(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 23, 2008
Fishermen Hold Huge Assembly
C P Aboobacker
IT was a different sea on the day. The sprawling coast of the great Arabian Sea saw a colorful ocean of men and women, a great Assembly of the fishermen and fisherwomen, an assemblage of the immortal characters of the immortal novel and film Chemmeen by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. They were singing the songs composed by Salilda (Salil Chaoudhury) from far-away Bengal --- a song on Chakara, the great harvest of prawns and sardines. Fisher folk have always been singing of their dreams and desires, but starving whenever there is a storm or a heavy downpour. But this was a different assemblage, on the beach of Alappuzha, the land which have epic stories of struggle and forbearance, in Kuttanad town with a history of struggle by the coir workers and agricultural labourers. From the days of the legendary Krishna Pillai onwards, through the days of Punnapra Vayalar, this land has witnessed several struggles. And this too was a struggle, they proclaimed. They proclaimed that the sea belonged to the fishermen and fisherwomen, not to any middlemen, not to any foreigner, not to any speculator. When the blue waves turned crimson, they shouted slogans and hailed their leaders --- Prakash Karat and Pinarayi Vijayan and V S Achuthanandan. It was a great awakening, a new sunrise for them.
CHARTER OF DEMANDS
They shouted loudly in support of the LDF government enacting laws in their favour; they demanded that the socio-economic backwardness of the fishermen community must be eradicated and that deep sea-fishing must be started with the participation of fishermen. Their charter of demands is the first ever of its kind, perhaps in the history of the world. Till now the fisher folk had been tied to certain faiths and superstitions, but now there has been evolved a scientific and concrete charter of demands, not by any impostor, but by the fisher folk themselves. It is not a little thing that the children of the sea speak for themselves. Their moans and lamentations have so far been suppressed by the roar of the sea, but now they have proved that they can raise their voices even louder.
Hailing from Kasarkod to Thiruvananthapuram, they now demand that no new license must be given to the foreigners, no license granted to a foreigner must be renewed after its period expires and that the sea must be declared as the fisher folk’s own property. They also demanded that the attempt to import fish with a dwindled custom duty and without any restriction should be stopped. They asked the government to include all fisher folk in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) list, considering their backwardness. The charter has thirty one demands, the most important among which are debt relief, life security, infrastructure development of the coastal villages, ownership rights to the tools and instruments of fishing, empowerment of women, inland fish cultivation, housing, eradication of pollution of the lakes, educational facilities etc.
There are nearly eleven lakh fishermen and women and there is not even an iota of doubt that they are entangled in the tentacles of poverty. It is in this background that the Kerala State Matsya Thozhilali Union (CITU) organised this grand assemblage of the fisher folk. The union is making a hectic effort to bring the life standard of the fishing communities to the level of that of the general population in Kerala.
The assemblage was inaugurated by CPI(M) general secretary, Prakash Karat, who said the UPA government at the centre is in a dicing competition of throwing national wealth to the globalisation forces and giving subsidies after subsidies to the rich while shifting all burden of this bonanza on to the shoulders of the common man. But the people of this country are awakening and are on the path of struggle against his anti-people policy.
The assemblage was attended, among others, by CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister V S Achuthanandan, M M Lawrence, Kerala finance minister Dr T M Thomas Isaac, fisheries minister S Sharma, the minister for cooperation G Sudhakaran, and P K Chandranandan. Advocate V V Saseendran, secretary of the union, presented the charter of demands.
Dr K S Manoj, member of parliament, welcomed the gathering and P P Chitharanjan proposed the vote of thanks for the gathering and the leaders.