Kochi: The last five years have not been easy for the coastal communities living in 59 constituencies in the state, especially those in the fishing sector. These people, numbering to around 10 lakh, belong to Hindu Dheevara, Latin Catholic and Muslim communities. Among them, around 7.5 lakh people live along the coast and the remaining reside in inland areas. They have been bearing the brunt of sea erosion and extreme weather events but their demand to the government to set its sights beyond subsidies have gone unheeded, they say.
“Neither the state nor the Centre has done much for the community’s overall development. On paper, there’s talk of harbour development and modernization. Politicians play caste and religious politics with us and leave us divided during elections,” said Antony Kurusunkal of the Kerala Swatantra Matsyathozhilali Union.
“Fish drought, weather events leading to ban on fishing across the coasts followed by Covid and the economic slowdown, the rising kerosene and diesel costs have all affected our lives,” said Charles George a member of the fisheries protection council that launched protests against the state government’s deal with EMCC International for deep-sea fishing.Fishermen say both the central and state governments have been playing politics. “The kerosene subsidy was reduced to 25 litres per month from 128 litres for the past four years. Now, just last month, they have increased it again. It doesn’t even last a month for the outboard engines in traditional boats. We still need to buy from the open market. None of the MLAs listen to us over our concerns about diesel prices, licence and registration fees, etc,” said Kurusunkal.
The Dheevara community has been seeking representatives from the coastal regions to represent them. “The minority communities (both Latin and Muslims) have their representatives, but often these are people who have no connection with the community and its problems. They are picked just because they represent their religions. Since we are split across the south, central and north zones, we are not a unified political force. Even the campaigning by candidates are not on local issues that have an impact on us,” said Praveen V, chairman, Dheevara Trust.