Shores of Discrimination and Poverty: the Other Side of Kerala Model of Developmental Experience – Sudheesh Kumar S. A, Kerala



Since the beginning of civilizations, fish occupies an important role in our daily lives. Fishing is one of the oldest occupations of human beings. Similarly, fish occupies an important place in Indian mythology, history and tradition. Traditionally, fishing has been the principal avocation for the livelihood of a segment of the population living in the coastal region and on the banks of rivers, lakes and canals. Even though there are diverse kinds of fishing sources, seas and oceans are the major sources particularly from the point of view of economy.

Over the years, fisheries are supporting various sectors of the economy in diverse ways. This is particularly important from the point of view of developing countries like India. Fisheries are a sector which creates large amount of income and employment. In addition the sector is providing inputs to other sectors like processing firms, refrigeration, ice making, transportation, gear & equipments manufacturers, canneries, boat yards etc. Thus fisheries are an important sector where income and employment is getting generated directly or indirectly.

Similarly, the marine fishing sector has manifold roles to play; such as poverty alleviation, employment and livelihood security, food and nutritional security to the poor coastal households. This sector is coming under primary sector in technical terms i.e. one kind of agricultural production. Fisheries development requires effective and efficient use of available resources, skills, capital, machine, money, management finance and market. There should be complementary role inDevelopment of fisheries through Private and Public Sector. Private and Public sector roles here are most interdependent compared to other economic sectors. There is predominant role of private sector in catching, processing and marketing. There is great contribution of scientists, economists, cultural anthropologists, sociologists, fishers or fishery businessmen in framing specialized approaches for fisheries development. With the development of this sector, problems also arise. These problems are technical, economic and social type in nature. Problems arise from the new policies which require skill on the part of Government because these problems are very rigid and complex. Fisheries in general significantly contributes in a) Food and nutritional security b) National Economy c) Employment Generation d) Exports and Earnings e) others.

It is also estimated that, for each person employed in capture fisheries and aquaculture production, about three jobs are produced in secondary activities, including post-harvest processing and marketing. Thus the primary and secondary sectors support the livelihood of a large number of people worldwide.

Fishing is providing a way of life for numerous coastal communities worldwide. The marine fisheries sector aids in poverty alleviation and also provides employment and livelihood security to the coastal households. The fish sector is a source of income and livelihood for millions of people around the world. India has a share of 5.43 percent in the global fish production and is one among the 18 major fish producing countries in the world (the seventh largest fishing nation in the world) with a total coastline of 8118 km with 1537 fish landing centers and 3322 fishing villages.

The industry of fishing has an important role to play in Kerala economy too. The state has a coastal line of 590 km and it is only one tenth of national total coastline. The inshore or coastal waters of 12570sq.kms estimated to yield, on a sustainable basis, about 400,000 tons of fish per annum or about 30 tons per This makes Kerala’s coastal waters the most productive in the country. Kerala contribute a major share of marine export of India. Kerala is second to Gujarat in marine fish production during the period 2014-15. However, Kerala’s share has declined over the period since 1990s. The coastal belt of Kerala is about 590 km which spreads across 9 districts viz. Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasargod with 178 fish landing centers and 222 fishing villages. In Kerala there are 602234 fisher folks in 120486 households. As per the 2014 Kerala Marine Fisheries Statistics, 30809 fishing vessels are registered in Kerala, out of which majority are motorized. The current level annual marine fish production is around six lakhs tons per year. A lion’s share of marine fish landings are contributed mainly by the mechanized (56 percent) and motorized (42 percent) sectors. The marine fisheries sector of the state has achieved higher growth compared to the inland sector mainly due to the vast coastline and marine resources embedded with Kerala and contribute 10.13 percent in the state share of GDP from the primary sector (Director of Fisheries, 2014). The marine sector of the state constitutes for more than 25% of the state exports.

Kerala has been considered as one of the major contributor to the country’s seafood exports. The period of 1960 saw the emergence of export oriented approach in the marine fisheries of Kerala with penaeid prawn becoming main attraction (Kurien 1985). The seafood export sector got a fillip due to the mechanization drive. There was an increase from Rs. 183.93 crores (1960-61) to Rs. 3435.85 crores (2012-13) in the seafood exports from Kerala. Even with a 10 percent share of total coastline of India, the marine fisheries sector of the state accounted for 24 percent of the fish production of the country and 40 percent of India’s seafood export earnings during the 1980s (Meynen 1989).

