Around one year ago, in November 2017, villages in coastal Thiruvananthapuram woke up to the news of fishermen missing and boats vanishing - a disaster that changed the lives of the fisherman community.
A year on, around 40 women, who lost their husbands in cyclone Ockhi, are stepping out of their homes for the first time. The women, including 23-year-old Selva Mary, have started work at the fishnet factory at Muttathara in Thiruvananthapuram.
While 40 women have been employed at the Matsyafed (The Kerala State Co-operative Federation for Fisheries Development Ltd) factory at Muttathara, one woman hailing from Kannur has been employed at the factory’s Kannur unit.
“Our loss is huge and we are well aware of it. It cannot be replaced by anything. We have undergone agony and those who have passed through it would understand. But with this work, we can at least take care of our children,” says Judit.
The women belong to the coastal villages of Thiruvananthapuram - Poonthura, Vizhinjam, Pozhiyur, Valiathura and Vettukad, the areas where cyclone Ockhi claimed most lives.
Among the women is 23-year-old Selva Mary, the youngest. Her husband, Shibu Xavier, had ventured into the sea in a country boat and never returned.
“I don’t know what to do in the future, after all, what plans can I make based on my seventh-standard education?” she says, with an indifferent smile on her face.
But Sosha, whose husband Jose Freddy had gone missing in the disaster, would surprise one with the optimism and the wide smile on her face. “I have 100 per cent hope, the almighty will return him, he will come back,” she says.
Janova, another woman employed at the factory, says the same, “I am hopeful that he would come back. I live each day with the hope that he will come home and knock on the door. Jesus sees our agony,” she says.
The factory, Matsyafed, is planning to sell fishnets from the Muttathara unit. Earlier, machines were used to manufacture the fishnets, but sales were conducted from the Ernakulam unit.
“In the machines made nets, there would be holes which need to be mended. Till now, the nets were sent to the Ernakulam units, where the mending was done and then the nets were sold from there,” says Geetha Venugopal, the manager of the unit.
Some trainers from the Ernakulam unit had also conducted training sessions for these women.
The training period for the job at the factory is three months, with a remuneration of Rs 10,000, which will be regularized after the training period.
“We were sure that we would get the job when the government promised the offer. It’s is not that our problems will end with this, but now at least we have something which we can build our lives upon,” says Selvi, a mother to four children.
While some women up to four children to bring up, most of them don’t have houses of their own and live with their relatives, parents or siblings. While Selva Mary has no children, 30-year-old Shalini has two sons - one 15 months old and the other four years old.
“It will not be possible to live with them forever. But now we have hope to somehow move ahead,” says Vijila.
The government had distributed the ex-gratia declared for the dead and missing fishermen and the women are beginning to receive the interest on that amount, which has been deposited in banks.
Taking care of their young children and coming to work is something that worries the mothers, but they are determined that they will overcome this phase as well.
“When our husbands were here, they would ensure we never saw any hardship. Not that we had much money but we, the fishermen community, would live with happiness with whatever meagre earnings we have,” says Sosha.
More than financial independence, Amala shares that the job showed them a way out to overcome their grief of losing their loved ones.
“At home, I was fed up of struggling with the deep agony but now that we can meet other people here and share our thoughts with them, I hope with this things may change,” she says.