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Fear of sea, comfort in groups delay return to the sea

By Ramya Kannan

CHENNAI, MARCH 18. Lack of boats is not the only reason that ties down fishermen of the Tamil Nadu coast. A curious mixture of their new-found fear of the sea and comfort in large groups forces them to postpone the inevitable return to the waters.

By and large, their trips are restricted to brief sorties to launch the boats donated by voluntary organisations. Even as some fishermen take the boats out into the sea, others stand on the fringes of the crowd and count: `The tenth boat. Forty more to go.' They wait for a certain number of boats (it differs for each village) to be ready before the village resumes fishing.

Waiting for boats

At Thevanampattinam, Cuddalore, fishermen admit they have 120 boats, but are yet to set out for fishing. As they stand or wander idly on the beaches, they say they are waiting for the Government or non-governmental organisations to give them boats which will add up to the crucial figure they consider will be comfortable for fishing. "We do not even need new boats, we need money to repair old boats at least," says K. Nagesh. But is he not afraid of the sea? "After tsunami, we are afraid, but our lives and work are tied up with the sea." Some groups have promised the District Collector that they would be put to sea by April 1.

M.K. Saravanan of Marakkanam, who owns a boat yard, explains how fishermen confide to him, sometimes with embarrassment, their fear. "When water ingress was reported in Kanyakumari, there was a fresh wave of fear. It is going to take a long time to heal."

Arithmetic worked out

At Kallikattukuppam, off East Coast Road close to Chennai, fishermen have got their arithmetic worked out. They need 60 boats for all 275 families to go fishing. Various organisations have been contributing boats to the village but they are still way below that magic number. "We do not think it is fair for some of us to go to sea, while the others cannot," says a villager. This, despite the realisation that hitherto only collective ownership of boats is possible.

"If some of us go out to sea, we will divide the proceeds of sale within the community. But, they would rather wait for all the boats to come," says a fisherman at Panayur Chinnakuppam. "This is good season. We are missing out on the best catch," he rues, as there are no takers in the community for his suggestions.

However, R. Narayanan, a fisherman of Kovalakuppam, convinced his community to raise itself from the tsunami-induced torpor and go to sea even if all boats were not available. He encouraged fishermen to go out in groups, in rotation, and divide the catch.

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