Editor’s Note: This is an update from the field by Janaki Srinivasan who is currently researching the fishing industry in Kerala, India and the use (broadly) of tools and technologies ranging from trawlers, nets, and GPS to the mobile phone.  Her project is funded by the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI)

Notes from attending Quit India demonstration by fishworkers in Trivandrum
9/8/2012, 11 am

I read about the fishworkers’ demonstration on several mailing lists. A fisherman in Kollam (James) had also informed me about it. The demonstration was supposed to be held in front of the Secretariat in Trivandrum.

A little past 10.30, I saw 80-100 people, men and women, walking up to a lane by the Secretariat building in Trivandrum. They were chanting slogans and held up blue flags. They formed a circle and a wooden model of a ship was placed at the center. The model had “Foreign Fishing Vessel” painted on its side. Many press photographers attended the event and were busy documenting it with photographs and by talking to people. A fisherman friend told me that the demonstration was aimed primarily to show displeasure at the Central Government’s decision to issue 77 letters of permit to foreign fishing vessels. The permits allowed these vessels to fish in Indian waters. The Kerala Swatantra Malsya Thozhilali federation, an independent trade union of fishworkers in Kerala was organizing this demonstration on “Quit India” day, August 9th, 1942 being the day that the Quit India movement started, telling the British to leave India. Today too, the protestors were asking the foreign vessels to “Quit India.” Such demonstrations were being held in various coastal cities and had been called for by the National Fishworkers Forum, of which the KSMTF was a part.

Why were foreign fishing vessels so unwelcome among these fishworkers, all of them artisanal fishworkers? (i.e., they worked with small boats, not trawlers). As the fishermen and their leaders who spoke at the event explained, foreign fishing vessels were big enough and had enough equipment that they could deplete the waters of fish for the artisanal fishermen. Moreover, because of the nature of the equipment they used, especially the nets, the ecology of the areas they traveled could potentially be drastically affected.

The high point of the demonstration was the burning of the ship model. As the model went up in flames, fishworkers chanted slogans of Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live the Revolution). The women sang revolutionary songs and some of those attending danced around the fire.