Rameswaram: The Tamil Nadu government on Thursday petitioned Delhi to help the state's fishermen to attend the December 7 consecration of the St. Antony's Church at Katchatheevu. The uninhabited island in the Palk Strait had been gifted to Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the visit of her Lankan counterpart Sirima Bandaranaike in 1974 and Tamil Nadu has been demanding that Delhi get it back as it had been part of the Ramanathapuram zameen all along a petition on this filed by Ms Jayalalithaa in her capacity as the AIADMK general secretary is pending in the Supreme Court.
In a letter addressed to foreign secretary Dr S. Jaishankar on Thursday, state chief secretary P. Rama Mohan Rao has sought “urgent action” from Delhi in “immediately” according the 'no objection' for the TN fishermen to participate in the consecration of the new building of the church “and also arrange to provide necessary protection and assistance” to these pilgrims. He said parish priest L. Sahayaraj had represented to the Ramanathapuram district collector that around 100 pilgrims from there were keen on attending the ceremony and pleaded for state's help.
The chief secretary said the consecration of church's new building held “considerable religious and cultural significance” for the TN fishermen and their participation in the event is their “inalienable right.” In fact, when they learnt that Colombo planned to demolish the historic church and reconstruct, the fishermen wanted any such action to be taken up “jointly by India and Sri Lanka in view of the joint heritage of fishermen from both sides”.
Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had conveyed the fishermen's apprehension to the Centre on May 14 this year and pointed out that the church “is a part of the cultural and religious heritage of the fisherfolk of Tamil Nadu”, said Mr Rao, adding that the issue of retrieval of Katchatheevu and restoration of fishing rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen “is being constantly taken up” by her.
Speaking to DC, parish priest Sahayaraj said, “It is tragic that we must plead every year for permissions from the Sri Lankan government to attend the annual festival at St Antony's Church in Katchatheevu, which was an integral part of the Thangachimadam parish in Rameswaram as it formed part of the territory of the old Ramanathapuram zameen. It takes less than two hours from here by boat”. The annual festival took place on the second Saturday and Sunday during the period of lent between February and April; the present ceremony is the consecration of the new building happening on December 7.
Pointing out that Katchatheevu was barely 16 nautical miles from Rameswaram, the priest said, “Retrieval of the island by India is crucial for the interests of Tamil Nadu fishermen who hugely depend on the island for their livelihood”.
There have been several instances in the past of the TN fishermen being shot at-some got killed too-by the Sri Lankan Navy while fishing in this region. While Colombo insisted that the TN fishermen transgressed into Lankan waters, the TN fishermen claimed they were only fishing on the Indian side of Katchatheevu when the attacks happened.