On a normal Monday morning, the young men lazing beneath the community tank in Keechankuppam would have been on a boat waiting with their nets sprawled for their catch in the sea. But now, the fisherfolk here are out of work as they have entered into their fifth day of strike condemning attacks on fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy.
This strike has stalled 20,000 fishermen, 700 mechanised and partially mechanised boats and a conservative estimate of 800 fibre boats from work. Besides, each mechanised boat that carries about eight fishermen, also supports 25 people on ancillary activities, right from ice packagers to fisherwomen eking out a living by selling fish.
According to Manoharan, Panchayathar of Akkaraipettai, the strike has meant a loss of four crore with one crore for each day in Nagapattinam taluk. While these figures sound big, it is the couple of hundreds that ordinary women with their fish baskets on their heads earn that makes the tangible difference.
For women like Anjamma (45) and Anjallai, both from Keechankuppam, it is about keeping the hearth of the household burning. Both of them, without a male member, eke out a living by selling fish. Ordinarily, they both would have sold fish at that hour of the day somewhere in Koradecheri and Needamangalam. Now the strike has stalled that as well.
Women like them buy their fish at the auction in the harbour in the morning and store it in iced boxes till they set out at midnight or at 1 a.m. the following day, in small vans to far off places. Some go to Kumbakonam and some as far as Thanjavur. Farther they go, better are the prospects, says Anjamma. All this labour fetches them anywhere between Rs.100 and Rs.150 and at times, even that is a gamble.
In most cases, even with the men around, these fisherwomen are the sole keepers of their families. Interestingly, this strike has also meant loss of revenue for liquor vendors here. As 20-year old Lata (name changed) puts it, "My father is lying low now. Otherwise, if he earned Rs.600 in a week, half of it would go straight to the liquor shop."
While women boldly stake claim to their labour, they also voluntarily stake claim in the humiliation inflicted on their men. As 25-year old Kalaimani nurses his boot-kicked nape of the neck, in last week’s reported attacks on fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy, his mother watches over him, wondering about their livelihood.