Fishermen families in Telangana allege social boycott, face loss of livelihood

Meanwhile, one of the village development committee members dismissed the allegation and called it “fake news and misinformation”.
Fishermen families in Telangana allege social boycott, face loss of livelihood
Fishermen families in Telangana allege social boycott, face loss of livelihood
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Continuing their saga of punitive social boycotts, a village development committee (VDC) in Telangana's Nizamabad district has allegedly imposed a social boycott on as many as 25 families of the fisherfolk community. The incident took place in Ergatla mandal's Nagendranagar in Gummiryal. 

The incident came to light after the victims filed a complaint with the police alleging that the village development committee had issued a social boycott diktat against them in the village. VDCs are self-elected bodies, mostly prevalent in the state's Armoor mandal, which settle disputes within the villages. The idea is that each caste gets to nominate a few members from its community to the committee.

The village has over 2,000 acres of agricultural land and three water bodies on which fishermen survive.The water bodies are replenished via the Gummiryal lift irrigation scheme on river Godavari.

In 2016, the Telangana government had constructed the lift irrigation scheme with an ayacut capacity of 1,453 acres. 

TNM spoke to a few fishermen, who said that the VDC was not able to "digest the fact" that they were getting a considerable yield on fishing from the last two years.  

28-year-old Santhosh Thoparam, a local fisherman, said, "15 days ago, men from the VDC came up with a proposal of collecting Rs 50,000 per year per water body, from the fishermen community as we were fishing under their jurisdiction. When they demanded Rs 1,50,000 from us and we denied, they imposed a boycott on our families."

The diktat allegedly included no labour work, being denied groceries and vegetables, and a ban on cattle grazing in community lands. Following this, the fishermen approached the police to file a case against the VDC members.

"They fined us Rs 20,000 for even complaining to the police and threatened us to either pay the fine or stop fishing," Santhosh added. 

55-year-old Chinna Sayanna, a fisherman and present member of the VDC said, "They have taken the decision on their own by leaving me aside. They fined us Rs 20,000 as our community didn't name me in the complaint, claiming that by filing a complaint, we had wasted their time."

The village with around 1,200 families has 16 members in the VDC. The representation of different castes is also skewed as Reddys — a dominant caste which comprise a mere 200 families, have the most representation in the VDC, with four members.

The fishermen also claimed that in the past, women beedi rollers were denied their rightful share of work, as per the diktats of the VDC.

Following the complaint, the local tehsildar along with the police visited the spot and investigated the issue. A case was registered under Sections 385 (Putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion), 506 (Criminal Intimidation) read with 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the IPC.

Speaking to TNM, Yergatla SI Hari Prasad said, "As the matter came to our notice, we have given counselling to VDC members and registered a case under relevant sections of the IPC. If there is no change in the scenario, we will send the accused to remand."

"In our preliminary inquiry, we found that the claims of social boycott in the village seem to be true," he added.

Thoparam Shankar, another fishermen, said, "Even after the police came to the village and counselled them, there is no change in their treatment. We have been denied groceries and there is no social contact."

On the other hand, the VDC members of the village are in denial about the allegations of social boycott. 

When TNM reached out to one of the VDC members, he denied the allegation and said that the issue was already sorted, adding that there was no social boycott of the fishermen community. He also dubbed news reports and allegations as "fake news and misinformation".

(With inputs from Rajesh Serupally)

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