Meet Kerala fisherman pursuing PhD on struggles of his own life, others like him

He took up fishing as a 12-yr-old. Twenty-five years on, Jyothish has fought heavy odds to earn himself a doctorate in Economics, reports Biju E Paul

Published: 08th August 2021 04:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th August 2021 02:49 PM   |  A+A-

KT Jyothish

KT Jyothish

Express News Service

ALAPPUZHA: Kaithappuzha Kayal, a part of the massive Vembanad Lake, is both workplace and classroom for KT Jyothish. Now 37, the inland fisherman from Kavalumkal in Aroor has been working in the tranquil waters from the age of 12, when he used to accompany his father on a small country boat. 

On a normal day, he sets out at 2am to spread the stake net — traditional fishing gear called oonnivala in Malayalam — that is tied to poles erected in the lake bed. By 6am, he pulls in the 25 to 30m-long net.

The fish thus caught is then sold in the local market. He repeats the process in the evening, between 5pm and 9pm. And that has been happening for the past 25 years.

All the strenuous labour earns him anywhere between Rs 1,000 and naught. But he has used his ‘spare time’ to work harder at something entirely different — doctoral research.

His PhD thesis is, well, on his own life — Livelihood Options in Traditional Fishermen Community in Kerala with Special Reference to Alleppey. 

“I studied the life of people in Cherthala taluk,” said Jyothish, who found that the lack of higher education and unemployment were the principal factors holding the fishing community back.

“The education level of most children among the fisherfolk is Plus Two or lower. Employment is seasonal and the living condition is poor, with a majority of them living in less than five cents. The lack of support from governmental agencies is also a reason for their backwardness,” he noted in his thesis.

Apart from government support to uplift the poor, he also suggested improving fish wealth in the lake by protecting its ecology. 

On July 8, the Mahatma Gandhi University awarded him a doctorate in Economics. Jyothish recalled his family’s poor financial condition had pushed him to take up fishing early.

“The oonnivala is the only income source for our family. I spend around seven hours every day in the lake fishing.”

His school days were not too conducive for study. “But after I passed Class 10 from the Government HS in Aroor with 55%, I wanted to continue my studies and joined a private college under the Kerala University.”

He proceeded to complete his pre-degree, earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics, and secured an MA from the NSS College in Cherthala.

“All those days, I ventured into the lake without a break.”

When Jyothish later approached the MG University for doctoral research, the authorities refused to allot a guide because he did not have an MPhil or a UGC research fellowship.

“So, I contacted the then Vice Chancellor, Rajan Gurukkal, and he suggested Dr RV Jose of the Economic Research Centre, Government College, Kottayam, as a research guide. I finished my research in September 2019 and submitted the thesis,” he said.

His father, P S Thankappan had this to say: “We couldn’t finance his higher studies but he secured the degrees fighting against the waves of the lake. This is a proud moment for us.” His mother, Vilasini, too is a daily wager.


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