[Note: Work in progress: not for quotation or attribution without the written permission from the author.]
The right to the sea:
the struggle of artisanal fishers
in Kerala since 1980(1)

Peter Reeves, Bob Pokrant, John McGuire

South Asia Research Unit
School of Social Sciences and Asian Languages
Curtin University of Technology
Peasant Symposium Draft copy, May 1997

[1.Introduction] [2. Kerala's Fishers] [3. Changes in Kerala's fisheries] [4. The struggle] [4.2 Agitation] [4.3 National Issues] [5. Conclusion]

1. Introduction

The subject of this symposium is directly related to Walter's research and writing over the past forty years: he has consistently brought into the open the materials of peasant struggle in Bihar (and other parts of India) and he has provided a searching and important analysis of those materials. All of us are better off for his work on Swami Sahajanand Saraswati and the kisan sabhas. As we all know, such peasant struggles are not by any means a thing of the past; but now, along with peasants in many parts of India, there are many other groups - deprived and exploited groups - who are fighting for their rights and (in many cases) their very existence. This paper deals with one such group - the artisanal fishers of Kerala who, in the late 20th century, have had to struggle against the effects of processes of technological change and economic 'reform' which have severely disadvantaged and increasingly marginalised them so that there have been at times fears that they would have the very basis of their work and existence taken from them (2).

In fishing terms, Kerala is a very significant region: with 10% of India's coastline and 7% of India's continental shelf, the state produced 24% of the total marine catch in the 1980s and accounted for some 40% of India's seafood exports(3). In the early 1960s, artisanal fishers numbered about 85,000(4); by the 1980s that figure was over 106,000 but by then there were also 17,500 workers in the mechanised fisheries sector(5); the artisanal fishers had some 34,000 craft and produced over 60% of the marine catch while there were 3,000 mechanised boats in the 'modern' sector(6). This is the context for the fisher activity which the paper seeks to trace.

2. Kerala's Fishers

Kerala was formed in 1956 from the former princely states of Travancore and Cochin, the Madras district of Malabar and the South Kanara taluk of Kasaragod. The combination of these regions produced a state in which the artisanal marine fishers are Hindu and Muslim in the northern and central coastal villages and Latin Catholic in the southern coastal districts (7). Christians comprise 37% of the fisher population of the state, Muslims 30% and Hindus 27%. In the northern and central districts, Hindus and Muslims have preponderance in different districts; but in the southern districts Christian predominance is very marked: 'in Trivandrum almost 75 per cent and in each of the other districts around 50 per cent'(8).

The technology and social structuring of artisanal fisheries in Kerala varies in relation to different ecological conditions along the coast. Nieuwenhuys and Meynen make the point succinctly, but with slightly different emphases, in their articles from the end of the 1980s:

Artisanal fishery, [Nieuwenhuys explains], is but a general term for fishing techniques that are far from homogeneous. The design of the craft used along the coastline varies, being closely adapted to the physical geography of the coast and the habits of the fish. It ranges from the large and costly dug-out or plank-built canoe found in the north to the rudimentary catamaran of the south that consists of just five logs of wood tied together. The size, shape and material of nets used by these boats show an even greater degree of variation. Broadly speaking, in the south a fisherman often owns his own catamaran. By contrast, in the centre and north a fisherman is more likely to be recruited by one of the few men of substance who possess a large canoe.(9)

From north to south, [Meynen writes], the sea becomes rougher and the surf stronger, while the heterogeneity of fish species becomes greater and the proportions in which fish of a certain species occur become smaller. Accordingly, towards the south boats and crews tended to be smaller, boats and fishing gear showed a larger variety and fishing units (boat-crew-gear combinations) tended to be increasingly flexible. Thus production structures along the central and northern coasts were more unequal and the fishing communities more stratified than those of the southern coast(10).

These variations provide contextual elements for the pattern of fisher organisation and activity in the 1980s and 1990s; we will see that organisation is earliest in some of the southern coastal districts and among and less stratified, Latin Catholic fishers.

Among these artisanal fishers an important accumulation of skill and knowledge of local conditions was preserved. Here, as elsewhere in India,(11) the fishers handled the marine environment with courage and resourcefulness. Kurien makes the point very forcibly:

The greatest asset of the fishermen of Kerala is their accumulated knowledge about fish, fish habits, waves, currents and stars which they have, through generations of learning by doing, handed down from generation to generation. (12)

But outsiders often had no appreciation of this. As a result, that much of the discussion India's fisheries and fishers has been negative. Professor K. T. Shah, a leading nationalist economist and the General Secretary of the Congress National Planning Committee, was openly disparaging. Speaking to the National Planning Committee he dismissed the "traditional" fishing sector as:

largely of a primitive character, carried on by ignorant, unorganised and ill-equipped fishermen. Their techniques are rudimentary, their tackle elementary, their capital equipment slight and inefficient.(13)

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that when planned development began in India at the beginning of the 1950s, the nation's fisheries were seen as a case just waiting for 'development'.

