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    » 12/28/2009, 00.00


    Tamil Nadu: After five years, the tsunami is still taking its toll on victims

    Nirmala Carvalho

    The tragedy of 2004 is still weighing heavily on widows, orphans and small fishermen. Father Santhanam, a priest and lawyer, describes the work that is being done in favour of the coastal people in Kanyakumari district. He also talks about broken promises and NGOs that are no longer present in the field. The area’s Catholic communities find hope in their faith.

    Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Five years after the tsunami, the housing reconstruction scheme is not yet completed, many NGOs that came for the emergency have left, and offshore fishermen are at risk of a “new tsunami” if new rules come into force, said Fr P. A. Santhanam, a Jesuit priest and lawyer, as he described the situation of the people of the coastal villages in Kanyakumari district in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, who were severely affected by the 2004 tsunami that hit South Asia.

    When the tragedy struck, he and a team of lawyers provided legal aid to survivors. Five years later, some of the people he helped still carry deep wounds. Many are still not fully able to get back on their own two feet, he told AsiaNews; this is especially true for women and children.

    For the Jesuit priest, many women and children are still suffering from the effects of the severe trauma and intense agony they experienced five years ago. Many of the women have been left without a husband and many of the children are without one or both parents. Despite assistance from the government and international organisations, they have not been able to go back to a normal life, and oftentimes are still waiting for what they had been promised.

    Through his work, Father Santhanam has met residents in some 40 villages along the coast of Kanyakumari district. Most of them are Catholics who live off the sea, but there are some Hindus and Muslims as well. All of them experienced major losses. Not only did they lose friends, family and their homes, but also they lost the means by which they could earn a living in fishing.

    At present, the Jesuit clergyman and the team of lawyers working with him are paying close attention to the problems faced by the fishing communities.

    The Marine Fisheries bill is on top of their list of problems. If adopted by parliament, it could turn into another “tsunami” for small-scale fishermen.

    Politically underrepresented and without much weight in civil society, these fishermen have not been able to make their voice heard. The proposed legislation does provide them with any guarantees and does not protect them against the consequences of the unresolved maritime border between India and Sri Lanka. Fishermen from Kanyakumari have in fact had their boats seized and crews have been arrested by Sri Lanka.

    Housing is another problem because “the tsunami housing scheme is not completed yet, even after five years,” Father Santhanam explained.

    In addition, if right after the tragedy “the area was crawling with NGOs. Now, none is left. They came and went with the tsunami, but [our] needs remain,” he added.

    However, for the priest, the main challenge fishermen face is the fact that they have been left to cope with their problems all on their own. Yet, that has one positive aspect. “The tragedy and the problems it brought have made the fishing communities more united and enhanced their deep faith in God and his providence,” Father Santhanam said.

    “Every day, they [the fishermen] take to the sea with courage. In a minute, they lost what they built in 25 years, and yet, they did not despair. Every day, they go out to fish and rebuild, one step at the time, what they lost.”

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    See also

    22/04/2009 INDIA
    For Indian Tamils genocide is underway in Sri Lanka
    People in Tamil Nadu accuse the Sri Lankan government of slaughtering minority Tamils in northern Sri Lanka. Photos showing massacred women and children are being circulated among India’s Tamils. A protest rally is scheduled for 29 April in front of India’s parliament in New Delhi to demand the government put pressure on Sri Lanka to stop the fighting and the violence on civilians.

    11/05/2005 INDIA
    In the diocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, 76 boats go back to sea after the tsunami
    In Tamil Nadu, the Church is committed to reconstruction. For Archbishop Augustine, bringing trust and hope to the victims is the most important mission. Permanent housing is needed but the state government is not allocating building permits even though the monsoon season is near.

    09/05/2005 INDIA
    Politicians take advantage of post-tsunami problems in electoral campaign
    Four months after the tsunami, reconstruction is making little progress. Electoral interests and corruption are slowing down fund distribution. The state is handing out funds that belong to others.

    25/01/2005 INDIA
    Church encourages tsunami-affected fishermen to go back to the sea
    Bishop of Kottar visits coastal parishes by sea. The Archbishop of Pondicherry hands new boats over to fishermen so they can go back out to sea and fish.

    10/07/2009 INDIA – SRI LANKA
    India to allocate 5 billion rupees for Sri Lanka refugees
    New Delhi adds refugee emergency to its 2009-2010 budget. Father Santhanam, a Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer in Tamil Nadu, fears money might be India’s way to have a “clean conscience” and reiterate its “hegemony over the island.” The problem is that “Sri Lanka does not have any real plan to rehabilitate war refugees.”

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