Malpe’s Forgotten Fishermen & Why They Plan to Boycott the Polls

On 15 December 2018, Survarna Tribhuja, a boat went missing off the coast of Goa with seven fishermen onboard. Two of them, Chandrashekhar Kotian and Damodaran belong to the small fishing community of Malpe, near Udupi. It will soon be close to four months since they were reported missing, and there have been no leads as to where they could be. Everyone from the defence minister to the local authorities have met with the families of the fishermen but there has been no response.

Missing fisherman Chandrashekar Kotian with wife Shymala
Missing fisherman Damodaran.

Last December, thousands of fishermen from the three coastal districts of Karnataka – Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada – gathered at the Malpe port to pressurise the government to expedite the search for the seven missing – two from Dakshina Kannada and five from Uttara Kannada.

Till today, the families are waiting in hope that there might be some good news of their loved ones being rescued.

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"Everyone in the family is still hoping he’ll come back today or tomorrow. We are just waiting and hoping for some news. Meanwhile, we have decided at home not to vote in the election." - Nithyanand Kotian, brother of Chandrashekar

Fishermen at the Malpe harbour, just outside of Udupi, say it is as though the government has forgotten that they exist.

Venkatesh Krishna Karve, who’s been working on a fishing boat for 20 years now said, “We are working night and day. There is no rest for fishermen – we are on duty for 24 hours. We leave our families and come to work.”

Ananth Narayan, a fellow fisherman on the same boat, said, “The work is hard. We get paid, but the work is hard and there is a lot of risk. Whether we are unwell or not, we have to work. We cannot return. We travel long distances to be able to do our work, go up to Ratnagiri (in Maharashtra).”

Each time a deep sea boat goes out to sea, it doesn’t return for 10-12 days, all of which are spent in hard labour. The boat is filled with ice to store fresh and clean fish and (it) travels back to the harbour. They argue that if someone was to take ill or get injured at sea, it would take about three days to come back to land for medical treatment.

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"Working and living in the middle of the sea is something that only fishermen do. For farmers, if there is an emergency, a heart attack or some such health issue – there are enough people to take them to a nearby hospital. But, if we suffer a heart attack, there is no guarantee that we will be saved. " - Satish Kundar, president of Malpe Fishermen Association‘Nobody is Interested to Vote’

Padmanabh Mandian said that everyone was planning to boycott the elections.

“We don’t know what will happen finally but that is the plan. Otherwise, we will just vote NOTA. Nobody is interested to vote. Be it for any party. No party has worked for the fishermen. Be it to help us get loans, loans waived – nothing,” he said.

“Nobody cares much about our problems. That is also because unlike other places, we are not known to protest. We don’t do dharnas. Nobody really speaks out,” he said.

"As soon as possible, we want our fellow fishermen to be found. That is our plea to the government.       " - Padmanabh Mandian

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Those Who Take Our Votes for Granted Need to Change That Mindset

Satish Kundar said, “For about 20 days after the incident, people were unwilling to go out to sea and fish. They thought this could also happen to our boat.”

"Those who think they will get our votes, whether or not they have worked for us, need to change that mindset. If we don’t vote, or stand opposed to the government in any way, they must worry about our reaction as well. When our fishermen went missing, in four days, 50,000 of us gathered in protest. If we decide to stand together, we won’t be voting anyone to power, or voting at all, if we so decide." - Satish Kundar, president of Malpe Fishermen Association . Read more on News Videos by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand Deaths Paan Spitting No More: UK City Puts Up Gujarati Sign And Fine . Read more on News Videos by The Quint.