Deepa H Ramakrishnan
Prices have gone up, but their incomes have not
Each one of these fishermen’s families has a tale of woe to relate — Kokila, who lost her daughter in the tsunami, or Parthiban, whose family is wondering how it will pay the school fees the next academic year, or Malarvizhi, who can’t sell fish because of the 45-day fishing ban. Their incomes depend on the sea, and they don’t get work for about four months in a year because of rain, rough seas and the ban on fishing.
“Prices are higher at the local shop, but we continue to buy there, because the shopkeeper gives us stuff on credit. With the fishing ban, and no help from the government, we are barely able to survive,” says Ms. Malarvizhi, of Tondiarkuppam.At 45, Kokila is a grandmother who is looking after her deceased daughter’s three children. Her husband, Rajendran, does not contribute anything. “On most days, we don’t have any provisions and the family survives on the small profit that I make from selling fish. Even that is not available now. When I got my daughter married off 10 years ago, a kilo of rice cost about Rs. 7 or Rs. 8. Now, it costs Rs.15, and it is not of good quality. But we have no other option,” she lamented.
At present, many of these families survive on the advance from boat owners, or on the loans taken against whatever little jewellery they have. “We have pledged almost all our jewellery, and are wondering how we will be able to pay the school fees. The school has increased the fees by Rs. 2,000 since last year. We were thinking of changing the school, but it’s too late now,” says Mr. Parthiban, whose wife Pramila finds it increasingly difficult to run the family. The family of four cannot cut expenses any further. They don’t go to movies or eat out. “My mother, sister and I always shop in the wholesale market. A litre of gingelly oil costs Rs. 113 there; it costs Rs. 143 in the retail outlet. A 25-kg sack of rice is priced at Rs. 600 here, and Rs. 510 at Parry’s Corner. Last year, the same bag came for Rs. 480. The prices keep increasing, but our income hasn’t gone up,” says Ms. Pramila.
Several fishermen in areas near Chennai are now opting for jobs in private companies. But for many it’s not an option because they lack an education.