Fisherfolk in Kerala caught in discontent: Can parties weather the storm?

For political parties, securing the allegiance of fisherfolk has become a prerequisite for the Lok Sabha election campaigning and its outcome.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Apr 03, 2024 | 9:00 AMUpdatedApr 03, 2024 | 9:00 AM

Rough seas cause havoc in coastal hamlets of Kerala

Ahead of the 26 April Lok Sabha elections in Kerala, a cloud of distrust looms over the fisherfolk in Kerala due to the broken promises that have been showered on them by the successive governments.

The fisherfolk are a force to reckon with in the electoral landscape of the state. They have swayed electoral outcomes and dictated policy narratives.

For political parties, securing their allegiance has become a prerequisite for the Lok Sabha election campaigning and its outcome.

However, in the ensuing Lok Sabha polls, a simmering discontent born out of unfulfilled promises and neglected aspirations lay beneath the surface of this electoral powerhouse.

Even though only nine out of the 14 districts in the state are considered coastal districts, fisherfolk communities are spread throughout Kerala.

There are 334 fishing villages spread across 14 districts — 222 marine fishing villages and 113 inland fishing villages. The estimated fisherfolk population in the state is around 10.54 lakh.

And the parties who could afford to overlook this are certain to be destined for the inevitable at the 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

Also Read: Withdrawal of Vizhinjam protest cases: Political manoeuvre or genuine support?

‘We lose faith in three fronts’

Talking to South First, Kerala Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation State President Jackson Pollayil said that they were figuring out methods to raise their unfulfilled demands to the government(s).

“As a representative of the fisherfolk community, I would say that the general feeling is that all three fronts — LDF, UDF, and NDA — let us down time and again and they only remember us during elections,” he said.

According to him, the fisherfolk have voiced concerns over unfulfilled promises, lack of development initiatives, and a growing sense of neglect from the political establishment.

He then added, “Our issues remain unresolved, our livelihoods precarious, and it’s time for a change. But are figuring out solutions for it. We can’t call for a boycott of elections as it’s undemocratic,” he said.

He added, “But one thing we can assure this time is that our discontent will get reflected in the polls and the electoral outcomes.”

Also Read: Controversial coastal highway sets fisher communities on a road to nowhere

Unresolved grievances, broken promises

Responding to the growing discontent, Christudas, a fisherman from Chellanam in the Ernakulam district said, “Leaders from all major political fronts have vowed to prioritise the concerns of the fisherfolk and work towards meaningful solutions if elected to power.”

He then added, “However, scepticism remains high within the community, with many calling for concrete actions rather than mere promises.”

Luis, an inland fisher from Alappuzha, lamented the lack of substantive action on critical issues affecting the lives and livelihoods of fisherfolk.

“We have been promised better infrastructure, improved living conditions, and sustainable fishing practices time and again, yet little has materialised. Be it UDF, LDF, or NDA all that turned out to be broken assurances,” said Luis.

Speaking candidly with South First, leaders within the fisherfolk community detailed their unresolved grievances.

Requesting anonymity they said that the grievances voiced by the fisherfolk encompass a spectrum of concerns ranging from inadequate facilities at fishing harbours and environmental degradation impacting fish stocks, to the lack of comprehensive welfare schemes for their families.

Also Read: Kerala’s eroding sea shores threaten lives of fishing communities

Eroded trust

These grievances, exacerbated by years of neglect and broken assurances, have eroded the trust once placed in the political establishment.

It was against this backdrop that a plan was made to field an independent candidate at the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha Constituency.

Then, a fisherman at Vizhinjam said that a discussion was there to field a candidate as a protest against the three fronts in handling issues like the protest against the Vizhinjam Seaport project.

“But that idea has now been shelved. It didn’t materialise as expected. Maybe the Latin Catholic Diocese plugged that move,” said the fisherman.

He then added, “None of the political parties cares about us. They want to protect the interests of the corporates. But during election time they want our votes.”

The fisherman then cited the state of affairs in the Thiruvananthapuram constituency.

Also Read: Fishermen sail into ‘mouth of death’ at Muthalapozhi

Coastal erosion, sea attack

“We strongly feel that the swell waves that battered the coastal areas in Thiruvananthapuram on 31 March might be an aftereffect of the Vizhinjam project. We had not witnessed such strong and high waves sometime now. But which political party will pay heed to our grievances?” said the fisherman.

According to Valerian, a fisherman and an office bearer of the Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation, there is only one immediate solution available to the concerned to address fisherfolk’s grievances and that is the laying of groynes and construction of seawalls.

“We had reminded political leaders several times that these hard structures are not the solution and we need scientific measures to address coastal erosion. But the priority is always for the former,” Valerian told South First.

The general feeling among the fisherfolk is that politicians’ love towards hard structures was because of the possible corruption and unscrupulous dealings with the quarry mafia.

In short, going by the pulse of the fisherfolk community, the discontent could mark a turning point in Kerala’s political landscape, where traditional voting patterns may undergo significant shifts.

(Edited by Muhammed Fazil)