When the tsunami struck, the most lasting impact it had besides the emotional scars of losing loved ones was the destruction of livelihood for tens of thousands.
Fishing ports were destroyed, boats thrust into land and shattered, and fishing nets destroyed. For most of the fishermen, the trauma and the crippling destruction meant they could not set sail for at least 6 months. In some of the cases, recuperation took as much as two years.
Government and humanitarian agencies had at the time ensured that those who lost equipment were given new ones. But a decade later, things are far from normal.
“Our catch has gone down since being farther from the shores, we can no longer tell when it’s low tide so that we can go out,” said Barkona, a resident of the Tsunami rehabilitation colony at Devanampattinam – a village adjacent to Cuddalore town where hundreds were killed. Most of the fishermen lived close to the shore, which has now been lined with seawalls and their homes moved farther inwards.
“It now takes us a 10-km detour to head back to the sea”, he said, explaining that they now berth boats in the backwaters which are safer but compels them to spend more in fuel.
Further southward in Nagapattinam too, fishermen said business is now much worse. “We also get harassed by the Sri Lankan navy when we head out to deep sea to look for catch,” said T Shankar, who now lives at the Seva Bharti Tsunami Quarters.
Initially after the disaster, the hurdles were also psychological.
“How could we trust the catch after we saw the sea mixed with soil, debris and bodies?”, said a fisherman in new MGR Thittu – a fisherfolk hamlet that was relocated near the backwaters after the old one was destroyed. They had for long believed fishes might have turned poisonous after the disaster.
The then district collector, Gagandeep Singh Bedi, one day went along with the fishermen, caught fish, cooked it and ate it to quell the community’s fears at the village.