COVID-induced slump in income, coastal erosion, Ockhi and its aftermath have adversely affected the fishing community
Poonthura was a hive of activity on Monday evening, with the pleasant sunlight completing an almost perfect picture, a world away from the tense scenes and the faces writ with fear and anger, visible from behind the barricades early in July, when the coastal village became the centre of focus as a COVID-19 hotspot. Four months hence, the virus does not even dominate the local body election conversations in the capital’s coastal regions.
“Almost all the candidates are intimately known to us. So it is hard to make a choice. I might be the supporter of one party, but the opposing candidate might be a family member. For most of us, these elections are not about political issues. But, livelihood issues are still a concern for the fishing community,” says Kunjappan, a fisherman from Poonthura.
The food kits distributed by the government and the city Corporation after the COVID-19 outbreak, during which they could not go fishing for several weeks did help to an extent, the fishers say, but without income from fishing, life had almost come to a standstill.
The local fishing community was on Monday evening organising a meeting regarding the continued erosion of the shore. This was an issue that had resonance across most fishing hamlets, nowhere more so than in Shanghumughom, where the entire stretch of the beach and the adjacent road were swept away last year.
Till a couple of years ago, the fishers here used to stretch out the traditional ‘Kamba vala’ (gill nets) on the beach to dry it after the day’s fishing. Now, with the coast receding, they have to make do with a small stretch at the edge where the waves could come in at any time.
“We have been raising this issue for sometime, but none of the political parties have paid attention. There is hardly any space on the beach even to keep the boats. Our fortunes have not changed much in all these years,” 61-year old Ponipass, who has been going to the sea since he was 11 years old.
In the coastal wards, cut outs of various candidates vie for space with that of football legend Maradona, who passed away last week. For the local footballers too, the receding coastline is a problem as parts of the football grounds in Valiyathura and Cheriyathura have been carved away by the sea over the years.
The wounds inflicted by Cyclone Ockhi, which hit these regions exactly three years ago, are yet to heal. Several lives were lost and some are still missing. Though the government had provided compensation and jobs in a net making factory to the wives of the dead fishermen, there is still a feeling that some of those lives could have been saved. It is a testimony to the fact that Ockhi is still an emotive issue that the United Democratic Front (UDF) on Monday evening organised an Ockhi remembrance meet near the Vizhinjam harbour.
“Since Ockhi, fear has been a constant in the fishing community. After each warning, we stay back on the shore, which affects our livelihood. Now, another warning has been issued for this week and so all of us are here,” says Justin Joseph, while playing cards with his friends on the shore near Vizhinjam.
The coastal wards have always been a stronghold of the UDF, but the Left Democratic Front (LDF) gave them a run for their money in 2010 local body elections, scooping up several wards for the first time. Yet, in 2015, even when it failed to make a mark in much of the city, it was the 10 wins in coastal wards which gave the UDF a respectable total of 21 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has never fancied its chances in the coast, won a seat for the first time in Vellar in 2015.
The presence of rebels in the coast, which spoiled the party to an extent for the UDF in the past two elections, is a problem this time too. The smaller parties, including the SDPI, PDP, AAP, TVM and even some of the Independents, who all have pockets of influence, could lead to the results swinging either way in tight contests.
In the Beemapally East ward, one of the Independent candidates has launched a surprisingly loud and visible campaign, with his campaign song, a parody of a popular Malayalam film song, exhorting people to not vote for either of the two fronts, but for the friendly neighbourhood boy who knows their concerns. It remains to be seen how effective such apolitical, personal appeals are, which even major political parties resort to here.
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