02/21/2012, 00.00
INDIA - ITALY
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Indian fishermen not hostile to Italian marines

This is what the chancellor of the archdiocese of Trivandrum (Kerala) says. The death penalty is not likely to be imposed, he adds. Two weeks ago, another Indian fishing boat was attacked by an unknown ship. No one was killed on that occasion. Tense relations with Italy are part of domestic Indian politics.

Trivandrum (AsiaNews) - "Victims' relatives, survivors and the people of Kerala do not hold a grudge against the marines and Italy. They are just saddened by what happened and concerned about their safety," said Fr Ignaci Rajasekaran, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Trivandrum, capital of the Indian state of Kerala. He spoke to AsiaNews about the diplomatic tensions between Italy and India.

Yesterday, a court in Kochi remanded in custody (but not prison) Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, two Italian marines from the San Marco Battalion, who will be heard again in 14 days.

For Fr Rajasekaran, the two marines do not face the death penalty, as claimed in Italian media. "In India, no one is talking about that possibility. Although the death penalty exists, it is rarely applied. It is unlikely that our courts would impose it."

In Kochi yesterday, a group of protesters called for the arrest of the Italian soldiers. However, some people suspect that the Hindu ultranationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in the opposition in the state, might be behind it.

A source, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews that "political reasons are behind all the fuss caused by the case. Kerala is governed by the Indian National Congress led by Sonia Gandhi, who is Christian and was born in Italy."

"There are upcoming national parliamentary elections and the BJP certainly wants to take advantage of the situation. It could be that it wants to push Sonia Gandhi to intervene to reduce tensions so that it can say that the Congress party is more interested in international relations than the good of the people."

This morning, some fishermen in Poovar (archdiocese of Trivandrum) told the priest that they were attacked by an unidentified ship two weeks ago.

The fishing boat has bullet holes "but no one was killed," Fr Rajasekaran. "The authorities and the media did not show any interest on that occasion. Now, after the loss of two lives, the government is trying to clarify the situation."

For the fishermen and their families, "it does not matter whether it was a cargo ship or an oil tanker, an Italian vessel or that of another country," the priest said. "When they saw two of their colleagues die, the fishermen did not know who fired the shots. They only sounded the alarm. Their problem is safety. A fisherman's life is hard. You might be at sea for two weeks and come home empty-handed or with 3,000 rupees worth of fish. They want to go out into the open sea and not lose their boats, or worse, their life."

Meanwhile, the State of Kerala is planning to help the victims' families. This morning, Gelastine's widow received 500,000 rupees as previously announced. State authorities also said they would find her a public service job.

The situation of Ajesh Binki's widow is more difficult. She and her family live in an area of the archdiocese of Trivandrum that borders with Tamil Nadu.

"The two states must find an agreement," Fr Rajasekaran. "I hope they find a solution quickly. Hindu culture is hostile towards widows and without a job it will be hard for her." (GM)

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