Migrant workers | A boat ride home ends with a train journey back to work

Updated - June 06, 2020 09:53 am IST

Published - June 05, 2020 10:50 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

The fishermen returning to Odisha from Chennai by boat.

The fishermen returning to Odisha from Chennai by boat.

Just six weeks back, they bought a boat to sail from Chennai to Odisha to escape the travails of the COVID-19 lockdown and unemployment. But today the fishermen of Ganjam are waiting for a train to take them back to their jobs as crew on fishing vessels in Tamil Nadu.

These Odisha fishermen made a big news splash as they were the first to take the sea route home even as millions of other migrant workers set out on foot, as the lockdown closed jobs and other options for livelihood and left many facing starvation.

Also read | Boat with 33 migrant workers reaches Odisha coast from Chennai

But just weeks after that eventful voyage home, Pokala Dilesh is keen to go back to Chennai, faced with low wages of just ₹200 per day from fishing on the Odisha coast and mounting pressure of sustaining his family.

“Who does not want to stay at home and make a living with family members around? [But] if earning does not meet requirement, it is better to migrate,” said Mr. Dilesh, underlining the stark reality that he and his fisher colleagues face in Odisha.

M. Bairagi, a fisherman of Markandi village, too, had resumed fishing after their post-voyage quarantine, but the meagre catch has him worried. “The earning from fishing in Odisha will help arrange two square meals a day, but cash for a marriage or house construction won’t come from the sparse catch here,” he said.

Mr. Dilesh and 38 other fishermen are still reeling from the travails of their voyage from Chennai to Ramayapatna in Odisha’s Ganjam district in April.

Also read | 30,000 Odisha fishermen in distress: unions

Post-lockdown Chennai had posed several problems for them, The value of their catch dropped sharply from ₹50 to ₹10 per kg after the lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister on March 24. Soon, there was nothing to do.

With uncertainty over train and bus movement growing every day, the group decided to return home by sea. They bought a boat with three engines at ₹1.83 lakh, contributing ₹5000 each. Diesel and food for the journey pushed up costs to ₹2.20 lakh. Aiming to clock six nautical miles per hour, the fishermen thought they could cover 514 nautical miles in 100 hours. High on hope, they set out on April 24 from Chennai.

“Near Kakinada, one of the engines seized and around same time, we faced a nor’wester mid sea. Strong winds almost turned our boat upside down. For four hours, we kept praying for a miracle. When it was all over, we screamed with joy,” recalled Mr. Dilesh.

The group faced another nor’wester off Srikakulum coast in Andhra Pradesh, barely over 100 km from their village. The wind was so strong that they had to sail in the opposite direction for 20 km. They finally reached their coastal village on April 27.

And then came the quarantine till May 12.

Also read | Sea escape from Chennai ends in quarantine in Andhra Pradesh

Soon enough, inspired by their daring sea voyage, another group of 42 fishermen too made it back to Odisha in a boat in the first week of May. “We anyway had to return home,” said Nanda Dinabandhu of Markandi village, matter-of-factly.

Their return many not be all that smooth as Pugazhendhi, an owner of two trawlers in Chennai, is unwilling to employ rookie fishermen. “I will only accept seasoned and experienced fishermen. A larger fish catch would compensate for the loss I incurred during the lockdown,” Mr. Pugazhendhi said by telephone from Chennai.

Also read | Bihar’s migrant workers start to go back to other States

This could mean tougher lives for these fishermen seeking to return to Chennai. Over the past few years, coastal Odisha villages has witnessed growing migration of fishermen to Chennai. “In Ganjam district alone, 4,000 of the 36,000 fisherman migrate to other States for higher income. The fish landing centres in Odisha have neither ice plants nor cold storages. Market linkage is abysmally poor,” K. Alleya, General Secretary of Orissa Traditional Fish Workers Union, told this reporter.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.