3. Change in Kerala fisheries

Both the Travancore and Cochin state administrations had shown some interest in developing their fisheries and there had been some developments - through the Madras Fisheries Department and the institution of the fish-curing yards - in Malabar before independence. (14)

Planned development aimed at 'modernisation', however, came with independent India's first Five Year Plan. In that plan an aid project funded by the Norwegian government - the 'Indo-Norwegian Project' (INP) which commenced in three Quilon villages in 1952(15) - played a key role in changing Kerala's fisheries. The aim of the INP (as in all Five Year Plan programs for marine fisheries) was the introduction of mechanised boats and a new approach to fishing and fish marketing. Initially this mechanisation was in the form of motors for traditional craft, but this proved unsatisfactory to the Norwegians in the Kerala case(16) and the INP development programs switched to European-type boats, with in-board motors. The INP had distributed 88 boats in Kerala by 1962 and the Department of Fisheries had distributed another 25, with 14 held back for training.(17) Mathur reported from his field work in the late 1960s that mechanisation was the key change among the Mappila fishermen of the north(18); there were 20 mechanised boats in the region in Malabar where he did his research. With this shift to mechanisation came a concern for larger size units and, initially, a trawling approach to fishing in deeper waters than had been traditionally fished; Mathur reported boats fishing in 35-75 fathoms and going as far as 12 km from the shore (19). Development plans envisaged an increase in productivity and in employment; the National Council of Applied Economic Research's Techno-Economic Survey for Kerala in the early 1960s gave a picture of a fishing industry moving towards an almost complete shift to a 'modern' sector (20).

New forms of gear, such as nylon nets, were also introduced and attention was given to new forms of processing. In the past drying and curing had been the methods used but freezing became increasingly important because it was the basis of an export trade in frozen prawns as a commodity for US and Japanese markets.(21) Prawns were plentiful in Kerala waters and were previously exported dried to Sri Lanka and Burma. The US and Japanese markets were much more lucrative, however, and as a consequence one of Kerala's chief marine resources led to major changes in both the organisation of fishing and of fish marketing. The prawn catch, and the take overall, reached new heights in 1973; thereafter there was a decline - a matter of great concern to inshore, artisanal fishers - although there was still considerable profit in the export-oriented sectors.(22)

These changes meant that newer units of fishing production were developed round the mechanised boats and trawlers; and in the south these new units were often in the control of non-traditional fishermen because the capital investment in such boats and gear, and their maintenance, was well beyond the reach of most artisanal fishers. Those who had access to capital from fish trading or broking, or who were linked to other capital resources, were those who became owners and who stood to reap the profits of the new enterprises.(23) In the north, on Mathur's evidence, the wealthier fishermen turned the situation to their own advantage(24). The fishing industry became increasingly polarised between a 'modern' ('mechanised') sector able to make considerable profits from exports and a 'traditional' ('non-mechanised') sector confined to a domestic market with declining catches and fish stock. In the 1980s the increasing industrialisation - and internationalisation - of the fisheries by mechanisation and by trawling by still larger vessels, both by Indian companies and by trawlers of other nations (the Japanese, the Thais and the Taiwanese were all active), heightened this polarisation and posed dangers which threatened to do serious damage to the both the fisheries and the artisanal fishers.

The effects were already clear by the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fishers found themselves physically endangered as trawlers worked too close in-shore (there were a number of cases of collisions, especially at night). Income levels began to reflect the disadvantaged position of the artisanal fishers. Kurien, for example, showed that the per capita income of workers in the mechanised sector had risen from Rs 1,610 to Rs 8,029 over the 1970s, while that of workers in the non-mechanised sector rose only from Rs 1,095 to Rs 1,527 in the same period(25) . Artisanal fishers - still the largest group in the industry - were in many ways marginalised. Certainly some groups - entrepreneurs profiting from the export trade; those who worked on mechanised boats; some women for whom new job opportunities had opened up(26) - were better-off but, overall, the situation of the majority worsened. It seemed that artisanal fishers, unless they joined the modern sector, were unlikely to be able to compete.(27)

There were two dangers. Firstly, lacking capital and with their traditional assets increasingly being neutralised - the speed of motors, for instance, neutralised any skill in rowing or sailing; the catch-all nature of trawling and the use of fish-finding equipment neutralised older knowledge and skill in 'knowing' fish and so on - artisanal fishers seemed to be in a position in which they would be completely marginalised. Secondly, there was the danger that the coastal marine resources would be depleted to a point from which they could not recover and then those whose livelihood depended on fishing in coastal waters would have the very basis of their work and existence taken from them. Such problems were being canvassed by Goan fishers and by the earliest Kerala fishers unions in the 1960s and they were seen as a very real threats.(28) These dangers framed the context in which the artisanal fishers of Kerala had to struggle.

