The fishermen community have been constantly representing the Government to include the fishermen community in Scheduled Tribe (ST) category. Accordingly, in the Election Manifesto 2016 of AIADMK, it is said that the necessary steps will be taken to include fishermen community in Scheduled Tribe (ST) category .After the elections Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tamilnadu Miss. J. Jayalalitha also officially handed over a memorandum to the Hon’ble PM Shri. Narendra Modi requesting him to declare fishing community as Scheduled Tribes of this country.
Fishermen are still practicing a form of hunting in the sea without the help of any modern day technologies. Fishermen communities are the original inhabitants of the 8118 Kms coast and live in the coastal area to eke out a livelihood based on marine fishing. They are living in coastal areas for thousands of years, for want of access to sea for their livelihood. Fishermen community is the only community which eke out its livelihood fighting against the nature thus making it a most dangerous avocation. In India, around 30.5 million traditional fishing community people are living in the coasts and nearer to the Inland water bodies. Fishing communities live a very eco- friendly life and are completely dependent on nature. Majority of the Fishermen does not own fishing assets / agricultural land, business or non – land capital assets. Fishing villages all along the Indian coast are comparatively backward, synchronized with underdevelopment. Even though there is a sizable fishermen population in the country and in the respective coastal states, their representation in the Assembly and parliament is close to nil. The fishermen community including Pattinavar, Palli Maraikayar, Nattar, Karaiyar, Kadaiyar, Mukkuvar or Mukkayar, Muthirayar, Varunakula Muthali, Sempadavar, Odakaran, Parvatha Rajan, Ambalakarar, Valaingar, Valayar and Paravar and in various other names in various parts of this country. It is submitted that the fishermen community shall be classified under.
Scheduled Tribe (ST) on the following grounds :
• Stigma of untouchability still prevails and social denigration of the fishermen community.
• Social and Educational backwardness.
• Fishermen communities are the original inhabitants of the coast which is otherwise called “ Neithal Nilam ” in Tamil.
• Most hazardous occupation, when compared to other traditional occupations.
• No guarantee for minimum wages.
• High Manual labour / Female Manual labour.
• Worst housing conditions at the coastal areas.
• High exposure to Tsunami and other Natural calamities.
• High dropouts in School Education.
• Fishermen community could not enter in the fields of Trade / Industry / Business / Production sectors and other such fields due to their lower educational and economic status.
• No. of widows are more due to increased death rate of males in the fishermen community.
• Mandal Commission recommended to consider the inclusion of fishermen community in the SC / ST list.
Stigma of untouchability still prevails and social denigration of the fishermen community exists to some extent. Fishing and fish carrying, spray their body and their colony with awful nauseating smell which forces them to live in isolation from other communities. The fisherwomen who work with the men folk and come to the market to sell the products of men suffer all kinds of social humiliation and indignities in the hands of the members of other communities. They are condemned to be an outcaste by others, while ironically their products are demanded in good deal by others in the market. The social discrimination is of such a high magnitude that they command low social esteem in the eyes of the general public. There is no direct, fair and transparent marketing for fish and fishery products.
The literacy rate among fishermen and their level education is also at the lowest and ultimately results in high incidence of poverty among them. In all maritime states, the literacy rate for coastal population is much lesser than the state averages indicating poor social development index adding to their vulnerability. The literacy rate among fisherfolk is as low as 57 %, against all India literacy rate of 65%. In terms of higher and technical education and education of women, fishermen communities are far below the national average. These facts evident from the fact that majority of the fishermen live in rural areas that too close to the coast, where the main source of livelihood is either fishing, fishing labour or some kind of fishing allied activity. Majority of them are involving in the traditional occupation of fishing and related activities and they could not come out of it to improve their social and educational status due to appalling economic and isolated conditions compared to other Most Backward Communties.
The fishermen community depends solely on the dangerous avocation of fishing for their livelihood. When compared to other traditional occupations, fishing is considered most dangerous and hazardous occupation in the world. Fishermen’s life is very rigorous and is far from easy. Many times, instead of becoming bountiful and friendly, nature becomes niggardly and inimical to this community. There is no year which passes without a natural calamity –either a cyclone or a flood which invariably affects fishermen community in greater magnitude than other communities. The dangerous sea, sea erosion and adverse weather conditions claims hundreds of fishermen lives every year resulting in the destitution of hundreds of woman and children. Due to this higher degree of accidental death of fishermen at sea while fishing, the fishermen community is suffering from the highest number of widows and destitute children.
