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Meet a fisherman from Kerala who is pursuing a PhD on the struggles of his life, others like him

Naveen Bharat News

Alappuzha: Kaithappuzha Kayal, a part of the vast Vembanad lake, is both a workplace and a classroom for KT astrology. Now 37, an inland fisherman from Kavalumkal in Aroor has been working in calm waters since the age of 12, when he used to accompany his father on a small country boat.

On a normal day, he sets out at 2 a.m. to spread a net of stakes – traditional fishing gear called onniwala in Malayalam – that is tied to a pole standing in the lake bed. By 6 in the morning, he pulls the net 25 to 30 meters long.

The fish thus caught is sold in the local market. He repeats the process between 5 pm and 9 pm in the evening. And this has been happening for the last 25 years.

All the strenuous labor earns him anywhere between Rs 1,000 and nil. But he has used his ‘free time’ to work hard on something completely different – doctoral research.

His PhD thesis is on his own life – livelihood options in the traditional fishermen community in Kerala, with special reference to Alleppey.

“I studied the lives of people in Cherthala taluk,” said Jyotish, who found that lack of higher education and unemployment were the major factors holding back the fishing community.

“The education level of most of the children in fishermen is plus two or less. Employment is seasonal and living conditions are poor, with most living for less than five cents. Lack of support from government agencies is also a reason for their backwardness,” he mentioned in his thesis.

Apart from government support for the upliftment of the poor, he also suggested improving the fish wealth by protecting the ecology of the lake.

On 8 July, Mahatma Gandhi University honored him with a doctorate degree in economics. Jyotish recalled that the poor financial condition of his family had prompted him to take up early fishing.

“Onniwala is the only source of income for our family. I spend about seven hours every day fishing the lake. “

His school days were not very conducive for studies. “But when I passed class 10 with 55% from government HS in Aroor, I wanted to continue my studies and joined a private college under Kerala University.”

He completed his pre-degree, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, and an MA from NSS College in Cherthala.

“All those days, I entered the lake without a break.”

When Jyotish later approached MG University for doctoral research, the authorities refused to allot a guide as he did not have an MPhil or a UGC research fellowship.

“Therefore, I contacted the then Vice-Chancellor, Rajan Gurukkal, and he suggested Dr. RV Jose of the Center for Economic Research, Government College, Kottayam, as a research guide. I completed my research and submitted the thesis in September 2019, “They said.

His father, PS Thankappan, had this to say: “We could not afford to pay for his higher education, but he earned a degree fighting the waves of the lake. It is a proud moment for us.” His mother Vilasini is also a daily wage labourer.

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