Experience file Dossier : Human Rights in India

Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, March 2007

Declaration of Rights by Fisherwomen

The file presents the activity of celebrating Women’s Day on March 8th by Theeradesa Mahila Vedi, the women’s wing of Kerala Swathanthra Matsyathozhilali Federation (KSMTF), in Kerala. It also contains the Prelude to the Declaration of Rights and the Demands.

For the past several years Theeradesa Mahila Vedi, the women’s wing of Kerala Swathanthra Matsyathozhilali Federation (KSMTF), Kerala celebrates the Women’s Day on March 8th with various programmes and activities. This effort was an outcome of the Mahila Vedi to resist exploitative practices and injustices that the fisherwomen were subjected to. The middlemen and moneylenders grab their hard earned income illegally in the markets in different ways. The fisherwomen do not have the basic amenities in the domestic local markets. The slave-like treatment towards the fisherwomen and negligence to consider them as a working class necessitates organizing themselves to assert their rights.

The Declaration of Rights by fisherwomen contained 17 demands. The prelude to the Declaration of Rights was a pledge that stated : “We, the fisherwomen are obliged to protect our work and work place. To deny our livelihood is equal to the denial of our rights to live. We will jointly resist any attempt to deny justice, attempt to exploit and the inhuman treatment. We hereby swear that we will try our level best to protect the fish resource and will try to ensure the availability of better fish to the consumers through traditional marketing system. We swear that we will fight against those who neglect our basic problems and stand to safeguard our self esteem and pride as a working class”.

Traditional occupation of fish vending is destroyed by the mismanagement of the so-called ‘development’ process. The income earned by the fish vending women has been the main source of livelihood in the families of fishing communities. There has been an increase in exploitative practices in this field denying the rights of fisherwomen. The exploiters consider the silent suffering of the fisherwomen as their weakness and this has now become quite unbearable. We have to assert our rights as a working class. As an emerging organized working class under the auspices of the Theeradesa Mahila Vedi, from the hitherto unorganized level, we hereby declare the following rights and demands.

Demands :

  • 1. Provide transportation facilities to fish vending women in all villages.

  • 2. Provide separate bogey in all shuttled trains for fish vending women like that of Kollam-Thiruvananthapuram route.

  • 3. Provide financial assistance to fish vending women if accidents occur during the course of their occupation.

  • 4. Fisherwomen carrying fish loads by themselves must be exempted from market levy.

  • 5. Stop illegal collection of money in the local fish markets.

  • 6. Ceiling limit be fixed for the charges of head load workers from the fish vending women. The charges collected from the women should be directly by the headload workers welfare board.

  • 7. Provide separate spaces for fish vending women and men in the market.

  • 8. Local govt. bodies should supervise the functioning of the markets. They should directly collect the market levy from fish vendors and it should be limited to Rs.1/-

  • 9. At least 50% of the market levy collected from fish vendors must be utilized for the modification of the market.

  • 10. Introduce savings cum relief scheme for fish vending women too.

  • 11. Construct waiting sheds in fishing harbour for fisherwomen and ensure their safety.

  • 12. Ensure reservation for women in Fishermen’s Co-operatives and Matsyafed welfare boards.

  • 13. Ensure the representation of fisherwomen organisation in head load worker’s welfare board.

  • 14. The fisherwomen should have the representation in task force of people’s plan in the local govt. bodies.

  • 15. Establish residential schools for the girls from the fishing communities.

  • 16. Provide grant for the education of girls studying in private colleges (non-governmental) from pre-degree onwards.

  • 17. Alternate employment prospects for the girls in fishing communities should be assured for the diversification of employment.

These rights and demands declared on the Women’s Day portrays the deep-rooted aspirations and the readiness with true fighting spirit of the fisherwomen for their class and the community as a whole. It also shows the political perspective of the group and their eagerness to be part of the working class. For the past 10 years the fisherwomen’s movement in Kerala fixed their agendas in these lines that definitely had made an imprint on their livelihood and family life.

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