Rekha Karthikeyan is the only licensed woman trawler in Kerala and has been taking the
male-dominated sector by storm. A philanthropist last week gifted a fibre fishing boat to Rekha, who is now in search of a twin engine.
KOCHI: If a wink catapulted Priya Prakash Varrier to fame, it was sheer grit and determination that brought recognition to 38-year-old Rekha Karthikeyan. She turned into a role model for other women who work in the unorganised sectors by sailing her fibre vessel out into the deep sea.
She is the first licenced woman trawler from Kerala to venture into deep sea fishing. She sails out with her husband even as the rest of the world sleeps to haul in fish for the local market. Rekha, who hails from Eathai beach in Chavakkad, has been giving tough competition to her male counterparts by sailing through the most unpredictable routes in the seas for the last few years.
Moved by her fight against the battering waves, a philanthropist from Ernakulam last week gifted her a brand new fibre fishing vessel. She has been searching ways to source an engine for the vessel.
A delegation from Garmin in the US, a company known for its specialisation in GPS technology development, which visited her hamlet, gifted her a state-of-the-art fish finder combined with eco GPS to track the movement of shoals in the sea. “Delegations from Germany, Japan and China have come down to meet me in order to document my life,” said Rekha.
Her day starts at dawn. While her four daughters sleep, she ventures into the sea off the coast of Chavakkad in Thrissur, steering her vessel through the choppy waters hoping for a big catch. There are days when she and her husband Karattu Karthikeyan have to face disappointment. “Unlike men, who can be out at sea for long periods, we cannot afford to stay long. Anyway a woman has certain limitations,” she said.
“At times, I sleep and eat right in the middle of the sea. Every day is a struggle, a fight I have to win in order stay afloat. The thought of my daughters gives me the strength. I never heed the innuendos of a male-dominated fishing community where the unwritten rule is that while men work at sea, women need to stay at home managing household works and taking care of the children,” she said.
She has been pelted with sarcastic remarks. “Remarks, like where does your wife answer nature’s call while fishing used to be thrown at us,” said Karthikeyan, who married her around 20 years ago. Even their marriage was a controversial affair since both of them belong to different castes.
With her family and the community excommunicating them, the couple had no other option but to venture out into the sea as a team. “Now things have changed. The people have started accepting us. We were honoured at an event by Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Sudarshan Bhagat recently and we have been receiving dozens of receptions every month for setting a new trend in the gender-divided sector,” she said.
However, recently their engine snagged in the middle of the sea. “We are now exploring ways to get a twin engine for our vessel,” she added. They even survived the devastating Ockhi. “We felt something unusual in the behaviour of sea on the fateful day and returned without casting our nets. By the time we reached home, the waves had turned violent and even advanced to our house,” she said.
“Most people venture out into the sea ignoring signs and warnings that nature gives out. It is greed that makes them do it. But in the end it costs them their lives. I can’t take risks because I have to think of my kids,” she added.