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16 fishermen families "excommunicated"

Special Correspondent

They were `barred' entry into temple, fish market The families underwent punishment for the reason that they "dare to assert their individuality''

CUDDALORE: JULY 7. For 16 families of small time fishermen and women fish vendors at Kinjampettai in the Cuddalore Port area, it has been a horrendous experience, as the local panchayatdars have "excommunicated" them for the past 20 months.

To compound the matter, they were also pounded by the December tsunami, and ever since it is a struggle for survival for them. The members of these families have been barred entry into the village temple, and denied access to the fish market and the common utilities.

These families have never committed any offence to deserve such a treatment, and yet they are subjected to the punishment for the reason that they "dare to assert their individuality and freedom," according to J.Rajeswari, president of the Kinjampettai Fisher Women Cooperative Society.

They stand totally isolated, as none of the villagers would have anything to do with them. Neither could they attend any family function nor could they invite others to their houses on important occasions. Even if a death occurs, the entire village would boycott them.

She told this correspondent that ever since she formed the Society in 1993 with the objective of improving the economic condition of fisherwomen, she fell from the grace of the panchayatdars who enjoyed political clout.

Women `humiliated'

Moreover, humiliation was heaped on the women by way of passing uncharitable comments. The children were not allowed to play with the wards of others, and they were always looked down upon, as if they have committed a grave crime.

This would leave a deep scar on the impressionable minds, and make them emotionally crippled, she alleged.

They insisted that since the society was formed without their approval it must be wound up, or she and the vice-president R.Pattu should either pay a penalty of Rs 3,000 or face excommunication.

After a great deal of pleading, the panchayatdars agreed to collect Rs 1,600 as fine.

In course of time, more number of women realised the merit of joining the Society (as they could get government assistance) and hence, the membership swelled from 30 to 164, Ms. Rajeswari said.

The panchayatdars `intimidated' the menfolk to withdraw their wives from the Society, and those families refused to do so were excommunicated.

Ms Rajeswari said in the post-tsunami their life had become difficult, as the panchayatdards did not allow them to get private assistance.

She said it would be a disgrace to shift to other places, and if anything adverse happened to their families, the panchayatdars would be responsible. Already her husband Jayaraj had made an abortive attempt to end his life by consuming poison.

The Tsunami Legal Action Committee, a private forum, had now seized of their issue, and made representation to the State Women Commission, she said.

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