"You try to swim in the sea for one hour. Your hands and legs cannot take the stress. And this Tamil Nadu government is telling us they don't know if fishermen are still swimming after the cyclone," wail fisherfolk from Kanyakumari, over two weeks after cyclone Ockhi hit the state's coast.
This opening scene from News 18 Tamil Nadu's Katharum Kadalpuram documentary, paves way for a deeper understanding of the terrible tragedy that has struck this district. News 18 Tamil Nadu editor Guna, who has pieced together this 47 minute documentary, shows us how the government's failure to provide help on time has created resentment among the fisherfolk. He further explains that lack of concrete numbers regarding deaths and missing fishermen has only increased anxiety.
According to the factsheet put out by the Raksha Mantriâ€™s Twitter handle on Thursday, the Indian Coastal Guard (ICG) has recovered 9 fishermen dead bodies, while the Indian Navy recovered 3 bodies. The remaining 10 bodies were recovered by other agencies, including coastal police and fishermen.
The district administration declared that 400 fishermen are still missing. Kanyakumari collector Sajjan Singh R Chavan told TNM that in total 12 people had died due to Cyclone Ockhi, of which only two dead bodies have been recovered and the remaining 10 are suspected deaths.
Fishing associations in Tamil Nadu meanwhile have a completely different estimate from both the state and union governments. According to the South Asian Fishermenâ€™s Federation based in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, 240 fishermen died due to Cyclone Ockhi. This figure was arrived at based on eye-witness accounts of other fishermen who were at sea.
Eyewitnesses who speak in this documentary recount a horrific experience of watching their friends and family die in front of their eyes. One fishermen says, "Nine of us were holding on to water cans and I saw three people dying in front of me in a matter of five hours. Six of us then started swimming towards an abandoned boat but when we got to it, only two of us were left."
"Those who did survive are now suffering from trauma and are afraid to go back into the sea," he adds.
"We have realised that the government will not send anyone to save us," says another fisherman. "We go into the sea for our livelihoods, risking our lives in the process," he notes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit Kanyakumari in the coming week to survey the damage but if we are to go by this documentary, his visit will do little to assuage the deep wounds created by the cyclone.