V. Raghavendra

KAKINADA: Till a few months ago, life was peaceful for them but the renewed offensive of the Sri Lankan Army on Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) brought them the kind of misery which none wants to go through.

They used to eke out their livelihood by fishing on the high seas but the fighting forced them to flee their homes and forever changed their destinies.

Leaving behind everything in their native place, Mullaithivu, which is currently witnessing a fierce battle between the Army and `Tigers,’ a small group of 21 Tamil-speaking fishermen and women set sail on a fibre boat in the Bay of Bengal but only about half of them could reach safety, that too far away from their homeland.

The fisherfolk intended to take shelter in a refugee camp at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu but the boat went adrift as they lost their direction and ended up in Uppada in Andhra Pradesh, where they were rescued by local fishermen late on Wednesday.

Survivors of the ordeal are in a state of shock. They had nothing to eat and drink either as they hurriedly deserted their village while the gruelling sea journey sapped their energy. The weather too was unforgiving. Having suffered severe dehydration, they look frail and uncertain about where future would take them in the days ahead.

Ten of those on the boat died due to starvation, according to a survivor, Mary Joseph Benny.

She and others could only watch death devouring their fellow men and women. The bodies had to be thrown into the sea as they would cause harm to those alive. One of Benny’s two daughters Patima lives to convey the sordid tale — she is barely able to speak due to shock. A one-year-old boy was seen curled in his mother’s lap. Another woman, Kamala Devi, 70, lies in a critical condition in the acute medical care unit of the Government General Hospital here.

The elder ones were thankful to the fishermen of Uppada for saving them but the sorrow of having lost their kith and kin was writ large on their faces. According to these fisherfolk, hundreds of people died in and around their town (Mullaithivu) and others could only flee for safety as the guns were booming from all sides. “The plight of those stuck in the actual battle zone is heart-rending but no one has the time to even think of it,” Benny said through an interpreter.