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Slain Kerala fishermen: Blood money and Bible gag relatives

The submission of the once belligerent relatives of the two fishermen who were killed by alleged fire from the Italian ship Enrica Lexie, to money and the Catholic Church, has yet again proven that poverty and faith are our terrible weak spots.

With money in hand and faith in heart, the relatives have dropped all the cases that they filed against the Italians in three different courts.

While in legal terms, many thought it was alright as an “out-of-court settlement,” many others thought that it was “blood money” that silenced the slain fishermen’s relatives and their community.

A letter from the fishermen's relatives say that they have forgiven their Italian brothers: PTI

Besides the Rs one crore each awarded to each of the families, the most important factor in closing the deal for the Italians was the role played by the Catholic Church.

Two Catholic priests, Father Churchill and Father Wilfred reportedly played a crucial role in the negotiations between the Italian government and the families.

Besides signing an agreement with the Italian government that they have settled the case for compensation, the families of the fishermen wrote a separate legal letter addressed to the Italian Consul General saying they do not want the Italian marines to be prosecuted.

If it was a simple out-of-court settlement, the families need not have signed such a letter since they had legitimately asked for a compensation of Rs. one crore. They could have just taken the money and dropped only the case for compensation.

In the letter the families have said they have forgiven their Italian “brothers” in the name of Jesus Christ and wished them the blessings of the god.

Right from the beginning, there were allegations that the Italians were operating through the Catholic Church.

The first evidence of such an influence came out in the open when Agenzia Fides in Rome reported that Cardinal George Alencherry “has taken an interest in mediating and seeking a peaceful solution to the delicate situation.

Fides had said that the cardinal had confirmed that “he has contacted the Catholic ministers who are in the government of Kerala”, announcing his constant interest until the case is “clarified and resolved peacefully.”

Although the Cardinal denied any such involvement and Agenzia Fides subsequently withdrew its report, the Catholic Church continued to play a key role in negotiations till the agreement was signed.

The agreement appears to be a calculated Italian job in gagging the community and weakening the ongoing case against the marines. The relatives have said that the incident occurred at 33 nautical miles from the Kerala coast, while the FIR against the Italian marines by the Kerala police have recorded it at 20.5 nautical miles. One will have to wait and watch how this statement is used by the Italians to counter the state’s arguments.

The local fishing community, who initially alleged that not enough was being done by the state in investigating the case, is completely silent now. The families of the slain fishermen will also withdraw cases that they filed asking for stronger action by the state and central governments.

With the pressure from the aggrieved families and local community waning, the case between the government of Kerala and the Italians is likely to lose public attention.

Two fishermen, Ajesh Binki, 25, and Gelastine, 45, were allegedly shot dead by Latorre Massimillano and Salvatore Girone, the Italian naval guards aboard the ship, on Feb 15 off the southern Kerala coast.

After a few days of high drama the marines were arrested from the ship and sent to jail on murder charges. The Kerala police also seized some arms from the ship and have subjected them to ballistic and forensic examination.

The Italian government has been maintaining that Kerala has no jurisdiction over the case since it occurred in international waters at 20.5 nautical miles. Consistent with this argument, the marines also refused to file an appeal for bail since they do not acknowledge the jurisdiction.

The Italian government has since moved the Supreme Court, asking it to quash the FIR filed by the Kerala government citing the same reasons.

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