Earlier, marine fisheries sector was considered as a subsistence sector and fish was the cheapest mode of animal protein among the households of to the coastal belts of Kerala. The perish ability factor of the product limited the trade to nearby locations. From a subsistence sector during the pre – independence era, the marine fisheries sector of the state transformed into one of the major export oriented sectors mainly due to the technological changes. However, the transformations were at the cost of the artisanal fishers and those working in the post-harvest activities, especially the women fish vendors. The reverberations in the sector totally ignored the traditional sector. In fact, the development dynamics in the Kerala marine fisheries divided the sector into three sub sectors viz. traditional, motorized and mechanized sectors. The former two are more labour intensive, whereas the latter uses capital intensive techniques and caters to the needs of export oriented and processing market. The results were increased conflicts for resources between various actors both at land and sea, which ultimately resulted in governmental action like the ban on trawling during the monsoons.

But most of the fishing community, in general, is one of the most socially disadvantaged sections in the state. The division among fishing community as traditional ones and modern technology users are important to mention here. The traditional fishing laborers are still using katamaran and kambavalla but the later one are using modern inputs which are capital intensive hence expensive. At present the traditional fisher folk became the most backward community in Kerala and facing discrimination at every front.

This sector has addressing severe challenges with the advent of globalization. Hence the traditional fishers form the most deprived communities in the state who are left out of the overall development process. Mechanization, over the years, opened up the sector a great deal as it began to attract people belonging to non-fishing community but nonetheless this has also resulted in a new form of conflicts-space and species between the traditional and mechanized fishers. But the brunt of the problem now is resource depletion which inter alia resulted in the poverty and exclusion of the traditional fishers who have no other source of living. Employment in this sector is seasonal in nature and technological advancement has made fisher folk more marginalized from the mainstream society due to income inequality and livelihood insecurity. The existing skill of the fishers will not help them to gain employment when the sector is going for high level of technological advancement.

Statement of the Problem & objectives:

Thiruvananthapuram district has 75.5 km long coastal belt where 138911 fishing laborers are engaged that lives in 44 coastal villages in 2013-14. Fish production in Thiruvananthapuram District was 49951 tons as against 35267 tons in 2009-10 registering 40.4% increase during the ten year period which makes the district accounts for 22.08 percent of Kerala state’s marine fish production at present. In spite of increase in fish production and enormous social welfare measures by the government and other agencies like NGOs, the living standards of fisher folk in Trivandrum District especially in Vizhinjam coastal belt are very poor. They are at the lowest ebb of their socio- economic progress. Many of the fishermen houses have no protected drinking water facility, electricity, toilet facilities and water proof of roof. While only 19 percent of fisher folk in Trivandrum District live in terraced houses, other reside in thatched and tiled houses. Only two percent of total fisher folk have education up to college level, 34 percent get educated up to primary level and 19 percent are illiterates. Polio –attack are common sights in the fishing hamlets of Trivandrum District. The mortality rate is very high due to non-availability of hospitals or health centers, superstitions and insensitivity to health and hygiene. The community is facing tremendous constraints with regard to developmental activities and social progress. The discrimination in all level are continuing even now. Considering this, the present study an attempt has been made to study the problems of marine fishing workers, in and out of sea, their need, their living condition, service condition and social issues in the Vizhinjam region of Thiruvananthapuram district. The objectives of the present study are 1) To study about the various kinds of social discrimination faced by fishing community as a whole in the state of Kerala. 3) To draw the socio-economic life of fishing community in the context of general development of Kerala.

Methodology and data source:

This is an empirical one based on survey method. The study, which is largely explorative in nature, uses both Primary and Secondary data. The primary data have been collected from the fisher folk of Vizhinjam. It is collected through semi formal interviews using pre-tested questionnaires. The data collection also includes participatory approaches in the form of discussion. Field based information will be collected through open ended questionnaire. The questionnaire will be administered in a personal face to face manner. But sufficient care will be taken in order to cover as wide a cross section of people as possible across different occupations within fisher folk community. The ten fishermen families were selected in this region through the random sampling method. The secondary data have been collected from reports, journals, economic review, economic survey and websites.We need to employ separate tools for each of the objective because of the complexity of this study. We will use most appropriate tools for analyzing the details of economic problems and social discrimination of the fisher folk.

Socio-economic Issues of Fisher Folk in Vizhinjam Area:

People are the real wealth of nations. That simple truth is sometimes forgotten. Mesmerized by the rise and fall of national incomes (as measured by GDP), we tend to equate human welfare with material wealth. The importance of GDP growth and economics stability should not be understated: both are fundamental to sustained human progress, as is clear in the many countries that suffer from their absence. But the ultimate yardstick for measuring progress us people’s quality of life.

