Fisher folk communities across India have been facing tough times for the past few years due to climate changes and pro-corporate policies of the central government. As such, ahead of the Kerala Assembly polls in April this year, the Kerala Fish Workers Federation are taking out a march throughout the coastal regions of the state.
The march led by PP Chitharanjan, the state general secretary of Kerala Fish Workers Federation, started on February 20 and will culminate at Thiruvananthapuram on March 4. On Monday, March 1, the march entered Kollam district, which consists of a significant portion of traditional fish workers in the state.
The FWF march seeks to highlight and create awareness about the welfare policies for fishermen introduced by the current Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the state.
“The efforts taken by the current government to protect livelihood and increase the income of the fishermen have brought great relief to the community. These measures helped the workers during the Ockhi cyclone and even protected them from the threat posed by COVID-19. The government acted as a helping hand to the fishing families and was able to ensure peace and security of life throughout the coastal areas of the state,” the FWF said in a statement.
The statement also noted that “during the time of Congress-led central government and the current BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) regime, deep sea fishing has become part of the liberalisation policy which gives upper hand to foreign monopolies. However, the Government of Kerala has adopted a policy of not allowing foreign trawlers to exploit fisheries on a large scale. The LDF government, which is firmly fighting against the central government's policies that are feeding the country's wealth to corporates, has ensured security for all workers, including fishermen.”
Also read: New Shipping Corridor Threatens Our Livelihood, Say Kerala Fishworkers
Last year, Kerala, especially Kollam, had witnessed a large protest against the shipping corridor. Even though the organisations including the National Fishermen Forum (NFF) support shipping corridors as they help in avoiding collisions of fishing boats and vessels, it is not true for the new corridor implemented on August 1, 2020, by the Ministry of Shipping, as it would badly hit the livelihood of fishermen in the region, according to them.
The routing system in South West Indian Waters, notified by the Director General of Shipping, cuts right through the 200-500 metre depth zone of the Kollam coast. The fishermen are not allowed to fish in this corridor and if they enter this area, they would be punished. At Kollam alone, around 25,000 fishermen are expected to be affected by this.
The fish workers also shared real life experiences to narrate how helpful the current Left Front government has been. When the Congress led UDF government had stepped down in 2016, fisherman's pension was mere Rs 600 and that too had been pending for 18 months. However, under the LDF government the pension was increased to Rs. 1,600 while accidental death insurance has also been increased from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh.
The government has also been ensuring secure homes for the fish workers. Housing assistance has been increased from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 4 lakh and a project “Punar geham” has come as a great relief to the community. Further, 143 families of the victims of cyclone Ockhi were given compensation of Rs 22 lakh each. Not only that, dependents of the deceased were given jobs in Fishfed.
Fish workers in Kerala have a tradition of having been neglected by the mainstream politicians, political parties, and governments till the recent past. According to the National Fish Workers Forum, lobbies with vested interests used to exploit fish workers on the basis of caste and religion. The fishing community in Kerala consist mainly of Mukkuva and Anjootty (Latin Catholic), Dheevara (Hindu) and Pooislan (Muslim) communities.