Casting for Hope
The Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Every monsoon, however, allows the river to cleanse itself. Gusty, upstream rains recharge the flow of the river and it becomes home again to teeming fish.
While the water flow during peak summer is too meager to support a healthy fish population, during monsoon, fish can finally flourish. Fishermen move in to inhabit Delhi’s Kalindi Kunj river bank.
These fishermen, mostly migrants from Bihar and West Bengal, spend hours making or working on their nets and boats. They construct makeshift tents, from where they launch their boats every morning.
Smaller nets, measuring a couple of hundred feet, take a week to make, while the bigger ones which can measure up to one thousand feet are laborious, taking up to two years to weave. The fishing boats, which are usually made from re-jigged pieces of wood and aluminum sheets, take five days to build.
About a hundred fishermen work through the rainy season on the Kalindi Kunj stretch of the river, their nets often sandwiched between the lifeline bridges connecting Delhi to suburban NOIDA.
Raman Haldar’s face speaks of the many years spent fishing under a grueling sun. Fishermen sometimes travel 25km beyond Delhi’s Badarpur border to catch fish. After Diwali each year, they move to Agra and places in Rajasthan in search of fish.
“Some of these fish are exotic enough to attract bids at the wholesale fish market that sprouts up on the riverbank every afternoon. However, trucks carrying several quintals of fish from Haryana’s Mewat region, gives stiff competition to us,” one of the fishermen said.
During this time of the year, on a good day, a group of five fishermen can catch up to 20 kg or more in the Kalindi Kunj stretch of the river. These are the days when they can return to the shore with a net full of fish — rohu, milan kar, mangoor, birgat, singhi, bhata, hilsa, pangas, jhenga, jalmas.
Half of the catch is owed to the ‘contractor’, the man responsible for the annual contract allowing them to fish in the river. The contractor decides who can “go in” to the river, armed with nets.
Fisherman Roma Haldar’s life is in sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Indian capital. The day starts early, at the crack of dawn, when fishermen set out to reel in the day’s catch.
After spending about four hours in the river, the fishermen return around 9 a.m. for the first meal of the day. This river-based livelihood is reflected in what they eat – fish that they have caught themselves, cooked in different styles, and that, too, twice a day.
Fisherman Mona Raj Bansi catches some well deserved rest after a tiring trip. He moved base to Kalindi Kunj area recently, after four months in nearby Rajasthan, to harvest the good catch in the monsoon-fed river.
By the end of August, the 22-km long stretch of Yamuna in Delhi starts receding to its usual self. Though their families live in villages near Noida, the retreating water level in the river can force the fishermen to live a nomadic lifestyle, shifting from place to place in search of the best catch.
Despite thousands of crores being spent on various projects to clean the river, Yamuna has become increasingly polluted and its characteristic stench has remained unchanged.
“It is a fickle profession, wholly based on the whims of weather and river. In a ‘good’ month, we can earn 20 to 30 thousand rupees, and in a ‘bad’ month, less than ten thousand. Our wives share the burden and work as maids in Noida homes,” a 50-year-old migrant from Bengal said.
Raman Haldar attends to his nets in the relative cool of his shack, as another day draws to an end for these fishermen.
Web Producer: Abhinash Kumar Jha