Damyanti Tandel of Gujarat’s Borsi Macchiwad has been drowning in misery ever since her fisherman-husband aboard the ‘Kuber’ trawler was reportedly thrown into the sea by those behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Eight years have gone by since the coordinated attacks at several locations of the country’s financial capital in 2008, but there has been no word on Balwant Tandel. His body has not been found, and Damyanti, though without a husband, cannot legally claim to be a widow. It has also meant that she has not got any compensation.
“His cold-blooded murder sank us,” wails Damyanti. Her misfortune is shared by three other widows, whose husbands were also on the trawler when Kasab and gang from Pakistan forcibly took over the vessel in the high sea, tossed three of them into the water and took the captain, Amarsinh Rathod, hostage. The government does not recognize them as widows too and all have been left high and dry, despite their husbands meeting a watery grave.
Rathod’s family has been marginally luckier though he met a gory end as well. As the vessel neared the Mumbai coast, the attackers launched from Pakistan killed him. But unlike the rest of the crew, his body was left behind, enabling the government to declare him dead. His family got a compensation of more than Rs 5 lakhs.
Damyanti and those who have been deprived of compensation say fate has been particularly unkind to them. They live in different villages – Simasi, Vasi and Maachivaad – scattered along Gujarat’s 1,600-km long coastline, but insist they are bound together by the hardships they are forced to endure following the disappearances of their husbands.
Ever since Balwant left, the task of looking after their son and two daughters fell singularly on Damyanti. She received Rs 50,000 from the CM’s Relief Fund, but her applications for what Rathod’s kin got were rejected. She worked in a local handloom factory until her son, Umesh, dropped out of school and began venturing into the sea as a fisherman.
“I am not recognized as a widow by the government,” she regrets. “We cannot in the absence of his body,” points out Navsari resident collector KS Vasava. Under law, a missing person is not declared dead for seven years. It is eight years since the Kuber fishermen were dumped in the sea, but a court declaration is still awaited. “We can cover the families under various schemes and benefits only when the Navsari district court declares them dead,” adds Vasava.
But that’s little or no consolation for the affected families. “When someone dies in a hooch tragedy, the government releases Rs 4 to 5 lakhs as compensation. And when we fall victim to terrorism, we are asked to produce proof of the tragedy,” complains Vijay Tandel, the sarpanch of Maachiwad village.
Besides being angry, the families are getting impatient as well. Jasiben Nagji, whose husband Ramesh was also on Kuber, has moved the Gujarat high court for redressal. “How long can we wait? Justice delayed is justice denied,” she says.
In absence of her husband and compensation, she has been reduced to a daily wager.
Kuber, the boat, meanwhile has got an image makeover. It set to sail again with new interiors and a new name: Sri Ganesha Kuber. The families of its missing crew members, however, find themselves stranded amid a sea of despair.