While families of the dead and missing fishermen have been compensated, there is another kind of family that struggles - where the men who have been rescued and brought back home are too ill to go to work or sick with fear.

A year after Cyclone Ockhi fisherman and families attempt to pick up the pieces
news Cyclone Ockhi Thursday, November 29, 2018 - 16:37

At one end of a small path separating two houses sat four women, facing the sea. The oldest among them was talking to the others till someone asked her about the day she last saw Mosses, her son. A year to this day, on another Wednesday, Mosses had packed his meals, said goodbye to his mother and went out into the sea. November 29, 2017 – all four women say in chorus – the day Cyclone Ockhi hit Kerala taking, as reports would say later, 47 lives. Many more are still missing.

Mosses is among those missing, his body has not been found. His is the first house people direct you to from the Poonthura Church in Thiruvananthapuram. “He had gone in his own boat, bought with the money he made working for years in the Gulf,” says Mosses’ mother-in-law Brijith. Her daughter, Mosses’ widow has gone to the Matysafed Net Factory, where women from Ockhi-affected families are given jobs.

Such families as Mosses’, of fishermen whose bodies had not been found, are compensated by the government with Rs 20 lakh deposited at the bank, an interest of Rs 14,000 coming to them every month. For families whose men had died at the sea, the compensation is Rs 22 lakh. But it is another kind of family that’s been struggling the most – when the men have been saved and brought back home but with injuries or illnesses so bad that they couldn’t go to work anymore. Fisherman Simon wishes god had just left him in the sea to die, his family would then have got the 22 lakh rupees they so badly need today.

Mosses 

“The very thought of the sea is scary to me. I cannot even think of those days I was trapped in the waters, watching the waves as high as three storey buildings, holding on to a rope on to the top of our upturned boat,” Simon says, tears forming in his eyes as he looks down at his frail body, weakened with many illnesses.

“He already had a problem with his lungs. After this, there is diabetes – it is always more than 500, and he is taking insulin for it. There’s also dizziness when he walks,” says Simon’s wife Mary Pushpam.

All they got as aid is Rs 20,000. For more, there should have been a permanent damage to one part of the body. His inability to work anymore does not count otherwise. Added to the physical problems he has – Simon has to stop twice to take a break even if he walks to the nearby church – he also has mental agonies to deal with. The fear that gripped Simon after those four days at the sea, waiting for death, has been so bad that he used to avoid going to the bathroom – seeing the water would make him feel he is once again in front of those gigantic waves.

Simon and Mary Pushpam

The couple has four children – two girls and two boys. To marry the eldest girl off, Simon had taken loans and to pay them off, he sold his house when he couldn’t work anymore. Now they live on rent, paying Rs 10,000 a month. What upsets Simon is his children having to stop their education. A daughter is going for BSc Nursing, and a son for B Com. They had to take a break after Cyclone Ockhi. “The daughter is going now, after people from the church spoke to the college authorities, but it is only a temporary arrangement. We have to pay the fees. They tell us it’s been seven months without fees already, it can’t be more.”

The eldest son Sylvester, 25 years old, is the sole earner of the house now. He goes fishing like his dad did. But not too deep, for fear has gripped him too. “Five days out of the week there would be warning from the church not to into the sea. There would be one or two days when he goes and gets a little something. But how could they make ends meet with that,” asks Christina, a neighbour.

Christina’s son-in-law Selvan too had not come back after Ockhi. Her daughter Suseela now goes to the net factory to look after her three boys, who are all going to school. But Juliette, another woman who lost her husband to the sea, says she can’t go for the job because she is above 40.

Employment

At the Matsyafed Net Factory, behind Bheemappally, there are fewer women at work today. Others have taken leave for rituals and programmes observing one year of Ockhi. “The order was to take 42 women, who were under 40 years of age, and have not completed SSLC. But only 33 have come,” says Geetha VB, manager.

The women began coming two months ago, undergoing training. They would be taught to mend the holes that come in the machine-made nets.

“For the training period, they get a monthly income of Rs 10,000. Once the training is over, they will be given daily wages of Rs 640,” says Geetha.

While the women are extremely grateful for the job, sometimes it is just not enough, especially for those coming from afar. “It is easier for those who come from the nearby Poonthura. But I come from Pozhiyoor, changing three buses every day. Transport itself costs about Rs 4000 a month. There would be more cuts for the leaves we take. That leaves very little for me to take care of my three school-going boys,” says Kamala, whose husband’s body had not been found. From the Rs 20 lakh she received as compensation, she gave Rs 5 lakh for her sister’s wedding and another Rs 5 lakh to her in-laws, that left her with Rs 10 lakh in the bank, bringing an interest of Rs 6000 per month.

Juliette 

Thadesmary’s husband Paneedima Pranchis’s body was found three weeks after Ockhi hit. Shalini’s husband Paniadima’s body had not been found. They sit next to each other, holding the nets, their worries, now numb by the passing of a year. Next to them sit Babitha, Mosses’s widow, who smiles when she talks about her life, and in very few words. “He went away at 3pm one afternoon and would have come at 9 the next morning. I expected him to come. He is someone who would brave any sea, any storm. But he didn’t come back,” she says, the nets passing through her hands, the smile not leaving her face.

Issues

T Peter, general secretary of National Fish Workers Forum, says the government has given away all the compensations for the families of the dead and the missing fishermen, but there are other issues demanding attention. “Like the satellite communication system called NAVIC which has been tested but not put into use (to know the real time positioning and timing of fishermen in the sea). There is no marine ambulance yet, no life jackets or life buoys given. And what’s more, the disaster management is now inducing more fear into the already-scared fishermen, telling them most days of the week, it is not safe to go to the sea. It is like anticipatory bail, but it is an unscientific approach.”

 

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