09 / 2001
My name is Selvaraji from Vizhinjam. We are here for the last 18 years. My husband is a fisherman. I have four children: two boys and two girls.
I was a housewife but for the past three years I have been going to the harbour after the situation at home became worse. I buy fish and sell it at the local market. From what I earn I run the house. When only my husband earns, it is not enough to educate our children and other needs.
I normally leave home at 5 am, buy the fish, wash it and pack it with ice, and reach the market by 8 am itself. Then I wait till 10.30 am when the customers start to arrive. If all the fish is sold, I reach home by 12.00 noon. If not I return at about 2 pm. I bring home the unsold fish packed with ice.
When the landings are poor, I have to go to the harbour really early-at 2 am-to buy the fish, wash it and pack it with ice. I return home by 5 am and do the housework. There is no time to sleep again. I have to sweep and wash vessels and do the other work. I go back to the harbour by 9.00 am to wait for the ’tempo’(small vehicle used to carry goods) to take us to the market.
When there is a lot of fish I have to dry and salt it. Until it is sold and the money recovered there will not be any peace of mind. Till it is sold, the money is in the water.
Although I am doing fish vending for three years, it is not my money. It is a loan from the ’blade’ (moneylender). I have been in debt for almost two years now. Now I am thinking that once I clear all the loans, I should not go after the moneylenders. I have suffered so much because of their loans. There are days when I do earn money from selling fish. If I did not have to repay the loan I would have been able to save some money. Now I realize that whatever loans I took from them was of no use to me; it made me more poor.
Initially when I started selling fish, I had some savings. Once when my husband and son fell sick, all that money was spent. It is only after that, that I started going after the moneylenders. If I had not taken the loan, by now I would have had a saving of Rs5000. But today I am not even able to thatch this house.
My mother was a fish vendor. That is the reason why I am in this line. There are losses, there are profits. Losses and debts should not deter one. As long as you have life in you, you can repay your debts-that is the thought that makes me go ahead.
In any case, from my own experience as well from that of other women fish vendors, I can say that women benefit by getting into vending. Even if they earn a pittance, they supplement the income brought in by men. That is a gain. Another thing is that some women do not have their men with them. In Vizhinjam itself there are many women who became widows at a very young age. So they go to sell fish to bring up their children with the profits made from this.
Also, before I started selling fish I had to listen to all that my husbands said. When I talk to other women vendors, they also tell similar stories. So, when we think, we realize that it was because we did not have any earnings that we had to listen to the men. So today, in fact I work harder than my husband and I am able to make him understand the worth of my work. I have the confidence to do that now. Only when we women share about our lives, we realize the similar threads running through them. Most women in this area are fish vendors. There is nobody in this world who can beat a fish vending women!!!!
Selvaraji’s story could be the story of any other fisherwoman in India. Lack of adequate credit facilities forces women to borrow from moneylenders at exorbitant rates of interest. They then spend their lives repaying the loan. It is the task of governments to gauge the credit needs, especially of vulnerable populations, and tailor interventions to support their work and livelihoods. Fisherwomen like Selvaraji play an important role in the family economy and in the fisheries. Their work must be supported. It is the income that women like her bring in that goes towards the household, towards children’s education etc. In a situation where the government is unable to make available basic elements of social security and free education for children, it is imperative that at least the hard work done by such women be supported.
Interview with SELVARAJI