4. The struggle

We can think of the struggle by the fishers as falling into three important phases. There was firstly a formative period in the 1960s and 1970s when the fishers' organisations - at a district, state and national level - were being formed. This was a period which was to have important implications for leadership and direction in the Kerala movements because of the close connection between these movements and the Roman Catholic Church. The second period was the period of agitation and struggle in the 1980s and into the 1990s as the fishers brought pressure on successive Kerala governments - and, on occasion, on the central government - to address their concerns. In these campaigns they particularly targeted the impact which mechanised fishing made both on their livelihoods and on fish resources. It was a period in which they experienced great difficulty in combating vested interests in the state and in getting an adequate response from the coalition governments which were a feature of Kerala politics throughout the period. The last period comes in the 1990s when the issues which the Kerala fishers had been fighting for increasingly become national issues. In this third period the national-level organisation formed in the 1970s, an organisation in which Kerala fishers and their supporters are leaders, has come to play an increasingly militant role on fisheries' policy, to the extent that the Government of India has been forced to consider how to meet the political opposition and how to protect fish resources.

4.1. The formative period

This period saw the development of 'unions' at the district level,(29) particularly in the central and southern districts. The earliest of these unions was formed in Quilon in 1963 and the process continued up to the late 1970s and early 1980s by which time there were district unions in Alleppey, Cochin, Trivandrum and Malabar districts.(30) There were also women's organisations (Mahila Samajams) which were NGO-initiated.(31)

The important feature of the early unions was the role of the Catholic clergy in their formation and development. In the way that the process has been reported by Fr. Puthenveed it most often seems to be a priest who took the initiative in the formation of the unions and they certainly usually took 'presidential' roles in the unions. However, there was involvement of the laity from the fisher communities from the outset. The leading role of the clergy was important because, firstly, this meant that Latin Catholic fishers were the most effectively organised from an early period and, secondly, because it linked the fishers' unions to the outlook of individual clergy and to the agenda of the Church and (what of major importance in the Kerala situation) to the political alliances of the Church.

In the early years there was no problem so far as the Church was concerned in the clergy's involvement with the unions. Initially the unions were seen to have general 'welfare' objectives which were unexceptional. Moreover, the hierarchy of the Church was itself prepared to mobilise the fishers for political purposes since they constituted a major part of the Church's 'constituency'. It seems clear, for example, that fishers were used in the demonstrations which the Church - in alliance with Congress Party - organised to enable central intervention to bring down the CPI government of Kerala in 1959.(32)

In 1977 the district unions which then existed came together to form the Kerala Latheen Catholica Malsia Thozhilalee Federation (KLCFF). This state-level organisation had strong clerical leadership but it also had prominent lay leaders who had been active in the formation of the district unions. There are some suggestions that in this form the KLCFF had some difficulty in attracting Hindu or Muslim fishers and it was possibly to that end that, in 1980, it changed its name to Akhili Kerala Swathantra Malsia Thozhilalee Federation (AKSMTF) - the 'All-Kerala Independent Fishermen's Federation'(33)

In 1978 the AKSMTF joined with similar groups from Goa and Tamil Nadu to form the 'National Forum for Catamaram and Country Boat Fishermen's Rights and Marine Wealth'. This organisation, which, came to be called the 'National Fishermen's Forum' (NFF) later provided a national-level organisation from that time on.(34) Like the district and state level organisations, the NFF had Church support and the involvement of clergy in its initial phase. From 1980 onwards these three levels of organisation - district, state and national - provided the basis for fisher agitation.

4.2. Agitation

The first fisher agitations were by women from the Mahila Samajam in Trivandrum District. The women's organisation pre-dated the formation of the Trivandrum District Fishermen's Union (TDFU)(35) and the women - who were the fishvendors in the markets and inland villages - began an agitation in 1979 for a statutory right to use public transport. They did not win this right in the two years of their agitation but the Fisheries Department had to organise special buses for them. The Mahila Samajam played little direct role in the later activity because the women were absorbed into the TDFU when it was formed in 1980. However, as Meynen points out, women continued to be 'the backbone of the unionisation process'.(36)

The representation of the fishers' demands led in 1980 to the enactment of the Kerala Marine Fisheries Regulation Act and the establishment of welfare and housing schemes for fishers by the Left and Democratic Front (LDF)-led Nayanar government.(37) In theory, the legislation met the problems of trawlers and mechanised boats fishing in the inshore waters which were the principal fishing grounds of the artisanal fishers. This inshore fishing by the mechanised boats and trawlers took toll of the important fish stock on which the artisanal fishers depended; it caused ecological damage because of the use of bottom-trawling nets; and it placed fishers at risk from collisions - which became an increased risk when mechanised boats fished at night. (38) The welfare and housing schemes were to meet the low standards of living experienced by fishers who were not sharing the expanded opportunities of the 'modern' sector.

