09 / 2001
Orissa, a province on the eastern coast of India, has a coastline of 480kms. It has four maritime districts : Balasore, Cuttack, Puri and Ganjam. Bordering the upper part of the Bay of Bengal, the state has an extended continental shelf in the northern part, with rivers and estuaries, and a narrow shelf area in the south. As one moves from the north to the south, the marine environment, the fishing communities as well as the technology they use, changes.
While pomfret and ’hilsa’ are the main catch in the north, in the south it is more of sardines, anchovies, mackerels and prawns. Both the craft and the gear used varies. For example, while plank boats are used in the north, in the south the raft type ’kattumarans’ and bar boats are common. For the Telugu origin (’noliyas’), fishing community of the south fishing is an age-old tradition, while the fisher folks of the north are Oriyas who combine fishing with agriculture. They live near their agricultural lands. The southern fishing villages are densely populated along sandy beaches. In the pre-Independence era, Gopalpur in northern Orissa was a flourishing port town and the base of the sea-going artisanal fishermen. The creation of the Paradeep port and the Balasore fishing harbours have encouraged the mechanization of fishing craft and the inflow of non-fisherfolk into the fishery.
The fertile coastal strip in Balasore district attracted the attention of the military, and, in the mid-1980s, the Central Government decided to set up a missile testing and launching base at Baliapal. This would have directly affected 30,000 fisher people. However, they were able to organize and stall this initiative.
Nevertheless, 600 fishing families near the Gopalpur lighthouse were displaced to make way for the Golabandha missile testing. These families were subsequently resettled in the already overpopulated New Bauxipalli village.
In the areas now called New Bauxipalli, the voice of Kondamme still cries out in misery: ’Earlier I lived near the Gopalpur lighthouse. We were over 600 families fishing and living there from childhood, and one fine day, some army men came and told us we have to move. We were angry and decided to fight. We realized they were going to create a resettlement village called New Bauxipalli. We did not want to go there because it was already a crowded place, and we knew we would not be able to get much fish there. We asked for the resettlement site to be located in Agripalli, but they did not agree. They were influenced by the powerful moneylenders and liquor merchants.’
The displaced population faces manifold problems. Harassment by the military has been a common problem for the fisher women. Says Kondamme: ’They have blocked off our access to interior villages, which means we have to walk longer distances to the market or even hire transport. What is more, they harass us and our daughters, and there have been numerous cases of molestation and even rape. Who will listen to our cries? They are the military, after all.’
Fisher women from Sodikund village, 4 km north of the Paradeep harbour have the same story. Many of them in this area have been evicted twice, first for the construction of the harbor and then for the establishment of the university. They were not only displaced when the harbour was constructed, but, with the coming of trawlers, they also lost access to good quality fish. Now, merchants with access to capital are able to pay advances to trawler owners and buy off the better quality fish. The trash fish is all that is left for the local fisher women. The women buy and transport this to the drying grounds, where they hire labour to sort and dry the fish.
Fishing communities in Orissa, as in other parts of India, are being displaced as coastal areas are increasingly targeted for competing activities, including industrial development, tourism and urbanization. Fishing communities, who have been living along the coasts for generations, rarely have any `legal titles’ to their land. Economically and politically weak, they often have little option but to leave their traditional lands in the face of pressure from the industry and from the government. It is time that the customary rights of these traditional populations to the land they live on, and the waters they fish in, are accorded due recognition. Development should not be at the cost of natural resources and livelihoods of marginalized groups.
Articles and files ; Book
NAYAK, Nalini, ICSF=International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, Women in Fisheries Series : Women First, Report of the Women in Fisheries Programme of ICSF in India, ICSF in. Samudra Dossier series, 1996 (INDIA), 2, 56-61