COLOMBO: The Governor of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, Reginold Cooray, welcomed over 3,000 pilgrims from Tamil Nadu who had come to worship at the church of St.Anthony in the island of Kachchativu on Sunday. The Governor was accompanied by his wife and son.
The service was conducted by the Catholic Bishop of Jaffna, Rev. Justin Gnanapragasam. Among the distinguished persons in the gathering were the Consul General of India in Jaffna, A.Natarajan, the Commander of the Sri Lankan navy, Vice Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, Central Children’s Affairs State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran, the Chief Secretary of the Northern Province and the Government Agent of Jaffna. But no member of the Northern Provincial Council dominated by the Tamil National Alliance, including Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran, was present.
The annual festival, which was resumed in 2010 after the conclusion of Eelam War IV, attracted 3252 pilgrims from India and more than 5000 from Lanka this year. Most of them were fishermen and members of their families.
The festival is conducted by the Sri Lankan government and the Jaffna Diocese, with a financial assistance of LKR 25 lakh (US$ 17,400) from the Government of India.
Attendance was somewhat less this year as compared to last year because of the threat by a section of Tamil Nadu fishermen to boycott the festival as a protest against the Lankan government’s refusal to release 80 Tamil Nadu trawlers in its custody. To prevent any untoward incidents, Lankan navy and police personnel were deployed in large numbers. Boats bringing Indian pilgrims were escorted by Indian Coast Guard vessels.
When the President of the Tamil Nadu Mechanized Boats Fishermen’s Association B.Jesuraja, inquired from Indian officials if there is any chance of the seized boats being released, he was told that the Indian government is trying its best to get them released. At present, there are 27 TN fishermen and 80 boats in Lankan custody.