Expressing dismay over the continued arrest of fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy and detention of their boats, Rameswaram fishermen have decided to boycott the two-day annual Katchatheevu festival at St Antony’s Church in the islet on March 11 and 12 and launch an indefinite strike from March 7, seeking the release of all arrested fishermen and boats, The Hindu newspaper reported.
Hours after the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 24 fishermen, including 15 from the island, leaders of 11 mechanised boat fishermen associations met on Sunday and adopted a resolution to boycott the festival and not to lend their boats for the pilgrimage.
“We will stick to the boycott decision if the State and Central governments failed to prevail upon the Sri Lankan Government and secure the release of the 85 fishermen, including 24 arrested on Saturday night and 128 trawlers detained for more than two years” they said.
The leaders adopted resolutions to strike work from March 7 and stage ‘rail roko’ agitation by squatting on the Pamban rail bridge on March 11, to draw the attention of the Centre, Mr P Sesu Raja, a fishermen leader said.
“This time we will be very firm in our decision,” he said.
The Government might come out with an assurance and try to convince the fishermen but “we will not set sail to the islet for the festival unless all the fishermen and boats are released,” he told The Hindu .
Last year too, the fishermen leaders decided to boycott the festival, but withdrew the call after local RDO held talks with them and assured to secure the release of the boats.
Since then not even a single boat was released, the leaders pointed out.
Reacting to the decision, Rev Fr L Sagayaraj, Verkodu parish priest and chief coordinator of the Indian pilgrimage, said the pilgrimage would not be possible without the cooperation of local fishermen.
He hoped the Government would intervene and sort out the issues.
This year, a record number of 4,991 pilgrims — 3,610 males, 1,118 females, 149 male children and 114 female children have confirmed their participation, he said.