The family of Valentine Jelastine, one of the two fishermen shot dead by two Italian marines off the Kerala coast four years ago, doubts whether they will ever get justice.
Jelastine’s widow, Doramma, does not understand the legal intricacies and political issues behind the case. She told Scroll.in that her belief that the killers of her husband will get the punishment they deserve has been diminishing year after year.
“We had trusted the government to fight for us. I doubt whether the government has done its job properly,” Doramma said referring to the United Nations Arbitration Court’s latest order allowing the lone marine detained in the country to return home.
The international tribunal at Hague had on Monday ruled that Salvatore Girone, who is facing murder charge along with Massimiliano Latorre, could return home. While Latorre is in Italy since 2014 following a stroke he suffered while on bail in India, Girone is staying at the Italian embassy in New Delhi.
Though the Narendra Modi government has claimed that Girone will be allowed to leave the country only subject to conditions to be laid down by the Supreme Court of India, fishermen’s bodies express doubt whether government would insist on tougher conditions.
This is in the light of the allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had offered to free the marines in exchange of information that links Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her family to the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland helicopter scam.
The National Fishworkers Forum is of the firm view that the marine should not be allowed to leave the country. Anto Alias, Kerala unit vice-president of Forum, said that the UN court would not have allowed Italy’s plea to return the marine if India had fought the case vigorously. He alleged that the government had failed to represent the case strongly.
“How can we expect the Modi government that did not put up a strong defence in the international court to take strong position in the Supreme Court? The government is fooling the fishermen. If they value the lives of fishermen, the killer of our fishermen should not be allowed to leave the country,” Anto said.
He said that there every reason to believe that there was some sort of conspiracy in the case. He urged the prime minister to make a statement on the allegations doing the rounds about “match fixing”. The fishermen, who toil hard in the sea for their living, have a right to know the truth, he added.
“If the killers of the fishermen are let off, we will not be able to go to sea fearlessly. Where is the guarantee to the lives and property of fishermen when the authorities are trying to protect the killers? There is nobody to hear our voice,” Anto said, adding that the forum will launch an agitation after the Assembly elections on May 16 if Girone is allowed to go back to Italy.
T Peter, national secretary of the forum, said that they were deeply dissatisfied with the international court’s ruling. He urged the government to take steps to prevent the Italian marine’s return. He wants the prime minister to raise the issue at international platforms and MPs to take it up in Parliament.
Doramma is doubtful about this. She said that none had bothered to find out how they were living after they lost their family’s sole breadwinner. Though Italian government had made several promises to secure their future, they seem to have forgotten them.
She said representatives from Italian embassy in New Delhi used to visit them until two years ago. They had promised to find a job for her son, who is completing his B Tech degree this year. She doesn’t know whether they will keep their word.
Fortunately, Doramma has saved the entire compensation the family has got from the Italian government. They continue to live in the small house her husband built. She has not even tried to renovate the house, which is in bad shape.
Doramma has put the entire Rs 1 crore she received from Italian government in fixed deposits in the name of her two children. They live a simple life with the salary she is getting from the last grade job offered to her by the state government following the murder of Jelastine.
Though four years have passed since the murder, Doramma and her children have not come out of the shock. Jelastine, a god fearing man without any vices, had gone for fishing as usual along with nine other fishermen from the Neendakara fishing harbour near Kollam in February 2012.
Tragedy on the sea
The tragedy struck the family on February 15 when the marines, who were posted as securitymen aboard the Italian registered cargo vessel Enrica Lexie to protect the ship from the Somalian pirates that operate in the western Indian Ocean, mistook the fishermen for pirates and shot two of them dead. The marines opened fire from their automatic weapons without any warning.
The case, initially investigated by the Kerala police, got mired in controversy after the Supreme Court on 18 January 2013 directed National Investigation Agency to probe the case and asked the Centre to set up a special court to conduct trial on a day-to-day basis.
The accused had then moved the apex court challenging the jurisdiction of NIA to prosecute and probe the case under the stringent Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation And Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act that attracts death penalty as maximum punishment.
Though the government of India resolved the contentious issue with Italy, the latter moved the international court raising the issue of jurisdiction. The case has been stuck in legal tangles since then.
Though the Congress is geared to launch a massive attack on the Modi government in Parliament over the UN court ruling, the party men in the poll-bound Kerala are yet to take cognisance of the issue despite the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempt to showcase the development agenda of their government at the Centre in the poll campaign.