"When I come back, we will remove this thatched roof and put an asbestos sheet. It is safer, Amma." These were 22-year-old Bridgo's last words to his family before he set out to sea on Monday. Two days later, neither had happened. He did not return, and the thatched roof remains.
The young man, who had spent the last seven years fishing for a living, was to get back home on Monday. According to Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami's press release, Bridgo who was fishing along with few others near the Katcheetheevu island, was shot down by the Sri Lankan Navy at around 9.30 pm. The neighbouring country, has however categorically denied the allegation.
"If they didn't shoot him who did?" asks 25-year-old Lespo, the eldest son from Bridgo's grieving family. "Are they alleging that my brother shot himself or that the Indian navy shot him. We all know it is them. They have been thrashing, assaulting and arresting us for years. Now they have gone a step further," he says.
Lespo, who was in Kerala at the time of the incident, took a bus back home as soon as he was informed of his brother's death. For the last five years, he has been fishing near Kochi, where he currently resides. "I left because I was tired of how we were being treated. We were risking our lives every time we went out to sea. Already, rough seas and storms put our lives at stake, and in addition to that we had to handle harassment meted out by the Sri Lankan navy," he claims.
The 25-year-old had come home on Tuesday night to find his four brothers, sister and parents completely shell-shocked. "I met Bridgo 10 days back when I came home. I told him to come with me to Kerala because it was too dangerous here. He said that time was not right for him to leave. He told me to leave and that he would take care of my parents and siblings. He was keen that our younger brother be educated despite the fact that we weren't. But now, he is gone," he laments.
Protests have broken out in Ramanathapuram district following Bridgo's death. Fishermen listed three demands that that wanted to be met by the government: arrest of Sri Lankan navy officials who shot down Bridgo, sending the Sri Lankan ambassador to India back, and assurance from the Centre that the harassment of Indian fishermen will stop.
"We won't do the last rites for my brother's body till our demands are fulfilled," says Lespo. "The government wants to give us money, jobs and a new house. We don't want any of it. We have the strength in our bodies to earn for ourselves. All we want is for no other fisherman's family to face the loss that we have," chokes Lespo.