The national media has started highlighting the problems being faced by the diamond industry due to the global meltdown. The suicide cases, committed by the diamond workers in the western part of India, are being reported on the front pages of the national dailies.
Likewise, in the last few years, the media has been focusing on the farmers suicides in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. And, the government was forced to announce relief package for these farmers.
But, surprisingly, the media attention has not gone towards the miserable condition of the fishermen of Kendrapada district.
It is know to one and all in Odisha that the fishing industry was flourishing, a few years back, in Kharinashi, Ramnagar, Batighar,Jamboo, Petachila, Suniti, Kansarbadadandua, and other villages, with a population of about 20,000 fishermen families, in the Kendrapada district.
But now these villages are going through a nightmare with these areas becoming synonymous with poverty, hunger and suicide following the decision of the state government to ban fishing to protect turtles between November 1 to May 31 every year. The turtles lay eggs during the said period along with the coastline.
On the direction of judiciary, the government has imposed the ban strictly since the year 2002. The fishermen are not allowed to take the boat to the 20 km from the coast within the 35 km long Gahirmatha marine sanctuary and five km off the seacoast in other areas. For many in the coastal pockets of the district, the fishing nets and boats have been the breadwinner. These people used to venture on the sea with their country and mechanized boats to catch fish.. But, they do not venturing on the sea to catch fish during the said ban period – November 1 to May 31.
Some tried to fish slyly but they were arrested by the forest and Coast Guard officials on the sea. At least 160 fishermen have been arrested by the forest and police officials. They also seized their boats.
On January 2, 2007 a fisherman was also killed by the forest guards when he along with 14 fishermen were fishing near the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary. The government each year impose "Fishing Ban" from November 1 to 31st, May to protect turtles and one month ban during the breeding season in July. The fishermen never venture on the sea in the month of May due to the heavy wind for which the fishermen are not allowed to fish eight months in a year as a result their fate is hanging in balance.
The government declaring "No Fishing Zone" on the sea has swept their bread basket away, leaving their lives a torn canvass with nothing to paint on it. With their lives in knots, pockets penniless, future directionless and their boats dead silent, many have opted for the painful exit route to get rid off from the financial misery - suicide.
Gourna Saha(38) of Kharinashi , Rosan Mandal (45) of Ramnagar, Juan Mandal of Pitapatha, Bidyadhar Ram(41) of Kharinashi, Jyganta Biswas(52) of Pitapata, Sripad Jahar( 38) of Ramnagar, Buddayananda Saraswati (43) of Ramnagar, Birata Haldar(35 ) of Ramnagar, Sukumar Srarkar(35) of Ramnagar and many fishermen committed suicide in the last three years in the Mahakalapada block of Kendrapara district of Odisha.
Many fishermen became paupers and insane in these areas after loosing their livelihood. Budhananda Saraswati, Dileswar Das, Sital Das , Balai Biswas, Mahadev Das, Susanta Das and several other fishermen of Mahakalapada areas lost their mental balance after the authority impounded their boats.
Sikha Ram(32) the widow of Bidyadhar Ram of Kharinashi said, "My husband committed suicide on December 15, 2006 after the forest officials seized his boat on November 5, 2006 from the Gahirmatha areas. In 2006, he had obtained a loan of one lakh rupees from a moneylender to make the boat. Now it is difficult for me to survive along with my two sons".
Arati (34), the widow of Gournga Saha, a former Sarapanch of Kharinashi Gram Panchayat said " Three years back , the forest officers seized my husband's boat while he was fishing within Gahirmatha areas. After seizure of the boat, my husband was running from pillar to post to get another boat. After loosing all his hope to get a boat, he committed suicide by hanging in his fishing net". "After the death of my husband, I and my two minor daughters have been eking out our livelihood by binding beedies", said a dejected Arati.
Incidentally, the coastal pockets of Kendrapada and its nearby areas have been witnessing an unusual phenomenon of suicides. With nearly ten fishermen allegedly committing suicide in less than three years, the authority is at a loss on how to infuse life into the fishing sector.
But behind the suicides is also sad story of the role of some local moneylenders who behave like the characters of the greedy Shylock in the Shakespeare's famous play "Merchant of Venice". These village moneylenders charge 30 to 60 percent interest from the innocent fishermen, alleged Ramahari Manna a teacher by profession. It may be mentioned here that the banks charge an interest of 12% to 18% depending upon the nature of the loan.
"Unable to provide work, several dry-fish unit owners have closed their units and some fishermen even sold their boats for scrap", said Tapan Mishra a dry-fish unit owner of Mahakalapada.
"Now, the fishermen are pushed to a corner and with no hopes, many hang their fate on the fishing nets that once gave them life", said Arabinda Mandal ,the former Sarapanch of Jamboo Gram Panchayat.
Odisha government should take steps to prevent further suicides of fishermen in Kendrapada district. The government should offer fishermen an alternative livelihood as Pondichery and other state governments do for the welfare of their fishermen. These fishermen can also be given compensation package during the ban period. Then only happiness can return to these villages of Kendrapada district.