Fishermen reallocation in Dhanushkodi Come hell or high water, the fishermen of Dhanushkodi refuse to budge

Dhanushkodi is an abandoned settlement in the Pamban Island, sixteen kilometers from the temple town of Rameshwaram. The settlement was wiped out in a cyclone that occurred in 1964. It remains uninhabited. The ruins of Dhanushkodi stand silent in the burning sand that blinds your eyes. The crumbling facade of a church touches the clear blue sky. The blunt features of the altar offer a welcome shade from the searing heat.

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

According to the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, Lord Rama built a bridge from Dhanushkodi to Sri Lanka, in an effort to rescue his wife Sita. He marked the spot for construction of the bridge using the end of his bow. Thus the place came to be known as Dhanushkodi, end of the bow. The place is a tourist attraction. Devotees who visit Rameshwaram also make sure to visit Dhanushkodi. Near the ruined church are bright blue tarpaulin-sheeted stalls selling decoration pieces made from seashells.

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

A stray dog made its way wearily towards a solitary shed in the distance. Upon approaching, it turns out that it is not a shed, but the entrance leading downstairs to a small cellar. In the light of a solitary tungsten bulb, a man lay curled on a rug. He was skin and bones and only wearing his underwear. A clothesline trailed into the darkness on which were hung his clothes.

On waking up, the man slowly made his way up. He was bald and had a curly white beard. His eyes pleaded as his hands held out for alms. The cyclone may have wiped out life. But it had not wiped out despair.

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

The man directs my attention to a fishing village on the north-eastern side of the island. About 150 families live here. Most of them are fishermen. After the storm of 1964, many families from surrounding villages descended into Dhanushkodi and settled there. But the peace of the village was disrupted when the government decided to evict the area.

According to an article in the Hindu, dated 04 November, 2016, "the district administration.....decided to preserve the remnants of the architectural monuments in Dhanushkodi, devastated by the 1964 cyclonic storm, issued notices to the people living in the area to vacate the place and pave way for the project."

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

The village hamlet was a cluster of thatched, low roofed structures, punctuated by mounds of sand. The first house that we entered turned out to be a store, which was empty. There was a small sitting area near the entrance and at the other end was the store's front.

From a side entrance emerged a bearded hefty man. Ditto had been fishing in Dhanushkodi for twenty years. "I also own this shop." he said. Ditto keeps the shop during the day. At night he goes fishing in his rowboat. Ditto lives in a house adjacent to the store with his wife. He also has a house in Natarajapuram, sixteen kilometres away on the mainland. He flourished an eviction notice which said that “these encroachments are a hindrance to public and tourists.” “We don’t know any other job. This is our home.” Ditto said. “We will not leave.”

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

The last date for eviction was November 10, 2016. So far nobody has moved and no action has been taken.

Pumelu, age 70, sits leaning against the coconut-branch lined fence of her hut. She collects seashells and sells them for hundred rupees a sack. Pumelu has a handicapped son who is unable to go to the sea. Her husband makes fishing nets. She remembers the storm of 1964. “I was only seventeen years old.” When the storm could not do anything to evict her, how can the Collector’s order be any different?

“I will die before I leave.” She proclaimed. “We are fishermen. We will not leave the sea.”

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

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