In practice, the legislation remained largely unimplemented. Its effects were also severely undermined by the success of the Trawler Boat Owners Association in a High Court action which reduced the reserved zone limit from 22 kilometers to 10 kilometers.(39) The AKSMTF therefore undertook over the following decade a series of agitations to bring pressure on successive Kerala governments to redress the situation brought about by these new conditions and, on occasions to protest against the death of fishermen as a result of collisions with mechanised boats. These agitations involved rallies and processions, demonstrations and hunger strikes outside the secretariat in Trivandrum and in district headquarters and, from the mid-1980s onwards, confrontations with mechanised boats and trawlers (which on occasion led to the destruction of boats by burning). All of this activity was met with heavy-handed police action: lathi charges and, on occasion, firings.(40)

In these agitations priests and nuns were prominent as organisers, demonstrators and hunger-strikers and over the decade a particular association grew up between 'radical' priests and nuns who brought into this Indian situation the outlook and teaching of the 'Liberation Theology' which was espoused by a similarly radicalised clergy in Latin America.(41) Such views were particularly associated with Fr. Thomas Kocherry, a Redemptorist priest who came into the union activity through the TDFU. This union, as we have seen, was one of the last formed (it started in 1980) and Kocherry was therefore seen as taking an interest in the fishers' cause later than some of the clergy who had been prominent in the movement in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was dismissed by his opponents within the Church (such as Fr. Puthenveed) as a late-comer compared with priests such as Fr. Paul Arakkal, Fr. Albert Parisavila and Fr. Peter D'cruz who had been active in the district unions and who were the President, Vice-President and treasurer respectively of the KLCMTF when it was formed in 1977. Fr. Parisavila was elected President of the AKSMTF when the Federation took its new name in 1980.(42) Kocherry was linked to what the press referred to as a 'Dynamic Group' of priests and nuns, many of whom were (so their opponents alleged) Syrian Christians.(43) From his base in the TDFU, Fr. Kocherry moved quickly in 1981 into the NFF and took control of that organisation - to the dismay of the older generation of clergy and of the Bishops who met together as the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference in Kottayam.(44)

The radicalisation of the AKSMTF represented by Fr. Kocherry's entry led in 1983 to a split in the Federation. One group (which claimed 'authenticity') was led by Fr. Kocherry; the other (a 'loyalist' union in the eyes of the radicals) was led by Fr. Parisavila.(45) The 'loyalist' union, it was claimed, was formed at the insistence of the Church hierarchy and the Church's political allied, especially the Congress-I which now led a United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition government in Kerala under the chief ministership of Karunakaran. This split was followed by a campaign, directed by the hierarchy, to prevent the radicals from taking part in fisher activity. Fr. Kocherry and some of his colleagues were transferred from their parishes where they were seen to be able to operate in the movement; Kocherry, for instance, was 'banished' to Bangalore. There was also a campaign to repudiate the values of Liberation Theology; this is perhaps summed-up best in Fr. Jose Puthenveed's The Theology of the Fisherman in the Context of the Fishermen's Struggle in Kerala which was published in 1985 under the imprimatur of the Bishop of Quilon. This told the story of the fishers' union movement and sought to expose both the devious way in which Fr. Kocherry had inveigled himself and his 'Marxist' conspirators into the movement at the expense of the true priestly friends of the fishers and the violence which was inherent in the 'communist' views that Kocherry and the 'Dynamic Group' espoused.(46)

