THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It's been about 50 days since they got any work. And to boot to their worries, their employers owe them two months salary. The gas cylinders have gone empty, grocery stock has almost finished and they have to cook their food outside holding a tin sheet overhead as the rains have intensified in the region. The house owner has been pressing them for rent and the threat of eviction is lingering overhead.
This is the ordeal faced by 16 Malayalis, including a woman, who work in Havelock Island in the Andamans as scuba diving instructors. Faced by insurmountable difficulties, they are now pleading to the authorities to facilitate their return to Kerala.
Havelock Island, now re-christened as Swaraj Dweep, is a famed tourist location adored for its unblemished beaches and diving sites. Ever since the pandemic struck, the tourism sector in Andamans has taken a bad hit rendering the Keralites jobless. After the lockdown was announced, things got worse.
Rakesh N, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram district, said the diving companies were owned by the locals, who are least bothered about the well being of their staff. "They still owe us two months salary. Whatever cash we had was spent on the rent and food. Now we are penniless and unsure what to do," Rakesh said.
The Keralites have been working here for the last three years. The tourism season in the Andamans spans for about seven months after which they return home. They usually travel three hours by boat from Havelock to Port Blair, which is 70 km away, and then catch a flight to Chennai though the ship service is also available. With no idea when the flight or ship service will be resumed, Rakesh said their family members are worried about their safety. Thresiamma Antony, the lone woman in the group who hails from Alappuzha, said basic survival is now a challenge as they are short of cash and provisions.
"Now that it's raining heavily, we cannot even properly cook food. We have to hold a sheet overhead while cooking to prevent us from getting drenched. If we fall sick, getting medical treatment will also be a huge challenge," she said. The group members said they have registered their names with the authorities for repatriation and are keenly awaiting a call.