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Fisher KC Rekha: The ocean is a mother

As a child, KC Rekha was used to be terrified of the sea. A stormy sea still scares her, on all other days the sea is Kadalamma (the Sea Goddess/Mother). “She is to me as a mother would be, as a Goddess —benevolent.” Rekha is the only woman in Kerala with a deep-sea fishing license issued by the State Fisheries Department.

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“I am the only woman who goes into the sea, for fishing, in India, according to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) also,” says the 39-year-old, who hails from Chettuva near Thrissur, heads out into the sea at 3.00 am every morning along with Karthikeyan, her husband of 20 years, on their small, motorised boat. This has been her routine for the last 10 years, since her husband’s workers quit. “Traditionally, women may not go to the sea but I had no choice. We had to feed and clothe our four daughters.”

The stars and the winds guide the couple to the fish, often more than 50 kilometres into the sea. “You get some fish, like ayala and mathi, around 20-25 km into the sea; others are further away. It all depends on the fish,” says Rekha who has studied up to class X. Native knowledge may guide them but they also carry life jackets. “There are four souls waiting for us by the sea. We have to ensure that we return, every day!” She didn’t know how to swim when she began but has learnt to some extent now.

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The couple takes turns to steer the boat and cast the net. They are usually done by 9.30 am but if they don’t get enough, they cast the net again and return by noon. On an average they earn around ₹5000-10,000 daily, depending on the catch and the price of fish. “It may sound like a lot but, after expenses, we don’t have much left.” Her talk is all about damaged fishing nets, prices of fish at the auction, the cost of running their boat, the motorboat’s fuel consumption…

Her eldest daughter was married last week and Rekha is happy about it. “She is 19. The girls understood very young that I had to do what I was doing. They looked after each other and even cooked.”

When the monsoon arrives, she will again face the sea’s frightening aspect. “Our house is very close to the sea. It is windy when it rains, the waves take away a lot of the seaside We’d rather stay here and face whatever the sea has in store for us.”

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