(Ramasseuses de crevettes ’kolim’ au Maharashtra)
09 / 2001
’Kolim’ fishing is done mainly in Thane district of Maharashtra in India. The women catch ’kolim’, a tiny shrimp, from the nearby creeks, spending about three hours between 5 am and 9 am in the morning, everyday. The tiny mysid shrimp-’mysopodosis orientalis’-reaches a maximum size of around one cm.
These women do not necessarily belong to fishing communities-a lot of them come from the community of traditional salt pan workers. The ’kolim’ season is between January to early April. The days when the catch is bad, the women might go back to catch the shrimp again in the evening. The wind direction and the lunar cycles affect the availability of this tiny shrimp.
The women use a fine cotton net-like a long piece of fine mosquito net-attached to bamboo reeds on both sides to harvest the ’kolim’. The net is dyed a dull muddy brown color. The women go knee-deep in water with their nets. As the water gets disturbed, the almost invisible ’kolim’ collects in the net. The women gather these cluster of several hundreds of individual ’kolims’-each one less than one centimetre in length-in their hand and put then into the creels tied around their waists.
On a good day they may catch about 3 to 4 kg. This fetches them about Rs200. There are days when they get less than one kg. The catch is either sold or bartered at the local market. ’Kolim’ is cooked like a fish curry, or made into ’kolim-wada’-something like a cutlet made by mixing the kolim with chopped onions, chillies, salt, flour and then often whipped-up with egg. It is also pickled with salt and spices to last over a year.
These days the catch from the creeks around Vasai is declining. Women have to travel about 20 km to Palghar taking about 4 hours just to commute. When they go that far they usually spend the whole day catching ’kolim’. The reasons for the dwindling catches are several. A major cause is the severe pollution of the marine and estuarine waters due to the industrial effluents. Another one is the change in process of making salt. Previously salt water was carried into the pans by the natural ebb and flow of the sea that would bring ’kolim’ into the creeks along the salt pans. But now dykes block the natural tidal inflows and salt water is directly pumped into the pans from the sea. Another reason attributed to the disappearance of ’kolimis’ the increase in the culture of ’tilapia’ and other species in tanks around the area. It is believed that during the rainy seaspon these fish get into the creeks and estuaries and eat the kolim.
About eighty women are still actively engaged in ’kolim’ fishing in Umelman village, in Vasai Taluka. When asked them why men do not catch ’kolim’, they said that it needs a lot of bending which only women are able to do. They said that it is a very strenuous work- only those who are experienced can do it. They get terrible backaches and knee problems. So the younger generation are discouraged from this activity. I met only one young woman who could do it. The kolim harvesters have several traditional songs associated with the kolim fishery, which are sung while collecting the shrimp.
Kolim has a good market in Thane, and the women fetch a good return using a simple technology. However, in some other parts of Maharashtra, where small mechanized craft are being used to catch this shrimp, it is the men who now do the catching. Women are being pushed out of this fishery. It s important that improvements in harvesting technology be made in ways that the access of women to the technology and to the resource, is maintained.
It is also important to control industrial pollution and its impact on marine resources. The construction of dykes and embankments should be carefully done to minimize interference with natural hydrological flows.
Interview with a group of women from Umelman village, Vasai Taluk, Maharashtra .