Mumbai's forgotten inhabitants

Sunil Chibde, a 35-year-old fisherman has been eking out a living off Mumbai's coast at Girgaum Chowpatty ever since he moved to the city from Raigarh in Chattisgarh 25 years ago. He still lives hand to mouth, showing how Mumbai tends to forget the nomads who come here to make the city their home.

The community of fisherfolk has been living in Mumbai for decades, but so far, the way they live has changed very little, despite it becoming harder to sustain their lifestyle in these times of skyrocketing prices. "We used to get so many fish that we were always at the sea, until five years ago. But now we don't even go to the sea because there are hardly any fish," Anant Panduram Tandil, a fisherman who lives at the Machimar Colony in Cuffe Parade.

Many government-funded associations like the Machchimaar Sarvodya Sahakari Society, Cuffe Parade have been developed to support these fisherfolk by providing diesel, loans and subsidised equipment. However, big fisheries are ruining the business of these small fisherfolk. These companies have better technologies and equipment, enabling them to catch a lot more fish, leaving very few for the other fishermen.

The fisherfolk blame the 'purse sien' nets for this. These nets reach right from the surface to the sea bed, and with a very small mesh size, it can catch fish of most sizes. But an orindary fisherman cannot afford these nets . "Only 161 boats have government permission to use the purse sien nets, but about 600-1,000 boats use them," said Ganesh Jagtap, a manager in Machchimaar Sarvodya Sahakari Society, Cuffe Parade. The fisherfolk have asked the Supreme Court to ban the nets.

Pollution is another problem they face, as they often catch plastic bottles instead of fish in their nets.

The next generations of the fisherfolk are now choosing to become drivers, domestic help and security guards instead. If this continues, these iconic communities could soon be extinct.


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