had told IANS in the past that Indians in the Wellikade prison were mostly from Tamil Nadu and Kerala and belonged mostly to poor families.
“This is one reason no one bothers about our condition,” said the prisoner requesting anonymity. “At one point some of us thought of writing to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister (J.) Jayalalithaa. One even thought of committing suicide.
“Our plight has been taken up in Indian parliament also. We believe that things would have worked fast had we been from northern India. This is our grouse,” he said.
Arulanandan said there was talk about a year back that Thangaraj may be moved to India to serve his sentence in this country.
“That never happened. Who knows, he may have been alive if he was in India. At least he would have got better medical treatment.”