Fishermen from eight villages in Kanyakumari sat in protest on Thursday even as heavy rains lashed upon them at the Kulithurai railway station . Despite a strength of 6000 fishermen taking to the streets, district authorities are allegedly yet to visit the site. But the protesters are unfazed as they state that their wails in Kanyakumari will reflect on the RK Nagar bye-polls scheduled to take place on December 21.
Protests began at 8 am in Kanyakumari, as fisherfolk from eight villages marched to the station to hold an agitation against the government. According to them, 1,113 fishermen are still missing from their villages while 74 have died and the government is not taking appropriate steps to address the matter.
"Since the government is so focused on doing politics through the MGR centenary celebrations and RK Nagar elections, we will show them the consequences of their action there," says John Leornard, a fisherman from Kanyakumari. "There are large number of fishermen amongst the voters in RK Nagar. The government's apathy towards our condition will not go unnoticed," he adds.
According to the South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association, there are over 45,000 fisherfolk in RK Nagar. They dominate areas such as Kasimedu, Tondaripet and Vanaripet. The total population of RK Nagar is close to 2,10,000.
"The entire area is politically charged and every fishermen who cares about his community is ready to teach the government a lesson," says Bharathi, General Secretary of the Association. "There was already a general sense of dissatisfaction over the manner in which Fisheries Minister Jayakumar was functioning and now there is all the more reason to resent the government," he adds. The Association is further set to hold protests near the lighthouse on Saturday over the missing fishermen in Kanyakumari.
According to the protesters, the coast guard are only covering upto 200 nautical miles in their search for fishermen. "They need to go atleast upto 400 nautical miles to find bodies. The government is not giving any information on fishermen who have reached Gujarat or Karnataka either," claims the fisherman. "None of these leaders even bothered to come into the villages to understand our plight," he claims.
Fishermen in Kasimedu allege that they have been stopped from venturing out into sea for the last 10 days and suffering as a result of it.
"As a community, we are better educated now and know that we are getting a raw deal," says Mahendran A, a fisherman from the RK Nagar constituency. "The AIADMK thinks that they have two leaves symbol and that is enough to win. But there are eight villages of fisherfolk here and they will not escape our wrath in these bye-polls," he warns.
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.