NAGAPATTINAM: My husband would always be home for Deepavali no matter how long he is away at sea, rues Kalaiarasi, the wife of fisherman E Sivakumar of Akkaraipettai. With the latter being among the 23 fishermen from the State who were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy last month for allegedly crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) on October 13, his remand, like that of the others, has been extended again. “I could not to tell my young sons that he would not be home for the festival this year. We are rather in the dark at the moment," Kalaiarasi adds. It is not just her, but some others too in the coastal delta district for whom Deepavali may not be just as bright.
Apart from the families of the 23 fishermen from Nagapattinam and Mayiladuthurai districts whose spirits were dampened by the news of the extension of their remand at the Jaffna prison in Sri Lanka, farmers reeling under losses from the Burevi cyclone and unseasonal rains, too, are in no festive mood.
With over 80,000 hectares of cultivation affected, farmers, while having received some relief under the disaster management fund, were pinning their hopes on the crop insurance scheme to compensate for the losses. According to officials, 43 villages in Mayiladuthurai district and 80 villages in Nagapattinam district have been left out from the scheme by the insurance firm concerned citing an alleged lack of losses.
The marginal farmers (owning a hectare of land) and tenant farmers (those who only cultivate) are among the worst affected as they need the gains from cultivation as an investment to carry the next. "It has not been a festive year for us. Our block and our village were among the worst affected by the unseasonal rains. But they marked our village as 'zero' due to some criteria. We are drowning in debt in this cultivation due to lack of insurance relief from the previous year," said N Vigneshwaran from Nallavinayakapuram in Mayiladuthurai district.
The farm labourers are another section of people who have been hit. Most of them are registered workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). The concentration of farm labourers-cum-MGNREGS workers in the coastal delta is one of the largest in the State. The works, however, were reduced reportedly due to Covid-19 concerns.
S Manonraj, a farm labourer from Pattamangalam in Mayiladuthurai block, said, "Our livelihoods are dependent on the wages from the 100 days of work. We struggled without them for most of the year. There is nothing to be in a festive mood as we struggle to meet our ends. We request the government to increase employment opportunities."
While urging the governments to bring back their men soon, Veeralakshmi, the wife of E Sivanesan, who is among the 23 arrested fisherman said, “Our Deepavali is when they come back home."