A Fisherwoman in Rameshwaram Seaweed collection is a profession which sees both men and women in equal participation

Walking down the dusty road of a fishing village called Chinnapalam near the temple town of Rameshwaram, this reporter spotted an elderly woman near the beach.

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

Clad in a yellow sari, Muniyayi, 63 years old, is a fisherwoman who collects seaweed which is used in the cosmetics industry.

Muniyayi uses a wooden rowboat to collect seaweed. Her day starts at four o’clock. After cleaning the house and drawing the kolam, she leaves at six o’clock in the morning along with six others. She taps the side of her boat and says, “Wooden boat. Iron boat rusts. I’m afraid to go on a machine boat.”They row the boat to the surrounding islands. “We can’t go too near the islands because the islands are under the control of Forest officials.” She says.

They don underwater goggles and then jump into the water. The crude goggles are brought from a nearby store.

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

Muniyayi places a hand near her neck to indicate the water level. The main group splits up into groups of two. Taking a deep breath, they plunge beneath the water surface and grope around for seaweed. She earns 300 rupees daily by selling it to traders.

When asked whether the village objected to women venturing out into sea, she said that the villagers did not say anything and, in fact, many women in these areas are engaged in seaweed cultivation.

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

Muniyayi doesn’t want to go into any other line of work. She doesn’t want her children to help her and become fishermen either. “My burden is mine alone to bear.”

She recounts going to sea when she was pregnant in 1993. “There was a storm. I was scared. I balanced the boat by standing on the side with my oar, in the rain.”

photo credit: Rohit Remesh

Muniyayi says she cannot hold her breath underwater for long, though she has been collecting seaweed for the past 55 years. “I break the water line rapidly, gasping for breath.” She says. She recalls the story of her brother Nambuthunni who died on the job when he lost consciousness as he bent underwater to collect seaweed.

In her experience, sea has both taken away and given lives. “Once a pregnant woman went near the islands. She gave birth to a baby girl who was brought back to safety, wrapped in plastic covers. She was named Theivu Rani (Queen of the Island).

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