Fury and frustration mount as the mothers of these 13 men wait to hear any news of the fate of their sons.

We want our sons not money 13 young men from this TN street are missing after Ockhi
news Ockhi Cyclone Thursday, December 14, 2017 - 18:09

A shroud of silence hangs over Neerodi village in Kanyakumari district. Thirteen mother’s sit still, waiting for any news of their sons who went out to sea just days before Cyclone Ockhi hit the coast.

The young men, all in their early twenties and late teens, left on November 21 in a single boat. Neither has the boat been found nor has a single body been recovered.

Two of Christina’s* sons were on the ill-fated boat. Twenty-one-year-old Praveen Kumar and eighteen-year-old Ajay were the sole breadwinners in her family. Christina, a HIV patient, lost her husband some years ago.  

Her health has been on the decline and she often falls sick. “How will she find solace? She has lost two sons! We are praying and praying to the almighty that he will send back at least one of her sons … They started working to take care of her … She used to buy medicines using the money they earned … We cannot even have a funeral because there are no bodies … The women here will just spend their time waiting now, praying that at least their sons’ bodies are found,” Mary Gaisel, Christina’s sister-in-law, says.

“All 13 of them were young … Because their families were so poor, they were forced to venture out into the sea at a very young age. No one would give them a job, so they chose to be fishermen. Some of the 13 missing were educated, but because they could not find a job, they went on the boat hoping to make some money. Nothing will change in the future … The men now are too scared to go fishing, but what else will they do with their lives? Eventually, poverty will force them to venture into sea again,” she adds.

Mary Christina's sister, who is taking care of Christina now, said that she has not eaten in days. “Christina was unable to meet the Chief Minister when he came to meet the kin of the deceased because she was too weak. She faints each time we try to get her to stand.”

Christina lies motionless on the floor, her eyes unseeing. If they ever catch a glimpse of the photos of her sons, she starts screaming and crying.

The situation is not very different next door.

Most houses in Annai Nagar – the single street where all 13 boys lived – are veiled with sorrow. Those who were spared the worst of the cyclone’s wrath divide their time between these houses, taking care of the women, ensuring they eat. They often hold group prayers in the evening, and nuns from the neighbourhood church join them.

The houses on this street are small – most have just two rooms. Families here have to save their money for months before they can buy a single plastic chair they can offer to visitors when they come home.

“If the men don’t go to the sea, who will give them a job?” asks Silvayya, a resident of Annai Nagar. “You know the rate of unemployment in Tamil Nadu. Now the government claims they will give us jobs … Why did they not do this earlier? The tragedy could have been averted. What is the use of them promising us this now?”

It was Stella’s 17-year-old son’s maiden fishing expedition. “Yes, he was too young. But he chose to go because he could not bear to see the poverty at home. His father is a heart patient and his sisters are all studying. My son had gone to bring us food,” wails Stella.

Lissy, a disabled woman, lost her 22-year-old son, Sunil Kumar. She has two other children, but her oldest son is intellectually disabled and her daughter is too young to work. Her husband is unwell and cannot go to work. “He [Sunil Kumar] used to feed the entire family. Now who will take care of us? Where will we go?” Lissy’s voice is emotionless and her face is pale. She has no tears left.

Nirmala’s son, 22-year-old Nishanth passed out of a mechanical college in Coimbatore six months ago. “He tried finding a job, but could not find anything. We had to borrow money for his studies … It was tough for us to keep going and we had no money left, which is why he finally decided to go fishing,” says Nirmally.

The story is almost exactly the same for Mary Dasi, Antony Mary and several others in Annai Nagar who have all lost their sons.

“Who needs the government’s money even if they give us lakhs or crores? The Union minister [Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman] had declared they will deploy more people for the search operations … But have they? They have done nothing,” says Mary Dasi.

The women continue waiting, clinging to the hope that their sons did somehow manage to escape the worst.

But a rescue team of fishermen recently said that they sighted the wreckage of a boat deep in the sea, which could have been the one the 13 young men were on.

We don’t want the government’s money, we want our sons back. Money can never replace our sons, they are priceless.” Mary Dasi’s cry echoes around the house.

*Name changed on request


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