Fascinating piece by Ila Ananya.
She points how India’s women fish workers in Tamil Nadu handle everything in fish business but are not allowed to go to sea. Though, those in Orissa and Goa have more rights. Ila writes about plight of women researchers in fisheries.
“I’ve been out at sea on a boat with fishermen before. I don’t get seasick. If I went on a boat I’d be forced to jump into the water to pee, so that’s why I can only make short trips. But look, I need to do this. I’ve done this before, really. It’s not new to me.”
Aarthi Sridhar, a social scientist, has learnt to confidently say this to fish workers every time she needs to go out on a boat with them for her research on fisheries. “I have to prove that I’m not a ‘frail’ woman. In this field women feel compelled to be men. It is a macho industry,” Sridhar says. She is almost 40 years old now, and Sridhar is one of the trustee-founders of the Bangalore-based NGO Dakshin Foundation. They work on natural resource management and promote sustainable livelihoods, and Sridhar heads the Communities and Resource Governance Programme there. It undertakes projects based on conflicts over conservation measures. Over the years, she has learnt to be decisive and insistent, to sound confident about being out at sea. It’s the only way she will be allowed on a fisher boat. Sometimes they do allow her. Sometimes, they don’t.
Nearly three million fish workers along India’s coastline depend on fishing for their livelihood and many more are engaged in inland fishing in rivers across the country. Setting out by boats to fish is almost always a man’s job. “It’s a strange relationship,” Sridhar says. “In places like Tamil Nadu, the sea is worshipped as mother, but the sea is seen as unaccepting of women in its domain.”
A new documentary, ‘Fishing Palk Bay’, which Sridhar both researched and produced, looks at the role that men in the fishing industry play in the narrow stretch of shallow, warm sea between India and Sri Lanka. Palk Bay was also where traders used to find natural pearls. The documentary shows us beautiful shots of men under water catching fish. In Olakkuda, a small fishing hamlet in the southern tip of the Palk Bay, men lay out box-like woven fish traps on the seabed. In another scene, they swim through the sea, bringing up chank (molluscs) and other living organisms with them.
What all things people research! Just amazing. Kudos to women researchers who manage despite all odds..