Sri Lanka India sea canal row escalates

CHENNAI, India, Sept 21, 2007 (AFP) – A state leader in India has dismissed a deity worshipped by millions as a “big lie”, deepening a highly sensitive row over plans to dredge a shipping lane through an area sacred to Hindus. The chief minister of India’s southern Tamil Nadu state said the government was justified in making a half-billion dollar canal that would allow ships to save more than 30 hours by skirting around the southern tip of India.

The comments have already sparked protests and two deaths in the south of the country, police said.

The shipping project involves dredging a lane through Adam’s bridge, a chain of islands between India and Sri Lanka. At the moment, ships moving between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal also need to travel around Sri Lanka.

The Hindu epic Ramayana says the geographic feature was built by an army of monkeys to allow the god Ram to cross the narrow strip of sea and rescue his kidnapped wife from a demon.

“Ram is as big a lie as the Himalayas and the Ganga (river) are true,” Tamil Nadu’s chief minister, K. Karunanidhi, told reporters on Thursday.

He was repeating comments earlier this week which led right-wing Hindus in the neighbouring state of Karnataka to a