The pressures exerted through these agitations did produce some action by the state governments. No less than three Committees were established over the 1980s - the first chaired by Babu Paul in 1981-82; the second by A.G. Kalawar in 1984-85; and the third by Professor Balakrishnan Nair in 1989.(47) These committees were charged with the task of considering questions such as the preservation of space for the artisanal fishers and the use of certain gear which was seen as harmful but, even more importantly, the question of a ban on fishing by trawlers and mechanised boats in the monsoon (which was the breeding season) and which had become a major problem. The outcomes of the first two committees, in particular, were disappointing for the fishers and their supporters. The Paul report was completely divided on the issues and was, in effect, a dead letter. The Kalawar report moved for a partial ban on monsoon fishing but the Karunakaran government refused to implement such a ban because of pressure from the organised trawler and mechanised boat owners (the Trawler Boat Owners Association and the All-Kerala Mechanised Boat Operators' Association). These associations involved powerful interests, amongst whom were major supporters of the political parties in the UDF. Even within the LDF-led government at the end of the 1980s such pressures could be brought to bear; pressure, for instance, from ministers who were themselves trawler owners and/or major fish exporters like Baby John who was Minister for Irrigation in 1988.(48) One tactic seized on by the government to evade the issue - particularly in the case of the ban on monsoon (June-August) fishing - was to declare a ban and then to exempt the stretch of coast in Quilon district (the area in which the INP had been conducted!) which happened to have the major fishing harbours from which the trawlers and mechanised boats in the prawn fishery operated.(49) The press regarded this as a clear example of Baby John's influence. The Balakrishnan Nair committee was the most thorough and complete in its recommendation for the breeding-season ban but its implementation by government (as the deviousness cited above will make understandable) was still was far from satisfactory. Even Business India was moved to claim in 1989 that Kerala governments did not have the 'administrative capacity or political will to ensure proper fishery management'.(50) In 1990 even the broader welfare schemes were put in doubt by the refusal of the fish exporters to pay the arrears that they owed to the Kerala Fishermen's Welfare Fund. The scheme required them to pay 1% of their turnover on exports to the Fund; by 1990 they had arrears of Rs. 254 lakhs(51)

4.3. National Issues

By the late 1980s there were increasing signs that fisheries' questions were being identified at the national level and in this Kerala's movements were important. India Today commented that 'fishermen all over the country are taking the cue from their counterparts in Kerala'.(52)

Earlier that year the NFF had staged a major demonstration - its 'Kanykumari march' which had been lathi-charged and fired upon by the Tamil Nadu police.(53) This was the effective beginning of the national-level campaigns which - while still targeting the questions of in-shore fishing by trawlers and mechanised boats, night fishing and fishing in the breeding season, now increasingly began to take up the issue of increasing international intervention in Indian fisheries - officially encouraged through 'joint ventures' approved by the Government of India. India Update(54) reported the 'fillip' to joint ventures and noted that all of them were 'EOU' ('export-oriented undertakings').

This international intervention had built up over the 1980s and early 1990s as successive central governments 'liberalised' the Indian economy. Beginning in 1981 with schemes for the 'charter' of foreign vessels to boost the Indian deep-sea fishing (DSF) fleet, the policy was extended to 'leases', 'test fishing' and 'joint ventures' through policy decisions in 1986 and 1988 and 1991; the final set of changes in 1991 came as part of the Narasimha Rao government's 'new minimal sovereignty policy' package to boost 'structural adjustment' and 'export-oriented ' reform.(55) This was the 'fillip' which India Update applauded and with which the government was determined to proceed. Advice in April 1992 from an FAO consultant, M. Guidicelli, who had been appointed to advise on 'the rehabilitation of sick DSF units' was disregarded; he had recommended that the best way forward was to redeploy existing capital and labour in the DSF fleet.(56)

The NFF now decided to move agitation to a national level through a 'National Fishermen's Action Council against Joint Ventures' Fishers' bandhs were called on 4 February and 23-24 November 1994 which resulted in the complete cessation of fishing and the marketing of fish.(57) The pressures that the NFACAJV were now able to bring - demonstrations in the national capital, the beginnings of action in the ports, the bandhs - now brought action from the Government of India.(58) In December 1994 Tarun Gogoi, the Minister for Food-Processing Industries, declared that he would 'freeze' all licences for DSF and that he would appoint a committee to review DSF policy. That committee, comprising 16 members of the national parliament, was appointed in February 1995 under the chairmanship of P. Murari, IAS (retd). Its composition was regarded as entirely inadequate by the NFACAJV and - following protests and an 8-day hunger strike by Thomas Kocherry in symbolic Porbandar -the committee was reconstituted with the addition of 6 fishers' representatives, the Fisheries secretaries of all the coastal states and a range of scientists and coastguard representatives, a total membership of 41. The Murari Committee report, delivered in February 1996 contained 21 recommendations, headed by a recommendation for the complete cessation of foreign fishing in Indian waters through a ban on the issue of any new licences and the phasing out of all existing licences. It was hailed as 'the most important document for the management of DSF prepared by any committee since independence'(59) and the government appeared to agree since it gave a 'positive response' and declared that the 1991 DSF policy would be rescinded, that all charters would cease by April of 1997 and there would be a total ban on 'bull trawlers', that the Ministry would meet with the NFACAJV to monitor implementation of this policy and that, in future, steps would be taken to conserve stocks and to protect traditional fishers.(60)

Although Mukul Sharma had described the report in very positive terms, Labour File, called it 'a partial victory' in a later article, because it could see 'loopholes' for the government.(61) This has proved to be a sound judgement for the struggle to get the government to implement its declared policy on DSF has still fully not succeeded. Nonetheless, the struggle continues. In 1997 the NFF mobilised to blockade Mumbai, Kandla and Vizakhapatnam ports, , to stage squatting strikes in New Delhi and to organise a 'people's awareness march' by fishers along the entire coastline of India, from Gujarat to West Bengal.(62) 'Save water, save coasts, save coastal people; Make the coastal propaganda mission a success' were the slogans on pamphlet and posters of the NFF.

