Fishermen: Lives tossed in a sea of sorrow

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Toilers Life

Human civilization started flourishing when humans settled in river banks and estuaries giving up the nomadic life of hunter-gatherers in forests and mountains. Right from the beginning, fishing developed along with farming as one of the earliest human activities. When the kings ruled land, fishermen were the pioneers in advancing human civilization through development of sea trade which in turn led to the growth development of agricultural and handicraft production inland. Every day, braving their lives, fishermen venture into the roaring seas and bring a variety of tasty seafood for all of us. But their life is immersed in a sea of woes.

fishermen-keralaFishermen wake up in the early hours of morning, venture into the dark, but their lives are bathed in never ending darkness. Fishernmen steel themselves physically by hard work battling surging waves, weathering pouring rain and scorching sun, risking natural disasters like thunder, lightening, storms and cyclones. Currently, their profession of fishing as well as their livilihood is gradually swallowed up by the ruling class sharks.

Fishing with catamaran is being run over by modern mechanized boats and deep sea trawlers. Fishing has been transformed into an international business worth crores of rupees revenue to the global corporations. But the life and livelihood of fishermen who make this possible shrink day by day. Fishermen live in close contact with nature, riding catamaran, playing in the lap of sea. Now their lives are caught in the crushing grip of capitalistic onslaught. Their daily catch is not even sufficient to give them a minimum livelihood. The picture is same for all the fishermen living along the entire eastern and western coasts of India.

fisher-men-lifeThe waste generated by capitalistic society like industrial effluents from factories, domestic sewage from coastal cities, debris from oil and gas drilling, radioactive discharge from nuclear power plants, waste material from man-made harbours, and ever increasing shipping traffic pose a grave danger to the oceanic wealth. The marine eco system is being badly damaged. Algae that nourish fish and coral reefs that shelter them are depleted and fish population is gradually dwindling.

On the other hand, mechanized boats of big businesses with huge investments and high-tech trawlers of multinationals use bottom trawling to scour down to the sea bed to haul out even the fingerlings. This leads to disruption of fish reproduction leading to depletion of fish stock. Consequently, unable to sustain themselves by fishing close to the shore in shallow waters as earlier, the fishermen are now forced to venture far into deep sea.

Neither fish nor fishermen know boundaries in the sea. However, for the past threee decades fishermen of Tamilnadu, who follow the fish in their fishing ventures, are accused of violating the maritime border and shot dead by Sri Lankan Navy. In spite of strong protest from Tamil fishermen, Indian government gave away Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka to further its regional hegemonic ambitions. As a result, fishermen of southern Tamilnadu, particularly those from Nagapattinam, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram and Tuticorin districts lost their traditional fishing rights in the Gulf of Mannar and suffer untold misery at the hands of Sri Lankan forces.

Attacks on Tamil fishermen started in 1983. The Sri Lankan government cited controlling the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as the reason. But, the attackes continue to this day with no counter measures by Indian government. So far more than 500 fishermen have been shot dead on the pretext of their having crossed the ‘maritime border’. Many thousands have been handicapped after being subjected to inhuman torture. Fishing nets worth crores of rupees have been torn; countless boats have been rammed and damaged beyond repair. Fishermen are imprisoned and tortured by Sri Lankan navy even today and in constant fear for their lives. Central and state governments refuse to intervene and remain silent spectators to these murders.

fisher-manIn the name of industrial growth and economic development, the state is destroying the lives of fishermen who are dependant on the sea. Faced with fast dwindling stock of fish stock,  fishermen of Southern Tamilnadu protested against Koodankulam atomic power plant fearing further problems like sea water pollution and nuclear disasters. The fascist government of Jayalalithaa repressed them cruelly and prosecuted them under National Security Asct. Under the Coastal Protection and Management Act, the central government is cunningly evicting the fishermen living on the shores and allowing construction of farmhouses, recreational centres, and tourist resorts in the vacated area.

In its greed for profit, capitalism has brought the humanity to the brink of extinction. Due to global warming, the equilibrium of the oceans has been affected and rise of sea levels and sea swellings wreck havoc on fishermen’s lives. Monster waves are corroding the natural shoreline, swallowing fishermen settlements. Instead of building barriers against such waves, the government is forcibly evicting the fishermen from such areas citing this as reason. While refusing to create small fishing harbours and basic infrastructure for fishermen, government is building big artificial harbours for multinational fishing barons in places like Ennore, Colachel thereby pushing the fishermen into uncertain future.

There is no social welfare program worth that name for the benefit of fisher people living in precarious condition and struggling daily with nature. With depleting fishing stock which in turn decreses their income, they are doubly affected by the increase in prices of diesel and essential commodities. Centre and state wash their hands with a meagre compensation given for the fishing ban during the fish reproduction season. They also announce token relief measures for the family when fishermen killed by Sri Lankan Navy.

The life of fishermen depends on sea and seashore. Recolonisation of our country is driving them out of the shore and dumping them in inner land. As fish out of water, they face slow death having lost their bearings out of sea. Their lives are endangered in the name of tourism development, coastal zone protection and by the licences given to monopolistic  multinational fishing corporations.

It is time for the fishermen to rise like angry ocean joining forces with the mass of other workers to fight the central and state governments and oppose recolonising by global corporates that are destroying their livelihood.

Series NavigationConstruction workers’ lives buried in rubble >>

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