There is no guarantee for minimum wages. During fishing, the catch may be poor, prices low or fishing gear may break or lost. At such times, the fishermen’s longer hours and hard work bring no or poor pay. The life and living of fishermen are subjected to vagaries of nature. The percentage of fishermen who have a regular employment either in the Government or in the private sector is considered negligible. The incidence of poverty in the marine fisheries sector is highest among the backward sectors in the country. Fisher families living below the poverty line are estimated at 60 %, far above the national average of 26%.
Inadequate access to fishing assets, agricultural land and capital leaves no option to fishermen community to resort into traditional way of fishing which is still in nascent stage of hunting or to manual fishing labour in the fishing boats and consequently leads to enormously high level of (Manual) fishing labour among the fishermen community. Nearly 62 percent of fishing families do not possess any craft; about 49 percent have no gear. Nearly 47 percent of the families possess neither craft nor gear. The percentage of female manual labour is also high and the social discrimination against tire female population of fishermen community is also high, when compared with the other major MBC castes. As on date, less than 10 percent of all fishermen family owns a fishing craft / farm land as against 41 percent among non – SC/ST households.
Nearly 70 years post – independence, large parts of our coastline are still lacking basic amenities. Housing condition which determines the social status of the people leave much to be desired as most of them are not living in healthy housing conditions. Most of them live in single room houses. Only 20 percent of the households have their own drinking water facilities and the remaining have to draw water supply from outside sources such as common taps, hand pumps and wells. These people use the public common open walls for bathing and for washing their clothes which created insanitary conditions in the fishermen colonies. Latrine facilities in the houses are awfully inadequate. Therefore, the overall condition of housing of this community is very poor evidenced by the high incidence of inarched roofs, mud floor and lower degree of electrification, single room house and inadequacy of water supply and latrine facilities. Very minimal fishermen households have got some access to capital assets as compared to 56 percent for non – SC/ST households.
The fishermen communities live on the edges of the sea. They are exposed to various forms of violent mother nature such as Cyclone, rough waves, Tsunami, sea erosion, flood and all adverse weather conditions affects the life and livelihood of fishermen. The natural calamities cause serious havocs and irrevocable damages to the hard earned livelihood assets of fishermen and make their life miserable. Due to this many of the fishermen families are living in a state of despondency, unable to come out of the damages suffered.
The fishing community by and large been an isolated and silent community. Traditionally, fisher people lives as a closed community they had limited relationship with others even with the neighbouring farming communities. This constitutes to a great amount of lack of awareness on education and employment opportunities available outside their traditional occupation of fishing. It is an unwritten statute that the fishing profession needs to be undertaken from a very young age to face and withstand the toughness of the sea. The fisher youth which has no vision or knowledge on different education to proceed with an alternate avocation, left with no choice to choose the dangerous avocation of fishing as their only livelihood proposition. Most of the fisher youth leave their schools at an early stage and take up fishing profession. This results in high drop outs in school education, make them uneducated and are subsequently subjected to high incidence of poverty.
It is submitted that the Mandal commission has recommended to consider the fishermen community in the list of S.C/S.T. The recommendations of the mandal commission report is reproduced below :-
“ Para 13.37 (1) certain sections of some occupational communities like Fishermen, Banjaras, Bansforas, Khatwes etc. Still suffer from the stigma of untouchability in some parts of the country. They have been listed as O.B.C’s, by the commission, but their inclusion in the lists of Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribes may be considered by the government ”.
Certain coastal states of India have already included certain fishermen communities in the ST category. It is also ascertained that the Governement of Puducherry, Government of Karnataka and Government of Kerala has made resolutions on the floor of the respective legislative Assembly resolving that the fishermen community shall be included in the ST category and recommended to GOI for issuing necessary notification orders. The Pondicherry Legislative Assemly resolution was forwarded to the Government of India by the U.T Administration in its letter No. B23039/20/93 WEL (SEC), dt. 22-12-1995.
Reservation has been adopted as a remedy for curing the historical discrimination and its continuing ill-effects in public employment. It is an accepted principle that those who are in social and educational backwardness are truly in need
of reservation. In other words, the dominant consideration for upholding the reservation is the social and educational backwardness and not the income test, although in actual life it mostly happens that economic backwardness is a natural consequence of the social and educational backwardness. Hence considering the distinctive population of the fishermen community with distinctive environment;
social stigma attached; special recommendations in the Mandal Commission Report; and the other practical living conditions and other circumstances which lead to high social discrimination, the fishermen community may be included in the ST category to provide the fishermen community with an opportunity for prosperity, poverty alleviation, development and empowerment measures to compensate for historical and geological exclusion and a certain degree of untouchability.
Hence, a Policy decision on the above issue may be taken at Union Government level, for issuing necessary orders notifying the fishermen community under Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.