5. Conclusion

Fishers as a group have traditionally had little by way of political organisation. This is in part because fishers are scattered along the coast - Kerala has 250 or more fishing villages along its 590 km coastline. In part also it is because the nature of their occupation takes them out to sea in small groups - or even individually - most days of the year so that socialisation has been difficult. What this Kerala (and NFF) story tells therefore is a story of 25 to 30 years of unprecedented organisation among fishers(63) as a result of their efforts to overcome their disadvantages and as a result of support from groups such as the clergy. That support has not been without its problems because it has, at times, tied the fishers' movements into the broader agenda of the Church and its allies - although the radicalisation of elements of the clergy have negated that effect to a considerable extent.

What we can also see is a record of struggle - against wealthier and stronger boat owners and financial interests; against unresponsive governments and politicians with vested interests prepared to work against them; against brutal police forces - which stands in line with the struggles of India's poorest peasants and dalits against oppression, exploitation and attempts to take away even the small basis of livelihood that they have bolster, in the name of 'development' and 'reform' to serve capitalist interests.


Footnotes

1. 1 The research on which this paper is based has been supported by grants from the Australian Research Council administered by Curtin University of Technology.

2. 2 John Kurien, 'Entry of Big Business into Fishing. Its impact on fish economy', Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), vol. 13, no. 36 (9 Sept 1978), pp. 1557-65

3. 3 Wicky Meynen, 'Fisheries development, resources depletion and political mobilisation in Kerala: the problem of alternatives', Development and Change, vol. 20 (1989), pp. 738-39

4. 4 National Council for Applied Economic Research, Techno-Economic Survey of Kerala (New Delhi: NCAER, 1962), p. 82

5. 5 John Kurien, 'Technical assistance projects and socio-economic change. Norwegian intervention in Kerala's fisheries development', EPW, vol. 20, nos. 25 & 26 (22-29 June 1985), pp. A77-79

6. 6 ibid.; Meynen, 'Fisheries development', pp. 738-43

7. 7 ibid.,p. 741

8. 8 ibid

9. 9 Olga Nieuwenhuys, 'Invisible nets. Women and children in Kerala's fishing' Maritime Anthropological Studies, vol. 2, no. 2 (1989), pp. 176-7; See also Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Chemmeen ('Shrimps') trans. Narayana Menon (Bombay: Jaico, sixth impression, 1962)

10. 10 Meynen , 'Fisheries development', p. 740

11. 11 U. Tietze, (ed.), Artisanal Marine Fisherfolk of Orissa. Study of their technology, economic status, social organisation and cognitive patterns (Cuttack: Vidyapuri, 1985), pp. 40-58; B Raychaudhuri, The Moon and the Net. Study of a transient community of fishermen at Jambudwip (Calcutta: Anthropological Survey of India,1980) ch. 4

12. 12 Kurien, 'Technical assistance projects', p.A70; and cf. P.R.G Mathur, The Mappila Fisherfolk of Kerala. A study in between habitat, technology, economy, society and culture (Trivandrum: Kerala Historical Society, 1977), pp. 353-56

13. 13 cited in Kurien, "Technical assistance projects', p. A72; Popular perceptions at the time were, depressingly, of the same kind; cf. the tone of the India and Pakistan Year Book's introductory paragraph to its section on fishing, (vol. 35 ,1949, p.258; repeated 1950, p. 266): 'Fishing and fish trade are universally relegated to low caste men who alike from their want of education, the isolation caused by their work and caste and their extreme conservatism, are among the most ignorant, suspicious and prejudiced of the population, extremely averse to changing the methods of their forefathers and almost universally without the financial resources necessary for the adoption of new methods, even when convinced of their value.' Such views had developed earlier; see, e.g., Dr B. Sundara Raj, Director of the Madras Fisheries Department who explained that of deep-sea fisheries would only develop through government endeavour: 'Especially is this the case in India where the fisherfolk are among the poorest and most backward communities and are utterly lacking in outlook, initiative and capital. [Even though they are] the sector of the population who will most immediately benefit from it they are too ignorant and illiterate to demand it.' in 'Report of the survey by s.s. Lady Goschen, 1927-28' Madras Fisheries Dept., Bulletin, no. 23 (1931), p. 153.

