Every monsoon, at Kottakadappuram in Iringal village,Kerala, where the Zamorin’s naval chiefs, the Marikkars, fought the Portuguese in the 16 century, the sea furiously tries to engulf a strip of land to merge with the serene Kottapuzha on the other side.
And caught between the crashing tidal waves and the muddy expanse of Kottappuzha, live several fishermen families, who refuse to evacuate.
For officials who come to take them away to the nearby Kottakkal High School relief camp as the waves build up, their answer is “we are not kittens to be moved here and there.’
In turn, they demand that the government protect them with a proper coastal sea wall against the fury of the sea.
Ward 23 of Payyoli panchayat, under which Iringal village comes, can easily be mistaken for a no-man’s land. A tapering peninsular shaped coastal line spanning about 1.5 km, where the Marikkars fought in yesteryear sea battles, leads north to a breakwater almost halved into two by strong waves.
Next to the breakwater lies a crumbling sea wall, which locals say was constructed almost 30 years ago and is riddled with gaps.
This is followed by a sea wall spanning about 550 metres constructed by the Central Water and Power Research Station, Pune, two years ago. But the new wall stops abruptly near a sea turtle breeding centre, around which several families live. There, the beach is again exposed to the sea.
Post monsoon, local people measure the land they lost with the number of rows of their coconut trees the sea either uprooted or took away. This year, the row closest to the sea have their roots out, so does a yellow survey stone dug in by the Soil Erosion Studies team of the Irrigation Department.
“This land is covered by water on three sides — the sea, estuary, and Kottapuzha. During monsoons, tidal waves relentlessly hit this land, threatening to take over. About 85 families are affected. Two years ago, the taluk officials came here and told us to leave when the sea level rose. We refused. We better die here than leave,” Shanmughan Kottathara, a resident, said.
“Iringal is included in the Matsyagramam project. But rapid pace of erosion, has affected fishermen and associated workers who used to work on this beach. Moreover, with every monsoon, the sea comes closer to our wells. If this goes on, Kottakadapuram will be wiped off the map,” Aravindan M.T., a local fisherman, said.
The area lacks basic amenities as well. In case of an emergency, there is only a mud road cut by locals.
Mini Arvind, a resident, talks about the death of her neighbour, an elderly woman, 15 days ago. “Nobody came here, no taxi, no jeep. They say there is no road,” she said.
“There is a Rs.58-lakh road project that has received technical sanction. There is also a proposal to construct a bridge for Rs.75 lakh. This bridge is supposed to connect the boat jetty behind Marikkar memorial to Kottakadappuram over the Kottapuzha. These two projects, if realised, will act as a lifeline for the families in case of a sea attack,” said M.T. Suresh Babu, former president of Payyoli panchayat.
Plastic stumps, meant for public water connection taps, dot the wayside. “They had started talking about giving us drinking water connections 16 years ago. Some months ago, we led a protest march to Koyilandy taluk office. All they sent us was a water tanker,” Sheeba P.M., a home maker, said.
She recalls how once her small son had come rushing into the house while she was dressing up fish. “He was crying, saying ‘amma, kadal varunnu’ (sea is coming). In the next few minutes, the fish vessel was floating in the sea water,” she said.