Life is difficult for Kondara fishermen community in Haripur village
Life is difficult for Kondara fishermen community in Haripur village

The piteous saga of 500 Dalit fishermen at the confluence of sea & river in South Odisha

Kondara community of fishermen at Haripur village in Ganjam District, who have been earning their livelihood by farming shrimps and fishes in Gopalpur river estuary for 78 years, even before independence, are now facing the harsh reality of oppression as their ancestral ponds and shrimp farming rights have been seized illegally by outsiders, leaving them poorer and struggling to survive.

Haripur— The grief of being unheard can be more difficult to bear than the initial grief because it adds an additional layer of pain and rejection. Some 2000 people belonging to the poor Dalit fishermen Kondara community in Haripur village had been bearing the pain for 6 years as the government turned blind and deaf to their demands for sustenance. Thanks to the compassionate volunteers of the Jan Jagran Abhiyaan who on an unique initiative of 'Motorcycle diaries' landed in their village and lend a helping hand.

The confluence of the sea & river in Haripur
The confluence of the sea & river in Haripur

The March to assert rights

A formidable assemblage of fishermen registered with the Haripur Primary Fishermen's Cooperative, Women's Jabal Association, and Jana Jagran Abhiyan led a resolute march to the Revenue Divisional Commissionerate office at Berhampur on Wednesday. The protest was attended by around 200 oppressed families and 500 fishermen. "It was a march for justice because more than two thousand people of the dalit fishermen community have been struggling for existence. They had more than 60 ponds to catch fish and raise shrimps but since 2017, 30 ponds have been illegally given away to big contractors from Bengal who are taking away their fishes and supplying it to other states." Madhusudan, state president of Jan Jagran Abhiyan told The Mooknayak.

The inland fishing rights rests with the Kondara people
The inland fishing rights rests with the Kondara people

The background

Haripur is at a junction where the Bay of Bengal and Gopalpura river meets. The area is inhabitated by fishermen communities, one belonging to the Kondara who are dalits while the other from Nuliya community which falls under the OBC catagory. The marine fishing rights had been held by the Nuliya people whereas the inland fishing rights were accessed by Kondara community had some 60 plus ponds from 1944 to 2015. The kondara people live in Haripur while the other communities are inhabitants of adjoining Bandarga and Reuketuru villages. Both the communities have been at loggerheads with each other and there had been a series of violent clashes between them.

Khiramani Behera, A Fisherman weaving net in Haripur village
Khiramani Behera, A Fisherman weaving net in Haripur village

Shrimp farming since 1982

In 1982, the government had granted the revenue lands to these cooperative fishermen for shrimp farming under the ERRP-IRDP scheme. However, in 2017, the former tehsildar and administration unjustly allocated 30 ponds to non-fishermen without informing the cooperative fishermen.

According to the secretary of the cooperative society, Chintamani Behera, despite applying for shrimp farming since 2014 and writing to the administration for 9 years, no action has been taken, and the right to farm shrimp has not been granted. As a result, the village fishermen are now unemployed and have been forced to leave the district without a livelihood.

Life is difficult for Kondara fishermen community in Haripur village
'Swiggy' woman walking down the street!
Fishermen's March for Justice
Fishermen's March for Justice

Not even earning 100 rupees a day

Sunita Behra, the leader of the women's association, told The Mooknayak that the fishermen used to earn 1000 rupees a day earlier but are now unable to earn even 100 rupees daily. She implored that the 30 ponds be returned and shrimp farming rights be granted as soon as possible. The president of the cooperative society, Ramchandra Behera says " Some contractors from Bengal, taking advantage of the rivalry, are violating the Supreme Court's directives and illegally transporting small fishing nets to several places". He emphasized the need to return the 30 ponds to the Haripur fishermen, lease the land, and grant shrimp farming rights. He also called for the cessation of illegal shrimp and fishing activities from outside the state.

Life is difficult for Kondara fishermen community in Haripur village
55-yr old tribal man helping villagers cross river on a handmade bamboo raft with tyres-tubes
Oppressed Families Demand Return of Illegally Seized Ponds and Shrimp Farming Rights.
Oppressed Families Demand Return of Illegally Seized Ponds and Shrimp Farming Rights.

Security concern haunt women

Inmates highlight the issue of security in the surrounding villages, specifically after the dark as they claim the area has become a hangout for mafias, drunkard groups, insufficient street lighting and poor police patrolling further aggregating the problems. Sukanti and Banvashi Behera said " Ganjam is the adopted district of Naveen Patnayak , yet no one is really bothered about the grim living conditions of the marginalized sections like us. If our issue is not taken seriously, we are going to fight for our rights". Representatives from the OBC the Dalit Leaders too have expressed their support.

You can also join our WhatsApp group to get premium and selected news of The Mooknayak on WhatsApp. Click here to join the WhatsApp group.

The Mooknayak English - Voice Of The Voiceless
en.themooknayak.com