Sitting at the busy harbour in Ratnagiri, one of the largest shrimp landing centers in Maharashtra, is Fatima, a frail Muslim woman. She, and her other counterparts from the Muslim community, do not observe ’purdah’. Fatima is part of the ’Mirkirwada Mahila Machi Vyavasayakauchi Seva Sahakari Saustha Mariadith’, one of the oldest fisher women’s cooperatives in the country started in 1950 (registered in 1965). It now has 500 members.
Fatima has been a fish vendor since she was 14. Earlier, she recollects, there was plenty of fish but since the roads were not good and merchants did not come, it was difficult to sell. Most of the fish were dried and taken to the weekly markets. At that time, one of the trucks carrying women home from the market had overturned, killing all the five women in the truck. The son of one of the women who died was so affected by the tragedy that he decided to do something to improve transportation to the markets. Two transport buses were allowed for the women to carry fish in. This proved insufficient. Later, with a 50 per cent subsidy loan granted by the Fisheries Department, the cooperative society was formed.
The cooperative assists women in transporting fish to the interior areas. It owns 3 trucks and 2 buses and arranges for dropping and picking up of the women fish vendors to and from the markets five days a week. Women buy fish at the harbour-mainly locally consumed fish as shrimp and other export varieties are purchased by merchants. The women then pack the fish in ice boxes with their names on them. The boxes are loaded onto trucks and dropped off at the assigned market. Each market has cooperative appointees’ who unload the boxes and keep them in safe custody until the women come and take charge of them. The next morning women travel by bus to the respective markets and take charge of their boxes. For instance, Fatima pays Rs.20 for bus fare and Rs30 for the transport of her fish boxes. The permitted load for each woman is Rs.120kg of fish, 25 per cent of which should be dry fish.
It is becoming more difficult for women to procure fish. Agents of merchants pay in advance and buy the right over the landings of vessels, especially trawlers. They buy the prawns and other export varieties for the processing factories. Now, they purchase even seerfish, ribbon fish and other cheaper varieties to be exported to countries such as Hong Kong and China. They are right there at the beach waiting with their weighing balances and plastic cartons. The women can only get trash fish in the end, and are thus getting marginalized in the marketing process.
The women’s cooperative has a membership of 500 including non-fishing community women as well. Credit is not a felt need as women get the fish on credit and pay the merchants or boat owners on the next day.
The inability of the cooperative to take up issues other than that of transport can be attributed to the fact that the cooperative views the women more as beneficiaries rather than as active participants in the entire process. While women do participate in general body meetings and are aware of annual reports, accounts presented and the like, they have not been able to raise some of the other issues that are important for them, and that could be taken up by the cooperative. The cooperative is an organizational form that can be more effectively utilized by the women.
Articles and files ; Book
Vijayan, A. and NAYAK, Nalini, International Collective in Support of Fishworkers , Women in Fisheries Series : Women First, Report of the Women in Fisheries Programme of ICSF in India, International Collective in. Samudra Dossier Series, 1996 (India), 2, 15-24