Kerala’s Fishermen, the Unsung Superheroes of a National Disaster


Kerala’s Fishermen, the Unsung Superheroes of a National Disaster

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Young urban Indians are like Greece: Our Instagram aesthetic defines us and we are constantly trying to ignore the very real problems plaguing us internally. The Kerala floods then, have acted as a stark reminder of several things: our mortality, the fickleness and superficiality of our lives, and our complete blindness to the ecological disaster we are in the middle of. It’s hard not to be petrified by the wrath of mother nature while scrolling through social media feeds filled with scenes of utter devastation and turmoil.

Yet, one set of heroes has managed to break through our apathy and indifference: Kerala’s fishermen who have aided the rescue efforts standing shoulder to shoulder with the authorities.

In the worst rains ever recorded in the state, over 360 lives have been lost, more than 40 people are still missing, and over two lakh have been displaced. And despite the NDRF’s best efforts, an army of bravehearts has had to step forward to help save the day. Wading through neck-deep water to rescue men, women, and animals stranded in multi-storey huts, shanties and tree-tops, Kerala’s valiant fishermen have helped greatly curtail the effects of this tragedy. Amazingly, most of them have done so with no proper resources or medical equipment.

A young survivor, Anunand was one of the hundreds rescued by the fishermen. The 22-year old graduate student was apparently trapped in her flat for close to four days and believed she was a goner until the fishermen came to her aid. Hers is just one of the hundreds of stories to come out of the disaster-struck state.

They were offered a compensation of 3,000 rupees per volunteer, but the fishermen wanted none of that.

Perhaps the most enduring image from this tragedy is of a fisherman selflessly kneeling to help the victims climb aboard inflatable boats. In a video that went viral a couple of days ago, KP Jaiswal, 32, is seen getting down on all fours in waist-deep water at Mallapuram, offering his back as a bridge for women and the elderly to step over and climb onto the rescue boats. Among those he rescued were two senior women and a young mother with a baby. Social media has been quick to appreciate Jaiswal’s efforts, labelling him a “national hero” and describing his gallantry as one of the “great stories of humanity coming out of this disaster.” Naturally, the country’s meme-makers have jumped to the task and circulated endearing images of the lungi-wearing men in superhero capes.  

Even the state’s finance minister, TM Thomas Isaac acknowledged the immense contribution of the fisherfolk in stabilising the situation in flood-affected areas not accessible by official rescue authorities. They were offered a compensation of 3,000 rupees per volunteer, but the fishermen wanted none of that – one even stated, “I did not save lives expecting benefits.”

The state will now have to address a different set of concerns: Post-relief efforts such as containing the outbreak of waterborne epidemics, dealing with all manner of medical emergencies, and building parts of the state from scratch. If all goes well, the state will be back on its feet soon – as will its fishermen. While they’ve refused the pitiful compensation, one can only hope that the state will view the entire community with a finer outlook, and ensure things are better for them systemically. Kerala owes them.