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    India-Sri Lanka: The Tiny Island at the Heart of India-Sri Lanka Controversy

    A Disputed Territory: Historical Context Contemporary Disputes India-Sri Lanka Explained

    In the geopolitically India-Sri Lanka charged waters of the Indian Ocean lies a minuscule island that has been the focal point of a longstanding dispute between two neighboring nations, India and Sri Lanka. Katchatheevu, barely covering an area of 285 acres, has been a subject of contention for decades, embodying the complexities of maritime borders, historical claims, and regional politics.

    Historical Context:

    The history of Katchatheevu dates back centuries, with both India and Sri Lanka asserting historical and cultural ties to the island. Located in the Palk Strait, just 12 nautical miles from Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, India, Katchatheevu has been mentioned in ancient Tamil texts and folklore. Tamil Nadu fishermen traditionally frequented the waters around Katchatheevu for fishing activities, considering it part of their traditional fishing grounds.

    Colonial Legacy:

    During the colonial era, the island came under the administration of the British Crown. In 1974, amid negotiations between India and Sri Lanka, the controversial Indira Gandhi-Jayawardene Accord was signed, leading to the cession of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka. The transfer of the island sparked protests in Tamil Nadu, with concerns raised over the impact on Indian fishermen’s livelihoods and the surrender of territory considered historically and culturally significant to India.

    Maritime Boundaries and Fishing Rights:

    The relinquishment of Katchatheevu raised questions about maritime boundaries and fishing rights in the region. Indian fishermen, particularly from Tamil Nadu, faced increased scrutiny and challenges from the Sri Lankan Navy while fishing in the waters surrounding Katchatheevu. Incidents of arrests, confiscation of boats, and alleged human rights violations against Indian fishermen heightened tensions between the two nations.

    Legal Disputes and Political Dynamics:

    The controversy surrounding Katchatheevu has been the subject of legal battles and political maneuvering. Various petitions have been filed in Indian courts challenging the legality of the accord and seeking the retrieval of Katchatheevu. However, successive Indian governments have maintained that the accord is a settled matter, complicating efforts to revisit the issue. Political parties in Tamil Nadu have consistently raised the Katchatheevu issue, leveraging it for electoral gains and to rally support among fishermen communities.

    Regional Implications:

    The dispute over Katchatheevu carries significant regional implications, given its proximity to key shipping routes and strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. India’s growing concerns over Chinese influence in the region have added another layer of complexity to the Katchatheevu issue. Sri Lanka’s strategic engagements with external powers, including China, have raised apprehensions in New Delhi, contributing to broader Indo-Sri Lankan relations.

    Pathways to Resolution:

    Resolving the Katchatheevu dispute requires a delicate balancing of historical, legal, and geopolitical considerations. While calls for the retrieval of Katchatheevu persist in some quarters, pragmatic approaches focusing on shared resource management and cooperative mechanisms between India and Sri Lanka offer potential pathways to address the issue. Enhancing maritime cooperation, promoting sustainable fishing practices, and fostering trust-building measures can contribute to easing tensions and fostering goodwill between the two nations.


    Katchatheevu remains a symbol of the complexities inherent in India-Sri Lanka relations, encapsulating historical grievances, legal disputes, and geopolitical dynamics. As both nations navigate the challenges of the 21st century, finding equitable solutions to the Katchatheevu issue is essential for fostering peace, stability, and cooperation in the region. By acknowledging the shared heritage and interests in the waters of the Palk Strait, India and Sri Lanka can chart a course towards a more inclusive and prosperous future for their peoples.


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