14. 14 Kurien, 'Technical assistance projects', p. A71-2

15. 15 P. Sandven, The Indo-Norwegian Project in Kerala (Oslo: Norwegian Foundation for Assistance to Underdeveloped Countries, 1959); A.M. Klausen, Kerala Fishermen and the Indo-Norwegian Pilot Project (Oslo: Universitetforlaget; London: Allen &Unwin, 1968); Kurien, 'Technical assistance projects'; J-P. Platteau, J. Murickar & E. Delbar, Technology, Credit and Indebtedness in Marine Fishing. A case study of three villages in south Kerala (Delhi: Hindustan Publishing, 1985); H. Pharo, 'The Indo-Norwegian project and the modernisation of Kerala fisheries, 1950-1970' in M. Shepperdson and C. Simmons (eds), The Indian National Congress and the Political Economy of India 1885-1985 (Aldershot: Avebury, 1988), pp. 382-99

16. 16 Kurien, 'Technical assistance projects', p. A73

17. 17 NCAER, Techno-Economic Survey, p. 83

18. 18 Mathur, Mappila Fisherfolk, ch. 5, and pp. 359-64

19. 19 ibid., pp. 359-60

20. 20 NCAER, Techno-Economic Survey, pp. 86-7

21. 21 Kurien, 'Technical assistance projects', p. A74

22. 22 'Fish. The forgotten industry', Far Eastern Economic Review, vol. 125, no. 31 (2 Aug 1984), p. 35

23. 23 J-P.Platteau, 'The drive towards mechanisation of small-scale fisheries in Kerala: a study of the transformation process of traditional village societies', Development and Change, vol. 15, no. 1 (Jan 1984), pp. 88ff

24. 24 Mathur, Mappila Fisherfolk, pp. 361-64

25. 25 Kurien, 'Technical assistance projects', p. A77, Table 2

26. 26 L. Gulati, 'Fisherwomen in Kerala. The impact of new technology on their lives', Manushi, no. 21 (March-April 1984), pp. 33-9; but cf.. I. Kamm, 'Not all positive', Manushi, no. 23 (July-Aug 1984), pp. 24-5

27. 27 Some did make this attempt in the late 1980s through the use of outboard motors with 'country craft' so bringing into being a new 'motorised' sector; Meynen, 'Fisheries development', p. 753, says that there were 7,000 motorised craft (25% of the artisanal fleet) by 1986

28. 28 R.S Newman, 'Green revolution-Blue revolution: the predicament of India's traditional fishermen', South Asia, new series, vol. 4, no. 1 (June 1981), pp. 35-46

29. 29 There were unions of inland fishers as well as marine fishers but we make no effort here to deal with to deal with the particular problems of inland fishers in the state.

30. 30 Fr. Jose Puthenveed, The Theology of the Fisherman in the Context of the Fishermen's Struggle in Kerala (Quilon: FMN College, 1985), pp. 14-15, 25, 30-37; see also Meynen, 'Unionization and union struggles', in 'Fisheries development', pp.747-53, where she dates such activity only from 1977-78

31. 31 Meynen, 'Fisheries development', p. 748

32. 32 It has been suggested, in fact, that it was the fishers' involvement in such action which made the Left slow to take up the fishers' cause in the 1980s; see V.L.Iyengar, 'Fisherpeople of Kerala. A plea for rational growth, EPW, vol. 20, no. 49 (7 Dec 1985), p. 2135

33. 33 Puthenveed, Theology of the Fisherman, pp. 30-1

34. 34 ibid., pp. 37-8. In the mid-1990s it has become the 'National Fishworkers' Forum')

35. 35 ibid., pp. 37-9; Meynen, 'Fisheries development', p. 748;

36. 36 Meynen, 'Fisheries development', p. 748

37. 37 Puthenveed, Theology of the Fisherman, pp. 40-43

38. 38 Iyengar, 'Kerala Fisherfolk' discusses these problems

39. 39 India Today, 15 August 1981

40. 40 We have relied on a range of information on these agitations: Puthenveed, Theology of the Fishermen, has information on the early 1980s in ch. 5 but this has to be treated with some caution; Meynen, 'Fisheries development', pp. 747-53; Iyengar, 'Kerala fisherpeople'; and S. Visvanathan, 'The fishing struggle in Kerala', Seminar, no. 423 (November 1994), pp. 19-24. also provide a accounts of these developments We have also drawn on press reports of particular agitations: Overseas Hindustan Times, 16 June 84, p. 11, 'Clergy leads Kerala fishermen agitation'; Hindu (International ed.), 23 June 1984, p. 11, 'Well-rehearsed clergy revolt', 30 June 1984, p. 4, 'Kerala fishermen call off strike', 17 Dec 1988, p. 15, 'Traditional fishermen reject agreement in Kerala'; India Today, 30 June 1984, pp. 36-7, 'Storm Warning'; Sunday Observer, 3 July 1988, p. 5, 'Kerala's partial ban on trawling under fire', 20 Aug 1989, p. 7, 'Fishing in troubled waters', 29 Dec 1991, 'Purse-seine nets and politics: fishermen's bane'

