Living the life of celebrity fisherwoman to the fullest amid challenges

Rekha Karthikeyan was the first trawler woman from the State, arguably the first in the country too. Though she received several recognitions, she rues that women are still not ready to follow her suit and venture into the sea to make a living

Updated - March 07, 2024 08:45 pm IST

Published - March 07, 2024 08:44 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Rekha Karthikeyan

Rekha Karthikeyan

It has been around 10 years since the first trawler woman from Kerala, Rekha Karthikeyan, ventured into the Arabian Sea to make a living, arguably the first in the country.

Hundreds of honours, motivational interactions with budding students and peers, and recognitions came her way over the years. In between, there was a one-year break in her career soon after the pandemic after her husband, Karthikeyan, had fallen ill. 

Back at the helm

Now, she is back at the helm of her small fishing vessel, powered by a 9.9 hp Yamaha engine, to make both ends meet. She is still the only woman who is engaged in deep sea fishing in Kerala, foraying into the male-dominated bastion of marine fishing.

For 44-year-old Rekha, her husband was everything, including her mentor, instructor, and professional guide. In 2021, Karthikeyan had to undergo a cardiac bypass surgery, which forced him to take more than a year-long break from fishing. This forced Rekha to stop venturing into the sea and make a living by selling shells collected from the beach near her fishing hamlet in Chavakkad in Thrissur, as there was no woman to accompany her in the sea.

With four girl children at home and three of them studying in various classes ranging from high school to degree level, Karthikeyan and Rekha took to the sea again by 2023 as fishing was their only means of living and the only skilled profession they knew.

Unlike in the past, during which they together ventured into the sea, this time they engaged two male helpers, as it is difficult for her husband to haul the net carrying fish after the surgery. It was while hauling in the net that he fainted in the fishing vessel earlier. She could save his life, as he was immediately taken to the hospital soon after the incident.

Staying away

Since it is a laborious task and balancing in the moving vessel requires some expertise, especially when the sea turns rough, the majority of the women folk stay away from deep sea fishing. Further, venturing into the sea will provoke some health issues in the initial days of this profession, says Rekha.

Moreover, it’s not a very profitable vocation considering the risk involved in fishing. If at least a catch worth ₹10,000 is netted, the operational expense can be met, including the service charge for helpers, she says.

“There are days we had to return with empty hands. On such occasions, the operational cost will be a liability,” she adds. Now, she ventures hardly less than 20 km into the sea following health issues. Despite the challenges and health issues, she finds happiness in living the life of a fisherwoman to the fullest while working hard.

Notwithstanding the honours that came her way over the years—the latest one will be at Srayikkadu coastal village at Alappad panchayat in Kollam on the occasion of International Women’s Day on Friday—none of the women are still ready to follow her suit in the challenging profession of fishing, she rues. 

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