Vizhinjam is situated in the southern coastal belt of Thiruvananthapuram Corporation in Thiruvananthapuram District. Here the majority of populations are Christians followed by Muslims and Hindus. The most of the population are engaged in fishing and fish related activities. Above 90% of the people uses the semi-mechanization of crafts. They had good drainage system. Majority of the people depend on sea for their livelihood but they the Government not provide any aid to the fishing community.

We had interviews, face to face, with ten people at Vizhinjam. Their age profile varies from 19 years to 52 years. This diversity in age profile helps us to get a prolific details of different issues from different perspectives. The attitude and approach of elderly will be definitely different from that of youngsters on every issue. The gender also varies among respondents. There were seven males and three females. Their occupations are different as it represents both fishing and other related activities.

We can note that only males are engaged in fishing i.e. going to sea and catching fish. Fisher folk believe that females are not expected to go to sea for fishing. For them sea is everything or it is a living example of god and women are not allowed to engage in fishing in sea. They are expected to support their men with prayers only. Women are performing other related fishing occupations like processing and trade. Most of the secondary fish sellers are women from these areas only. Considering the mechanization of fishing, there are many opportunities in the motor repairing and work-shops. Men are engaged in such jobs too. Trade especially small shops and restaurants are also providing jobs here. Shops in these areas are mainly engaged in selling those household groceries and goods for daily requirement. It is difficult to spot shops selling electronic goods, vehicles, textiles etc in these areas. People are using shops in nearby big towns for purchasing such things. People here are less interested in educational activities and attainment. Children started to engage in fishing or related activities from the very beginning itself. So that hardly anyone engage in higher education from here. We met only one person who is engaged in higher education from this locality. Educational attainments of fisher folks are conventionally low. The socio-economic conditions of community never encourage educational activities. Almost majority of these people are discontinuing education in high school stage. Now a days those who reaches secondary education shows a slight increase. The survey shows women are educationally better off compared to men here. The only person who is in higher education is a woman. When interviewing even youngsters admitted that education is not an incentive to any of them to improve their socio economic conditions.

Vizhinjam has almost equal number of Muslims and Christians whereas number of Hindus is less. There are religious centers of all religions here. People from outside locality also visit these centers. People of different believes is living in harmony here even though there were communal tensions reported in the neighborhoods.

The survey shows that most of the fisher folk are getting a good amount wages from their occupation. Among them those who are fishing in sea are getting highest. But it is evident that these people are getting confused about daily income. Those who are going to sea are taking minimum two days to reach back. So that whatever they are telling is not daily income. Plus those traders here are working in their own shops so that whatever they earn is becoming their income too. But such responses are giving a less than bright picture of the income earnings among them.

According to the survey most of the homes are accommodating more than four members irrespective of their economic power. We can observe a kind of extended families here yielder children are staying with parents even after marriage is common phenomenon here. The survey traces totally 49 people among which 22 are females (45%)

Compare to other studies this survey shows that population growth rate among fisher folk are getting decreased. The younger families are much smaller in size. But this extended family system is getting complicating considering the residential facilities. The buildings are not sufficient for accommodating these big families. The religious beliefs of families has nothing to with their family structure. Even there we can observe very high daily income; all these families are belonging to BPL category. This is in support of all other studies which trace very high incidence poverty among fisher folk. The comparatively higher daily income is not utilized constructively here; it encourages us to study about the expenditure pattern of them. One of the major items of expenditure is alcohol. The consumption of alcohol is very high among fisher folk particularly in non-Muslim families. Hence the high income is not transformed in to high level of living. The expenditure on education, health and recreation facilities will be comparatively less such a living style will permanently keep fisher folk as back ward.

Other than women all men in the non-Muslim families are using alcohol. Even they some of the despondence not reviled there and there family members addiction towards alcohol, gradually they all said the truth. The religious taboos restricting Muslim members using alcohol. But that does not mean they are utilizing daily income in a healthy way because they too are spending very less for feature in mind. All this families are spending almost 1/3 of the daily income on alcohol. In some of them it is almost half of the income. The expenditure on alcohol is increasing in weekends as well as in festive occasions. We can see that trend when calculating expenditure on alcohol. From the above table we can see that when daily expenditure on alcohol is almost forty percent, it becomes almost fifty when calculated in weekly basis. When such an amount spends on alcohol, it can make multiplier consequences in physical, personal and social life of individuals.

