The Big Story: Cast away
A quiet tragedy has been unfolding all week in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. As Cyclone Ockhi ripped through the Arabian Sea, hundreds of fishermen were stranded in its raging waters. Eleven days later, many still remained missing as public anger grew over government apathy. In Kerala, hundreds marched to Raj Bhavan at Thiruvananthampuram, demanding that it be declared a national disaster. In the Thoothoor fishing region of Tamil Nadu, churches have become hubs of protest. On December 7, they held a rail blockade to make the government take notice of their plight. In response, the state administration registered cases against 15,000 people for their involvement in the blockade. Cyclone Ockhi has pointed to both the Central and state governments’ lack of preparation in the face of natural disasters. In the case of the missing fishermen, these failures are particularly acute at every stage, from sending adequate warnings to launching searches in time to counting the missing and the dead to providing adequate relief and responding to public anger.
District officials in Tamil Nadu claim the alerts from the state government came too late; by the time they were able to warn fishermen, they had already put out to sea. Once the storm had hit, villages in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala claim, the governments did not do enough to look for the fishermen. In Thoothoor, residents claim, they had asked the government to launch deep sea searches from December 1, which could have saved many lives. In Kerala, as the government went missing, fishermen launched their own rescue operations with the help of their parish heads. Now, the government seems unwilling to acknowledge the number of people dead or missing. According to eyewitness accounts, there are over 120 dead and 900 fishermen missing, many times more than official figures in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu. On December 9, the government reportedly asked the Navy, the Coast Guard and the Indian Air Force to continue searching for another 10 days but it might be too late.
Finally, the cyclone has reportedly devastated coastal areas and thousands will struggle to pick up the pieces of their old lives and livelihoods. Yet the Kerala government’s rehabilitation package, at least, only takes into account direct victims of the natural disaster and is silent on the loss of livelihood faced by thousands of fishermen. The state resolved to ask the Centre for aid on lines of the 2004 post-tsunami rehabilitation package. Yet relief and rehabilitation after 2004 left several gaps. Then, too, there were reports of warnings that arrived too late. As the waters receded, fishermen were stranded in camps and unable to get back to work, with boats that needed repairing and houses that had been washed away. Before it handles these more long-term questions, however, the government needs to respond to the groundswell of public anger. Protestors at Kerala’s Raj Bhavan demanded that the prime minister visit the cyclone affected areas and take stock of the damage. But the prime minister, busy with election rallies, is not listening.
The Big Scroll
- In the Indian Express, Syeda Hameed writes that the Rajasthan killing shows this is no country for poor Muslim migrant labourers such as Afrazul.
- In the Hindu, Dipankar Gupta argues that United States President Donald Trump’s critics have overlooked the tremendous impact that workers and unions had on his election.
- In the Telegraph, Ruchir Joshi takes lessons from Delhi’s pollution meltdown.
Supriya Sharma travels to Gujarat to find Patidar leader Hardik Patel cracking jokes about Narendra Modi and countering his communal rhetoric:
“They used to teach us earlier – Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai Bhai Bhai [Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are brothers] – now they say Hardik means Hindu, Abdul means Muslim,” said Hardik Patel, the young man who rose to prominence in 2015 as the leader of the Patidar caste. He mobilised large protest rallies that year to demand reservations for the dominant landowning caste. He was arrested, jailed and outlawed from Gujarat for months, but that has not stopped him from vigorously campaigning against the Bharatiya Janata Party which has been in power in Gujarat for 22 years.
“Think about it,” Patel said. “At election time, they should have been talking about the vikas [development] they have done in the past 22 years, instead they are still talking about the same old issue of Ram Mandir.”