Tuesday, December 6, 2011

TN fishermen geared up to fight for their rights



By G Saravanan
Published in The New Indian Express, Chennai on Dec 6, 2011:
CHENNAI: The Marina Beach, today, is one of the city’s most populated public spaces and is hardly ever associated with gunfire or violence. But for a large section of the fishing community, it will always be the site of one of their greatest stands for justice. More than 100 fishermen from Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kanchipuram districts, on Sunday, paid respect to seven fisherman-martyrs who sacrificed their lives, fighting the Tamil Nadu Government’s attempt to remove catamarans from the Marina Beach, 26 years ago.
The event was organised by the South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association (SIFWA), led by K Bharathi and Tamil Nadu Meenavar Makkal Sangam, led by Kosumani. They vowed to continue their fight for which they had sacrificed their lives – the protection of traditional fishermen’s rights, whatever the cost. 
Five persons -- M Manoharan, M Thulukkanam, G Sekar, S Kullasekar and M Chinnapillai – in the age group of 24 to 40 from Ayothi Kuppam, Nochi Kuppam and Maatan Kuppam, were killed when the police opened fire on the agitators on December 4, 1985. 
The agitation began when the then government, led by charismatic leader and friend of the fishermen, M G Ramachandran, attempted to remove catamarans from the Marina Beach, stating development as the reason.
Annammal, another fisherwoman-agitator died during a protest demonstration near Gandhi Statue on November 6 (1985), while a young fisherman G A Kothandaraman from Ayothi Kuppam set himself on fire in front of the State Secretariat on November 7 (1985). 
Narrating an eyewitness account of the 1985-police firing to City Express, K Bharathi, who was a teenager then and now the president of South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association (SIFWA), said, “On the fateful day, we were playing on the sand near the Gandhi Statue in the morning (around 9 AM) and all of the sudden, we heard loud firing sounds from the side where our people were agitating. Fishermen families started running in different directions to save themselves from bullets.”
“It was chaos for more than an hour after the shooting. A posse of police personnel then started descending near the fishermen hamlets along the Marina stretch to deter any build-up against them,” Bharathi recalled.
Since then, fishermen living at different hamlets near Marina observe December 4 as historic, on which day they won back their traditional rights. “My father had died shouting, ‘Rescue our fishermen’s rights’ outside the Secretariat, and now, I am ready to sacrifice my life if fishermen’s livelihood comes under threat,” Krishnan, the youngest son of one of the martyrs Kothandaraman told City Express.



TIME LINE BEFORE SHOOTING INCIDENT:
November 4, 1985:
IN THE WEE HOURS, CHENNAI CORPORATION AUTHORITIES BEGIN REMOVING 
CATAMARANS AND FISHING NETS FROM MARINA BEACH, FROM SEERANI RANGAM TO  LIGHT HOUSE FOR ‘BEACH BEAUTIFICATION PROJECT’.
Nov 5:
Fishermen families from Ayothi Kuppam,Nadu Kuppam,Nochi Kuppam and 
Maatan Kuppam begin their agitation against the government’s move in front of the Collectorate.


Nov 6:
Annammal, a fisherwoman-agitator dies during a protest demonstration near Gandhi Statue. Protest gains momentum.


Nov 7:
A young fisherman G A Kothandaraman from Ayothi Kuppam sets himself on fire in front of the State Secretariat shouting ‘Rescue our fishermen’s rights’ slogan. He succumbs to burn injuries at a hospital two days later.


Nov 17: 
With the agitation gaining more pace, Tamil Nadu government organises crisis-solving meeting with the fi shing community representatives at Secretariat. Talks break down.


Dec 4, 1985:
With the agitating fishermen families planning a final showdown for their traditional rights, police, sensing trouble, fire 17 rounds on protesting fishermen. Five persons, including four fishermen and one from the non-fishing community, die. Nineteen persons sustain bullet injuries during the chaos.


Dec 7: After a long procession in which thousands of fishermen participate, all the five bodies are laid to rest in different burial grounds.


Dec 10: Supreme Court orders Tamil Nadu government to restore catamarans and fishing nets in the respective places. SC also orders the state to allow the fishermen to continue their activities from Marina Beach.


DEC 15: NORMALCY RETURNS ALONG THE MARINA BEACH AFTER THE SC ORDER AND  FISHERMEN START THEIR ACTIVITIES.


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