Sarmila, who has lost all the male members of her family, is struggling to secure the future of her four young children.

7 men from Sarmilas family havent come back 13 days after Cyclone Ockhi
news Cyclone Ockhi Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 16:08

It’s been 13 days since Cyclone Ockhi tore through Kanyakumari, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction, and 36-year-old Sarmila is still waiting to hear any news about the fate of the seven missing fishermen in her family.

On November 22, her husband, father, brother, husband’s brother, sister’s husband and two other relatives ventured into the sea, but none of them have returned.

Sarmila, who is disabled, has four young children to take care of; the oldest is ten and the youngest is two. She has never held a job in her life, and believes she doesn’t have any employable skills, or the energy to look for employment.

“My husband’s family was against our union. But he went ahead and married me out of compassion and love,” she says. Her voice rising to a wail, she cries out, “He took utmost care of me until the day he left … This is the first time I have been left to fend for myself.”  

Sarmila sits with the kin of other missing fishermen in Thoothoor’s St Jude’s College. Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy had visited the college on Tuesday to meet those affected. He announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 20 lakh to the kin of the dead.

This news has been greeted with derision for state records claim that 12 people died in the district, two of them fishermen, but the fishing community claims that at least 78 people have died.

And what about the families of those missing? The state is refusing to categorize the fishermen as ‘missing’ – it says that the number of fishermen who have ‘not returned to shore yet’ from the region is 428. But the community claims that the number is much higher.

The fishermen from this region often go out to the sea for 30 to 45 days on a single expedition – this may explain why the state is wary of classifying them as ‘missing’.

Chinnathurai and Thoothoor have seen widespread protests alleging government negligence during the cyclone. Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets demanding a coordinated search effort and a higher compensation for the families of the dead.

“My children keep asking me when their father will come home. They tell me that they want to go to the sea to look for him as they know he left on a fishing expedition. My youngest child, my daughter, picks up my cell phone and asks if she can call her father… I have told them that he has gone abroad and will return soon. I don’t know how to console myself, how will I console my children?” a distraught Sarmila asks.

The men in her family had hired the boat and it was their only source of livelihood. So far, the nuns at St Jude’s have been providing assistance to the kin of the missing fishermen.

But with seven men from her family missing, and the government not offering compensation yet, she says that she has no clue about what the future holds. “I have to face life alone now … I have lost everything,” she cries, as the nuns from St Jude’s hurry forward to console her.

(Edited by Jyotsna Raman)

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