Way of living decides the occurrence of life style diseases. Sixty percentages of respondents are suffering from life style diseases. Thirty percent of respondents are suffering from cirrhosis which causes mainly by alcohol consumption. Considering the poor health infrastructure of the region such a low profile of health   is an alarming situation. What we observed during survey was that almost all elder people irrespective of gender are suffering from health issues.

According to the data collected health status of women are better but elder women are suffering from ill-health. What is alarming is that a good majority of people has complaints about primary health facilities in the region. Several studies pointed out the fact that both health and health facilities are at low profile at coastal region. Even though there are primary health centers or medical dispensaries in these areas, they may either lack required medicines or medical experts. We observed that the nearest health center in the area lacks both refrigeration facility and supply of water in wash room. Most of the doctors in such centers are residing in distant places hence their services are lacking at several occasions. Localities depends private health facilities in the city or health camps organized by NGOs and other agencies for medical assistance.

It was difficult for respondents to respond properly about their yearly expenditure pattern. It took several questions and on the spot calculations in order to calculate yearly expenditure pattern among them. Anyway all these families are spending least in education. Food and health is equally sharing the rest.We also believe that these calculations are not reflecting the reality because expenditure on other heads like recreation, loan repayment, capital maintenance etc are not explained by respondents.

Most of the people are living in rented houses. Many of them lost their ancestral properties due to indebtedness. Only two among the respondents has their own houses which are ancestrally received. Over the year’s fisher folk lost rights over their coastal islands throughout the nation. According to the law all the coastal lands are in government control. So it is difficult or impossible for anyone to own land in these regions. But over the years due to some political interventions some of them got title deed over land.

Most of the houses here are not good in construction. Only three houses have latrine facilities. Most of the people, irrespective of gender, are using sea for their daily requirements. Space availability per person within houses are limited. Compare to concrete houses, other required annual maintenance expenditure. During rainy seasons most of them are getting severe damages. But constructing concrete houses in government lands is not possible in the other side. This vicious circle is keeping things difficult for fisher folk. None of these houses, whether thatched or concreted, having water connection. Itis a shocking surprise that even a single building has over tank ability. According to the rules concrete buildings are expected to have over tank facilities. All these people are using public taps for their water requirements. Another source of water is the tanker facility provided by the corporation or by the private agencies (for payment basis). It is difficult to have either bore well or wells in coastal regions. All these houses are electrified. People are using television and refrigeration facilities in their homes. For waste disposal, facilities are very less. So most of the road sides, junctions and coastal shores are dumped with waste.

Even they these families are indebted they are keeping small saving by chitty funds. These chitty funds are utilized for households’ purposes only and the initiative are taken by women particularly. All families have loan burden. Some of them have indebted of more than 5 lakhs. Repayments of these debts are difficult considering the occupational environment. Most of them are laborers only owners here means those who own small shop only none of them have any government jobs or any alternative jobs other than their conventional one like NGNREGS. They receives no subsidy and ultimately they are discriminated in every economic front.

All the fisher folks are facing discrimination structurally. They are not receiving any active government and non-government support in their daily collective style. Their social-economic conditions are not improving over along period of time. It is so embracing to note that even the younger generation of the fisher folks are eventually deciding to stay away from main stream development. Those who studying in educational institution in the city respondent that there class mates are discriminating them in all vocations. Many of them were hearted when they didn’t invited like other (other community) for family functions and personal get-together of friends. In interview whatever the low profile of it they were discriminated among others. It is difficult for a person in the community to have a marriage relationship from outside. All such kinds of discrimination are capping fisher folk in a circle.


Development is becoming fruitful only when it ensures the all together improvement in every section of the society. The coastal belt of Kerala was kept outside of developments of yesterdays. As a result lacks of people who engaged with fishing and related activities were denied spaces in all aspects of socio-economic progress. What we can observe is the structural omission of this community from every development activity.

This study is reflecting the discrimination faced by fisher folk in their everyday life. Lack of economic opportunities restricting social progress and opposite is also true. Even this small attempt was plotting light on the miserable condition of fisher folk in Vizhinjam area. Even though coming under the jurisdiction of Thiruvananthapuram corporation (as well as developed region), these people are facing number of discrimination in everyday life. This study invites many such attempts and positive interventions from all policy makers and other experts to join hands for improving the condition of living in our neighborhoods.


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Sudheesh Kumar S. A
Dept. of Economics, School of Distance Education,
Kariavattom Campus, University of Kerala