A week after Cyclone Ockhi wreaked havoc along the southern coast of Tamil Nadu, fishermen from eight villages in Kanyakumari are holding a rail roko agitation at the Kulithurai railway station. Over 6000 protesters are refusing to move from the tracks of the station, till the government promises to fulfill their demands regarding the missing fishermen.
Following the cyclone, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had claimed that 97 fishermen were missing from Tamil Nadu. Parish priests however submitted a report stating that 234 fishing boats and over 2000 fishermen were missing. Now, fishermen led by the priests have alleged inaction on the part of the government in helping rescue the missing fishermen. According to them, 1,113 fishermen are still missing from their villages while 74 have died.
"Despite these shocking numbers, the government has done almost nothing to speeden the rescue efforts," says Father Churchill, General Secretary of South Asian Fishermen Fraternity. "We started the demonstration at 8 am in the morning and have walked 15 km to reach this station. Women, children and even the elderly are part of this protest and we won't leave till we get justice," he adds.
The fishermen have put forth three major demands. The first is for warships and helicopters to be deployed to rescue the missing fishermen. The second is for immediate compensation for the loss of lives and boats to fisherfolk. They are demanding that a government job be provided to families that have lost its only earning member. The third, is for Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami to personally oversee rescue efforts and meet grieving families.
"When he can take part in MGR centenary celebrations, can he not come visit these families?" asks Father Churchill. "Even the Governor is in Kanyakumari today. He must come to the site of protest and listen to our demands," he adds.
The protesters further stated that the Kerala Government was doing a far better job at rescuing its fishermen and the Tamil Nadu government should learn to emulate their efforts.
When TNM contacted the Disaster Management and Mitigation Department over the death toll in Kanyakumari on Wednesday, we were told that it was only 10. Of this only two were from the villages that are protesting, according to Dr. K Satyagopal, the Principal Secretary. He could however not offer a number regarding the missing fishermen.