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Fishermen chased by fate, jailed in Iran

D.J.Walter Scott
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Most of the fishermen families live in poverty

The family members of a fisherman from Thirupalaikudi in Ramanathapuram district,who has been imprisoned in Iran.— Photo: L. Balachandar
The family members of a fisherman from Thirupalaikudi in Ramanathapuram district,who has been imprisoned in Iran.— Photo: L. Balachandar

U.Muthu, a mother of five, has been waiting for her husband’s call for months. “My husband spoke to me over phone from Saudi Arabia on December 9 before setting out for fishing, and since then I have been waiting for his call,” she says, wiping her tears.

Such tales of woe also pour in from other families, whose members have been lodged in a jail in Iran for the past six months. Nineteen Indian fishermen — 16 from Tamil Nadu and three from Kerala — who had gone to Saudi Arabia on fishing contracts, ventured into sea from the Saudi port city of Jubail in December last, when they were arrested by the Iranian authorities for allegedly fishing in their waters.

Most of the fishermen from Tamil Nadu hailed from Thirupalaikudi, Morepannai, Mullimunai and Karankadu in Ramanathapuram district and visits to their houses in these villages by The Hindu revealed a pathetic picture. The lack of communication with the detained fishermen has left the family members depressed.

As some people from Saudi Arabia called them up and said the fishermen would be released this week, there are heightened expectations among the family members amid a sense of helplessness.

G.Rasakili (60), mother of Muthu Dharmaiah (23), one of the jailed fishermen, was lying down at her tsunami dwelling unit at Mullimunai, gazing at the roof. Her eldest son Raja (38) died two weeks ago and the youngest son jailed in Iran was not aware of it, she says with tears rolling down from her eyes.

There has been no word from his son for the past six months, she says. Dharmaiah went to Saudi Arabia three and a half years ago, and was planning to return home after the fishing season.

Rasakili’s two other sons are also employed abroad — Chinna Dharmaiah (27) in Saudi Arabia and Easwaran (25) in Muscat — but she lives in abject poverty, repaying interest on a loan of Rs.2 lakh she borrowed from a local moneylender to send his last son to Saudi Arabia. The living condition of Muthu (35) wife of Umaselvam from Thirupalaikudi is no better. As we were seeking details of her family, she looked terrified, apparently assuming something worse has happened to her husband. She hid herself behind the door and for the next few minutes, we could hear only her muffled cries as her children, recovering from chicken pox, stood clueless around her.

There was no money from her husband for the past six months and she is taking care of her five children — four boys and a girl — and an aged mother-in-law by going for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Her husband was working in Saudi Arabia for 20 years, but the family did not seem to have flourished by his earnings. “I pledged my jewellery for Rs.50,000 to admit children to schools,” she says. The last child is in LKG and her first son in Class VII.

It has been an agonising wait for Sudhamayil (25), wife of Mayakrishnan (30) from Thirupalaikudi, as she could not share with her husband the good news of the birth of a son. She was pregnant when her husband left for Saudi Arabia in September last, she says.

“It will be enough if I hear my son’s voice once… Let them keep him in jail, but I want to listen to his voice once,” says Kanagavalli (52), mother of Mayapandi from Mullimunai. She has three daughters, all married and Mayapandi is her only son.

Twenty-five-year-old S.Sasikala’s eyes welled with tears as she is holding her one-month-old boy in her lap at her mother’s place in Thirupalaikudi. She is anxiously awaiting the release of her husband Sayibu Mapillai, hailing from Morepannai.

Almost all the family members have been assured by the Saudi employers and fellow fishermen that the arrested fishermen would be released after the completion of their six-month imprisonment this week.

Reports suggest that the Iranian authorities have said the fishermen could be freed only if they paid a penalty of $5,750 each, but their family members are not aware of it.

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