Fisherwomen collecting seaweed allege harassment

[India] Women from coastal villages petition Collector, urge him to protect their livelihood.

Fisherwomen, who eke out a living by collecting seaweed near the islets in Gulf of Mannar, thronged the Collectorate here on Monday alleging that the forest personnel harassed them and posed a threat to their livelihood.

Led by M. Karunamurthy, district secretary of the CITU affiliated to Tamil Nadu Meenpidi Thozhirsanga Koottamaippu, a large number of women from coastal villages near Erwadi and Kilakarai petitioned Collector S. Natarajan, urging him to protect their livelihood.

They had been collecting seaweeds for more than five decades in the region up to Thoothukudi but of late faced problems from the forest personnel. They would never disturb the coral reefs and collected the seaweed only from lime stones, but the forest personnel would not allow them within the 500 metres of the islets, Pudhuvarusham (50), the fisherwomen leader said.

A group of ten to 15 women would set out to sea after engaging a country boat, paying ₹ 1000 towards rent and diesel to earn about ₹ 200 per day and their livelihood was greatly affected after the forest personnel virtually chased them away, she said. About 500 women in the hamlets depend on seaweed collection for their livelihood, she added.

Sometimes they would be left stranded on the high seas for several hours after the forest personnel would detain the boat drivers, who were men, leaving them on the boats on the sea, she said. She has been collecting seaweeds for nearly 40 years after she began the work at the age of 10, she added.

Most of these women were illiterates and were keen on educating their children. They relied on seaweed collection to meet the educational expenses besides supplementing the family income, they said.

They would set out for sea in the morning and return in the afternoon. Each woman would collect 10 to 15 kg and sell them for about ₹ 12 per kg, they said. Seaweed has good demand in food, pharmaceutical and textile industries.

The Marine Algal Research Station of the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) offered training to grow seaweeds, using raft technology but it was not successful in the Erwadi area, they said.

When contacted, Sikkandar Batcha, Forest Range Officer, Kilakarai range said the forest personnel were only implementing the government order, which prohibited any kind of activity within the 500-metre range of the islets in Gulf of Mannar.


Photo: Fisherwomen and fishermen from Erwadi and other coastal villages thronged the Collectorate in Ramanathapuram on Monday. | Photo Credit: ; – L_Balachandar

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