My Day: Sri Lankan fisherwoman

Sri Lankan fisherwoman Vijayakumar Thevarani
Image caption Vijayakumar Thevarani works 18-hour days, but still does not earn enough to avoid getting into debt

Vijayakumar Thevarani, 42, has been working in fishing since the age of 16. She is a widow with four children, two of whom still live at home, and lives in Karainagar, an island joined by a causeway to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka.

I have always done fishing work. The men go out to sea and if there is work available I do everything from tapping fish - that is, removing them from the nets - to repairing nets. This is the work I have always known and if there's no work in this village I go to another.

I wake up at 04:00. I have to feed my goats and cow, and tether the cow so it can graze. Then I cook for the family, then I tether the cow somewhere else to graze.

I come to the seashore around 07:30 when my business partner - my cousin - returns from fishing out at sea.

When the fishermen come in we women help them unload the fishing nets and tap the fish. Some fall out on their own but some must be removed one by one. Then we wash the fish and take it to market where we sell it by auction.

Sometimes I cook for the fishermen. Even if our boat hasn't gone out I might help others tap their fish. I get only 100 Sri Lanka rupees for that (45p; 75c). It's very little so my livelihood is fragile.

Image caption One of Ms Thevarani's many tasks is to "tap" the fish - getting them out of their nets
Image caption Ms Thevarani does not join the men out at sea, but has plenty to do on land
Image caption The fish are sold at auction, but she says Indian trawlers are harming the local trade

The net has to be untangled and properly folded because that evening the fishermen take it out again.

After a morning working on shore I go home but I return at 14:30. I ensure the fuel and the nets are ready and I arrange everything for the fishermen to go out to sea in the afternoon.

Because of the winds they will have pulled the boat deep into the shore. So all of us have to help push the boat out as the fishermen leave. The nets are very heavy so sometimes it takes five or six people to push the boat into the sea.

Trawler threat

But this whole routine has been severely disrupted by Indian trawlers entering our waters.

The Indian bottom-trawlers have completely destroyed our resources. They have wiped out the small fish near the shore so there are none to catch.

They also [inadvertently] destroy our nets. We load our boats with fuel and go out but the trawlers slice through our nets and drag them off somewhere else. We can't even look for them, because we fish by night.

So we spend huge sums on fuel and nets and they get cut. Who will compensate us? The Indian trawlers must be stopped. Our livelihood is being ruined. Soon the only option for us will be to go and fish on the Indian side.

It severely affects our finances. There are fewer fish so our income goes down.

Also it's harder for my business partner to find daily wage labourers to help him fish, because now he only goes to sea every other day as the Indian trawlers are there every other day too.

Work is hard and money is very tight. Usually we would pay a wage labourer 1,000 rupees (£4.60; $7.60) as it's very hard work, up to 14 hours. In fact it's not enough for him to sustain his family. Only if we make 2,000 rupees can he get 1,000 and my partner and I get 1,000.

But we must deduct costs of fuel and repairs to the engine, boat or net. After subtracting all that we split the remainder between the two of us.


I also have to do other work. In the evenings or mornings I sell a bottle of milk to my neighbours. I sometimes go and sweep houses in the mornings but get only 30 rupees for three-and-a-half hours' work, or on a good day 60 or 100 rupees.

Most evenings I weave coconut leaves until I fall asleep. I sell these as roofing or fencing - if you weave a lot you might earn 300 rupees. But I have to pay someone 1,500 rupees a month to gather the leaves. I haven't paid them for 10 months.

I feel I am drowning in debt. I've borrowed nearly 200,000 rupees (£920; $1,525) to keep my fishing work going. Then I need more loans to educate my children and run the household.

When the war was happening there were no Indian trawlers and we could lend money to others. That's impossible now.

I finally sleep at about 22:00, sometimes 23:00.

When my parents were alive they brought me up nicely and took care of me. But now I'm an adult it's been constant work from morning to night, and little money. My back hurts now.

From the age of 16 I feel I have been constantly working. So life is extremely hard for me.

Vijayakumar Thevarani was talking to the BBC's Charles Haviland in Sri Lanka