THE DECEMBER OCKHI

The devastating cyclone. OCKHI that ravaged the western coast and swallowed many of our brethren along with their vessels in December 2017. deserves to be recorded in the pages of Global Paravar.
Though a professor from the area who spoke to me could tell me that Forty four coastal villages , 36 from Kottar diocese and 8 from Trivandrum diocese suffered the impact of the cyclone, he could not pin pointedly inform me how many lives these villages lost, how many dead they could get back from the sea , and how many boats wrecked and lost and how many are yet to return.This was sometime prior to Christmas.
I requested him to make this study and document this tragedy with —NAMES, FATHER’s NAMES, AGE, ADDRESS, IDENTIFICATION MARKS, PLACE OF BURIAL, NAMES OF WIFE WITH FATHER’s NAME AND NAMES OF CHILDREN of the dead and lost. It is a tough task, as I know from experience , no two agencies agree on the exact numbers of men and materials lost in such extensive tragedies. Nevertheless , the official figures , according to fr. Churchill who deals with the affairs of this tragedy are :— 171 missing from Kanyakumari district . 42 missing from other districts and 8 from other states. 16 mechanised boats and more than 150 boats have sunk.
According to Government 149 from Kanyakumari disrtrict have been lost . In Tamilnadu totally 197 were totally missing. Of these 37 were from other districts. 9 are from other states.These 37 includes 3 from Tuticorin,19 from Cuddalore, 16 from Nagapattinam, 1 from Pudukottai. The Government had reported that already in 16 cases , 20 Lakh rs has already paid to each for 16 dead . There has been dispute regarding descendant in two cases of death and the relief has been withheld by the Government.
It is necessary that enlightened bodies engaged in rendering assistance to the deprived of the area work in close co ordination with the local Government, to get the best solace, support, succour for those who suffered loss in this tragedy. They should not take a strident posture with the Government and indulge in conflicts . In fact in each of the 44 afffected villages there should be one liaison group to work in tandem with the Government.
It is now in the knowledge of many that congregations of nuns have moved their Social work wings to the area, and are collecting Data in the villages. Some of the sisters informed me that they find it difficult to collect details of dead and lost as the villagers are too stunned and too immersed in sadness to recall and retell facts. The congregations would do well to stop scurrying for facts for the present , so close to tragedy but concentrate on rendering spiritual solace to them first with prayers and Counselling . Direct data collection can wait for the present as it affects the psyche of sufferer too painfully.
I am informed by the sisters that there are many young ladies who had lost their husbands and who have many children to be reared. Should we not think of the future of the widows, their livelihood , the education of their children. What is that we the unaffected ,the comparatively comfortable among us , the educated among us, the religious congregations, the church, those who run schools and colleges, those who run hospitals, industries, business houses to do for these people .? Can we think of instituting scholarship for the children ? Can we think of rendering assistance to get them back on their feet ? Can we not give preference and help to these children and families either to take up their own traditional jobs or find new jobs in Government, in our schools ,colleges, business houses? Why should not laymen of our community in each-in-land diocese collectively organise scholarships for children of widows in colleges in and around, Nagercoil, Trivandrum and Thoothur and Thoothukudi.
Though the Government had announced relief of rs 20 lakhs to each deceased family, I learn it is yet to come for all..it will come sooner or later. But when it comes, what use should be made of it is very important . In my experience I have noticed many new relatives suddenly springing up and rendering un solicited advice on investments like lending for interest etc. I have also seen bitter feuds among relatives and friends to share the amount. The correct course would be to lock the money in a long term fixed deposit for interest in a nearby National bank.The enlightened must guide the beneficiaries in this suitably.
The cyclone has focused the attention of the Government to a few demands. They are.
  1. The dire need for communication facilities from the shore to the boats in the sea. And communication facilities among the boats themselves while in the seas.The long staying, deep sea fishermen of the western coast need SAT-phones from shores to the boats in the sea. The sat phones are costly . Therefore, these SAT phones can be provided and installed in the shores by the fishery department on shore control rooms, to be organised and located in the scale of one phone for one village by the Government at its cost. The deep sea boats must compulsorily be provided with SAT phones by the vessel owners at their cost . The Government should provide Long Term Easy instalment loans for purchasing and installing these SAT phones. This will definitely facilitate communication between shore and deep sea . A few non sea -Sensitive government officials are heard remarking that security is involved. In provision of Sat phones to fishermen. Nothing could be more ridiculous. The fishermen often gloat that they are the unpaid sentinels of our shore. The officials should open their minds to new thoughts instead of having biased and blind ,untested ideas.
    The other method of communication between shores and the deep sea would be to have the time tested HF SETS either Voice or Morse coded. Morse coded would involve training of manpower . Recently , I learn Tamilnadu Police did a way with this communication system , while bringing in new technologies ,the competence of which is being tested. These dismantled systems must be lying somewhere waiting to be scrapped. A Morse station on shore in each of the group of four villages linked with morse sets in the deep sea boats would be sufficient to handle the communication problem.
    For communication among boats in the sea ,the Government , I learn, has launched a programme of providing VHF sets. This may be useful in the eastern coast ,where the fishermen do not go far into the seaand stay long. It is doubtful whether this would be of benefit in the western coast where the fishing is in the deep sea and for long time. If this has to be successful,, repeater towers and stations may have to be established in the islands in Lakshadweep area or in heavy barges in the mid sea .The Government officials would do,well to consult department of communication quickly and install any of the system that facilitates communication between the sea and the shore before we become a victim of another cyclone.
  2. The second demand is for quick rescue teams . The wailing and agonising question of fisher women of the south western coast, these days is where is my protector— the mighty ships with aeroplanes, the squadrons of helicopters, —that she was rightly proud of , when she saw them sailing or flying in the television advertisements. The answer lies in preparing a plan , all along the coast , and ear marking jurisdiction of units of navy and Air Force , for rescue. In other words, preparation of a contingency scheme. The western fishermen feel that they need to have swift operation by helicopters and search planes as they would do in the event of disaster in land. They require helipads to be constructed and kept ready in each ten villages . They ironically question when helipads could be erected for VIPs for their jaunts, why should they not be erected in a few places along the coast ready for such rescue missions.
  3. The third demand is the abrogation of the present practice of waiting for seven years to declare a fisherman dead, if he is lost or dead in the sea. It is cruel that the widows wait for scour and financial relief for seven long yeas . What is the use of family getting relief after seven years on the basis of available in records is in fisheries fisheries departments
  4. The fourth demand is separate ministry at the centre for Fisheries. At present , the subject is being looked after by a joint secretary in the ministry of agriculture. A separate ministry would assist the fisherman with undivided attention .
  5. The fifth demand is Provision of loans for reconstruction on easy interest besides past loans raised for the sunken boats as the Governmens do in the case of agriculturists , during natural disasters.
The fisherfolk loudly clamoured in various interviews in televisions during the post cyclone days that they lack political representation as they are more in sea than in land. They expressed that the Government had not responded to the crisis quickly as they lack political power as they have no one to speak for them.They vociferously demanded that the electoral constituencies should be redrawn along the coast so that out of 38. Legislative constituencies that has fishermen population , at least 13 constituencies, which are exclusively theirs which will give them opportunity to express their grievances.
Let us all stand in unison with victims of OCKHI.
by A.X Alexander

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