"ST status will be necessary for their empowerment"

In an attempt at winning over the fishermen community, thought to form the traditional vote bank of the AIADMK, the DMK’s manifesto promises to include traditional fishermen in the list of Scheduled Tribes (ST).

Fishermen in the State are considered AIADMK supporters as its founder M. G. Ramachandran had the image of being ‘meenava nanban (friend of the fishermen).

Though it is a long pending demand of the community, described as ‘sea tribes’ since ancient times, the DMK’s move has evoked diverse views. There are also questions about the motive behind the move and its implementation.

The fishermen community includes sub-sects like Paravar, Mukkuvar, Pattinavar, Sembadavar and Chavalakarar. “As an ancient community, fishermen in the State need the status to climb the social ladder and for economic empowerment,” said Sahitya Akademi award winner Joe D’ Cruz, whose two novels – Aazhi Soozh Ulagu and Korkai – captured the history of fishermen of Gulf of Mannar.

Mr. Cruz, a native of Uvari, a fishermen settlement, rejected the argument that fishermen, especially those who had converted to Christianity and had achieved a social status would not relish the idea of finding a place among Scheduled Tribes.

“Where comes the question of compromising on social status when a majority of them continue to eke out a livelihood as fishermen? Education and employment opportunities will come along with the ST status, and fishermen, both along the seashore and inland, will benefit from it,” he said.

Kabadi B. Maran, Tamil Nadu Fishermen Development Association president, said though efforts were made to include them in the ST list, the community could not make it.

“It is an age-old profession and the people involved in it languish in backwardness. It needed a tsunami to tell the world about their living conditions.

Since a section of the community in the southern district has witnessed upward mobilisation by means of conversion and education, it cannot hold true for the entire community,” he said.

But Tamil Nadu Tribal Association president P. Shanmugam said the demand for including fishermen in the ST list was unacceptable for more reasons than one. “Of course, they lead a life completely different from other communities. But they do not have a unique culture and language to warrant a ST status. The DMK’s promise is nothing but political,” Mr. Shanmugam said. A former civil servant from the community said the promise looks attractive in the manifesto, but its implementation is difficult. “Identifying fishermen is a difficult task as fishing is no longer a profession confined to a particular community,” he said.

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