09 / 2001
In the early-1990s, fish in the inland waters of Kerala in India were affected by a disease called Epizootic Ulcerative Symptom (EUS). This rendered nearly 45,000 inland fish workers jobless. Alleppey, Pathanamthitta and Quilon were the most severely affected districts. It was felt that the disease was linked to the pollution of water from industrial effluents and from the excessive use of chemical fertilizers in farm lands.
Fishworkers in the state organized to highlight their problems and the threat to their livelihoods. The agitation of the fish workers came to its peak when Fr. Jose Kaleekkal, one of their leaders, undertook a fast in front of the State Secretariat in Trivandrum, with the following demands:
1.Compensate the affected fishworkers with Rs3000 each
2. Take preventive measures to stop the spread of EUS
3. Fix a floor-price for inland fish, with the government to take the responsibility for marketing this fish.
The government refused to respond to their demands in spite of the 15-day fast. In fact the Minister of Fisheries, Mr. T K Ramakrishnan, maintained that there is no such disease as EUS.
The women started an awareness campaign on foot in the affected areas. The march started at Chenganacherry and covered two hundred km till Trivandrum. About 50 women were part of the march, joined, at times, by local people. The women used to start walking at 4 am and would sleep the nights at one of the schools en route, which served as their night camp.
Once the women’s march reached the Secretariat in Trivandrum, they started to walk towards the residence of the minister. The police were taken by surprise, as they did not have any prior information about the women’s plans. The women had carried with them the affected fish in polythene bags. The women wanted to get inside the minister’s residence, and, before the police could block them, they started to run towards it. However, the police succeeded in barricading the entrance and the women were not able to get inside. To give vent to their anger, women threw the rotten fish on the faces of the policemen!
Women in the state of Kerala have successfully organized around many of the issues facing them. Their efforts have succeeded in drawing the attention of authorities to issues such as water pollution, and the impact of this not only on marine resources but also on their livelihoods. It has also increased public awareness on these issues.
Interview with CAMILI; PUSHPAM; SISTER PHILOMIN MARY