India Uncut

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Despatches 40: Fishy business

At Neimelikuppam, a small village just outside Chennai, we are told by villagers, all of whom used to fish for a living, that four fishermen from Neelangare were arrested by the police earlier, and their fishing nets confisticated, because fishing has been banned for three months. We later investigate and find out that this is an apocryphal story, but the fact that this rumour exists at all is cause for suspicion.

At Cuddalore, we find that all fisherfolk have stopped fishing not because of the supposed ban on fishing, but because there is no market for their fish. Why is this? It is because of a flyer, which warned the people not to eat fish, and was printed and circulated in large numbers. It bore the signature of the district collector of Cuddalore. On being asked, the collector, Gagandeep Singh Bedi, denied that any such flyer had been issued by him.

It is mandatory for a flier to have the name of its printer on it somewhere, and this one did not. It was clearly a forgery, and what we found remarkable was that it was such a convincing one, and a lot of thought had clearly gone into it. It was essentially a list of what not to do in the aftermath of the disaster, and the one about not eating fish was bang in the middle of it. The rest were all credible instructions, such as "drink only boiled water" and "eat only cooked food".

Why would anyone go to such trouble to destroy the market for fish? If seen in conjunction with the supposed ban on fishing, it could well mean that, as I have speculated before, land mafias are eying the lucrative coastal land on which the fishermen were settled, and their task will be made easy if they can destroy the fishing industry itself, and drive away the fishermen from the coast. The job that the tsunami started might well be finished by man.
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