Life for those living in the coastal villages of Kerala has revolved around fishing since time immemorial.
And it had always been the men who ventured into the deepest seas and braved the most turbulent tempests to bring back a bountiful haul, while women were expected to remain at their shore-lined settlements praying for their husbands’ safety.
But one woman from a fishing hamlet of Chettuva in Thrissur refused to abide by the age-old norms and taboos about the fishermen community and today KC Rekha is India’s only licenced deep-sea fisherwoman.
Venturing into the deep and rough waters of Arabian Sea on a 20-year-old single-engine boat, Rekha has been bravely battling the odds from the time she had stepped in to join her husband P Karthikeyan as a deckhand 13 years ago.
Without a compass, GPS device, life jackets or any kind of modern navigation equipment, the couple has been surviving the fickle tides on a daily basis with the steadfast belief that Kadalamma, the sea goddess revered by numerous fishermen communities, will bring them home safe and sound.
It had been out of adversity that led the 45-year-old mother of four to take up a profession strictly out of bounds for women when the family couldn’t afford to pay its workers anymore. Despite facing downright dismissal by fellow community members, Rekha remained adamant and went on to take the revolutionary path with unfaltering support from her husband.
Rekha and Karthikeyan have an unconventional story behind their marriage. Having met during a Hindi course and subsequently fallen in love, the duo faced severe objections from their respective families. They had to leave their homes to start a new life.
Having suffered from seasickness initially, Rekha took it upon herself to learn even the most basic of fishing skills from her husband and eventually surpassed even the proficiency of her seasoned counterpart.
“She can sniff the presence of a shoal of fish, swim against the current and lay her net quickly. She is better than me in doing that. She can give you lessons on the habits and paths of fish such as sardine, tuna, mackerel and sea bass,” Karthikeyan proudly told Hindustan Times.
As of her national recognition, it was following a painstaking and expansive research by Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) that Rekha was found to be the lone woman in the country fishing along deep waters of the coastline.
“It was a tedious search. There are many women engaged in fishing in backwaters and rivers, but no record of a woman’s presence in fishing along our coastline was available. We have done an extensive search and finally spotted her and recognised her feat,” CMFRI director A Gopalakrishnan said.
Recognising her grit and resilience, she was felicitated by the Union minister of state for agriculture Sudarshan Bhagat at a function in April. The event also led to Rekha receive the first ever fisherperson licence in the country to be bestowed upon any woman till date.
Furthermore, the couple was provided with financial and technical support by CMFRI to start cage farming in the fringes of the pier and were supplied with cage and fish seedlings as well.
The agency also helped to get their eldest daughter, Maya, a Class 12 student, a scholarship of ₹1 lakh.
Life has indeed been a struggle for the couple, but Rekha has no qualms about the choice she had taken more than a decade ago and has come to love her profession.
“What we need is a new boat with a double outboard engine and a new set of nets. I am sure I can steer my family out of the financial mess and provide good education to my children,” Rekha said.
For a woman who broke the glass ceiling by sailing into the deep sea to alleviate the burden of her family’s sustenance, Rekha stands tall as a fisherwoman, and we hope that more women across the country look up to her and enter the field fearlessly.