The Supreme Court decision to release the lone Italian marine detained in the country in connection with the killing of two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012 has dashed the fishing community’s hopes for justice.
National Fishworkers Forum (NWF) national secretary T Peter told Firstpost that the failure of the government counsel in opposing marine Salvatore Girone’s plea for permission to return home had strengthened the suspicion that the case is being driven by a deal between the governments in the two countries.
“If the allegation is true, it is the Narendra Modi government's biggest betrayal of thousands of fishermen, who go to sea everyday to eke out a life. While in the Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party had blamed the UPA government of protecting the marines at the instance of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi,” Peter said.
“If the marines were let off during the UPA regime, the BJP would have created a huge furore citing Sonia’s Italian roots. It is an irony that Modi is softer towards Italians than Sonia,” he added.
Peter said that the fishing community had expected that the Modi government would give fisherfolk justice by ensuring maximum punishment to the killers of the two fishermen as per Indian laws. The soft stance taken by the counsel in the apex court shows that the government is not valuing the lives of fishermen, he added.
“The government has let off the killers easily while hundreds of Indian fishermen are languishing in jails in various countries for minor faults. Modi, who has been globetrotting, has not made any moves to bring the innocent fishermen back to the country,” Peter said.
The forum secretary said that the fishing community in the country would react to this betrayal strongly. The forum has called a meeting of various fishermen’s bodies in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram on Friday to discuss a joint action plan against the failure of the authorities in protecting the lives of fishermen.
“Our concern is not about the present case, but the message it sends to the world. If the two marines are not given the punishment they deserve, it will send a message that anybody can kill Indian fishermen and escape. This will deter the fishermen from going to the sea fearlessly,” he added.
Doramma, widow of Jelastine, who was one of the fishermen was killed by the Italian marines during the course of fishing off the Alappuzha coast on 15 February, 2012, appears to have resigned herself to her fate. She said she lost any hope of getting justice after the case was taken away from Kerala.
“We have lost our pillar of our life. We have left everything to God. Let the Almighty decide what is right,” said Doramma, who has carefully saved the entire sum of Rs one crore that she received as compensation from the Italian government.
Doramma, who brings up her two sons with the salary she is getting from the job offered by the Kerala government following the tragedy, goes to church every day and prays for the soul of her husband.
Freddy John Bosco, owner of the fishing boat St Antony, on which the two marines (aboard the Enrica Lexie) opened fire and killed the two Indian fishermen, has also lost hope of getting any justice. The boat that was taken into custody by the state police following the incident, is 'ruined beyond repair'.
Freddy, who had moved the court to get back the boat, has abandoned the vessel after waiting for more than three years. He has now joined another fishing boat as a worker to bring up his family. He tries to manage his life with whatever he gets as his wage.
“After employing fishermen for more than two decades, it was difficult for me to work for another boat owner. There was no way. I had to take care of my family. We have no other source of income. I am trying to come to terms with the reality,” the former boat owner told Firstpost, adding, “I used to earn an average of Rs three lakh a month from the boat. Some months, I used to get up to Rs five lakh. It was a lucky boat. Even if I get the boat back, it cannot be brought back to service. It is totally ruined."
Freddy, who was given compensation worth Rs 17 lakh by the Italian government, was left with no money to buy another boat — something that costs no less than Rs 45 lakh now. In any case, he had spent around Rs four lakh on the lawyers who fought his case for compensation and reclaiming possession of the boat.
“The lawyers had promised they would help me get a new boat. I had believed them, but now I have lost the hope. I am not expecting anything. Let the marines live happily with their families. I will try to eke out a living by working for other boats,” said Freddy.
Catholic priest Father Rajesh Martin, a distant relative of the late Jelastine, is also of the same view. He has no complaints against anybody. He considers the four years and more that the marines spent under detention as adequate punishment for the wrong they did.
“After all, the two marines had no intention to kill innocent fishermen. The death was the result of an accident. They have suffered enough punishment for the mistake. Let them and the families of the fishermen proceed with their normal lives now,” he said.
However, newly-sworn-in chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is not ready to let off the two marines. He has expressed strong displeasure over the manner in which Modi government handled the case. He said that his government will mount pressure on the Centre to bring the marines to book as per the Indian laws. Pinarayi, who assumed office on Wednesday, said that the Left Democratic Front has always been unhappy with the way the case was handled by the Centre.
"We have made our position clear right from the time this incident occurred; things never went the way it should have gone. The Centre never pursued the case in the way it should have been taken up, and hence, this has happened," said Pinarayi.
Updated Date: May 28, 2016 12:30 PM