41. 41 P.Lernoux, , Cry of the People. The struggle for human rights in Latin America - the Catholic Church in conflict with US policy (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982); see P.M.Mathew, 'Liberation theology in practice', Mainstream, 3 Aug 1985, pp. 17-22; 'Fishermen's friend. Liberation theology on the rise among Kerala's Christians', Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 March 1986, p. 28

42. 42 Puthenveed, Theology of the Fisherman', pp. 30-31

43. 43 Overseas Hindustan Times, 16 June 1984, p. 11

44. 44 Puthenveed, Theology of the Fisherman, pp. 74ff

45. 45 Overseas Hindustan Times, 16 June 1984, p. 11; India Today, 30 June 1984, pp. 36-7; Puthenveed, Theology of the Fisherman, p. 53

46. 46 the second half of Puthenveed, Theology of the Fisherman, is devoted to this theme both by exposing Kocherry and the views of his group and contrasting those views with the approach of Fr. Parisavila, Mr Kallada Lawrence, a lay leader who wrote a Malayalam text to expose the 'communists' and Mr A. Joseph, a fisherman, who was said to have left the AKSMTF because of the extreme views being propagated.

47. 47 We have used accounts of these committees in India Today, 15 Aug 1981, 30 June 1984 and 15 Sept 1985; and Business India, 21 Aug - 3 Sept 1989

48. 48 India Today, 30 June 1989

49. 49 Business India, 21 Aug - 3 Sept 1989, pp. 85-9; 9 - 22 July 1990, pp. 34-5

50. 50 Business India, 21August-3 September 1989, p. 89

51. 51 Hindustan Times, 23 July 1990, p. 17

52. 52 India Today, 30 Sept. 1989, p. 93

53. 53 Hindu (International ed)., 13 May 1989, p. 5, 'Kanyakumari marchers lathi-charged'; G. Dietrich, 'Kanyakumari march: breakthrough despite break-up', EPW, 20 May 1989, pp. 1087-88; K.G.Kumar, 'Police brutality besieges ecology. National Fishermen's march', EPW, 27 May 1989, p. 1155; 'Crying halt at Kanyakumari', Business India , 12-25 June 1989, p. 106

54. 54 India Update, 15.9.92

55. 55 J. John, 'Fishing deep down a ruinous path', Labour File, vol. 2, nos. 7 & 8 (July-August 1996), pp. 9-13; B. Shekar and S.A.Hemanth Kumar, 'Fishing in deep trouble', Rashtriya Sahara (April 1997), pp. 18-29

56. 56 Frontline, 26 August 1994, pp. 126-28

57. 57 Mukul Sharma, 'Fish Workers' Struggle: Resources of Hope', Labour File, vol. 2, nos. 7 & 8 (July-Aug 1996), pp. 3-6; Shekar and Kumar, 'Deep trouble', Rashtriya Sahara

58. 58 John Kurien, 'Joint action against joint ventures. Resistance to multinationals in Indian waters' Ecologist, vol. 25, nos. 2 & 3 (March-June 1995), pp. 115-19; also 'Impact of joint ventures on fish economy', EPW , (11 Feb 1996), pp. 300-302;

59. 59 Sharma, 'Fish workers' struggle', p. 6 It is worth noting that the 28th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce reached identical conclusions on DSF policy in March 1996.

60. 60 Rashtriya Sahara, April 1997, p. 23 for the response; p. 25 for the list of recommendations.

61. 61 Labour File, vol. 2, nos. 7 & 8 (July-August 1996), pp. 14-15

62. 62 Harekrishna Debnath and R.K.Patil, 'Pamphlet distributed by the National Fishworkers' Forum regarding failure of Central Government to implement its promises' (Diamond Harbour, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, 1977). Debnath is president and Patil general secretary of the West Bengal branch of NFF. We collected this pamphlet and accompanying posters in February 1997, in Dadonpatrabar village in Medinipur (formerly Midnapore) district. They were evidence that the call to march was reaching right around the coasts; in fact, Sri Amulya Bar the leader of the MaKali Matysajibi Samiti (the Makali Fishers' Association)Fishers' Association and the 'headman' of this 5,000 strong dry-fish producing village - met us between participating in stages of the march along the West Bengal coast from Medinipur to South 24 Parganas.

63. 63 John Kurien, 'Coastal struggles. The making of a new constituency', Frontline, (20 Sept 1996), pp. 114-15

Back to the top.


Return to Peasant Symposium program