In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa said the “unilateral” decision by Sri Lanka has created fears among Indian fishermen from the state that it could curtail their traditional and customary access to St Antony’s church in Katchatheevu.This reported move of the Lankan Government had “greatly” exercised the Indian fishermen in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, who had regularly visited and worshipped at this church for several centuries, she said.
The church in Katchatheevu, an islet ceded by India to Sri Lanka in the 1970s, holds considerable religious significance for fishermen in coastal districts who had traditionally undertaken pilgrimages for the annual festival of St Anthony’s for several centuries, she said.
“It is part of their essential cultural and religious heritage,” she told the Prime Minister even as she recalled the state government impleading in a case filed by her in the Supreme Court for the retrieval of Katchatheevu as a permanent solution for the vexed fishermen issue.
During the annual St Anthony’s festival in February, when local priests proposed demolishing and reconstructing the church, Tamil Nadu fishermen “indicated” to them that as it represented the joint heritage of fishermen from both countries, its reconstruction should be taken up jointly by the two sides.
“In this context, the present unilateral decision of the Sri Lankan government to demolish and reconstruct St Anthony’s Church without consulting Tamil Nadu fishermen who are vital stakeholders, appears to be a carefully calculated provocation.”
“The Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu apprehend that if the church is demolished and reconstructed by the Sri Lankan side unilaterally, their traditional and customary access to this important place of worship could also be curtailed in the
future,” she added.
To allay apprehensions of the Indian fishermen, the Centre “ought to urgently respond to this provocation and prevail upon the Sri Lankan government to first consult the fishermen from Tamil Nadu on this issue and take further steps in this regard only in consultation with all the key stakeholders,” Jayalalithaa said.
The Lankan side should also be prevailed upon to accept the reconstruction of the church jointly by India and Sri Lanka after obtaining the concurrence of Tamil Nadu fishermen, she told the Prime Minister.