Kerala floods: Big-hearted fishermen saved lives not for rewards

As flood-hit Kerala limps back to normal, the state is saluting some noble souls for their acts of courage, kindness and sacrifice.

Among them are more than 2,800 fishermen who came in 642 boats (pictured: Matsyafed) to save thousands of people trapped in flooded interior regions where normal vessels cannot reach. They worked in tandem with the state fisheries department and Matsyafed or the Kerala State Co-operative Federation for Fisheries Development who provided them diesel, new engines and life jackets besides food.

Several more fishermen joined the rescue operation on their own taking great risks to save lives in their respective areas.

Some of the fishermen roped in by the government from coastal Vizhinjam and Poonthura were honoured at the state capital Thiruvananthapuram on Monday. All fishermen from Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alapuzha, Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam and Thrissur who took part in this massive operation will be honoured at a larger function to be held in Thiruvananthapuram on Aug 29.

A small group of fishermen, who gathered outside the district collector’s office in Alapuzha on Monday, said the human tragedy unfolding before them touched their conscience and they too wanted to do their bit. After reaching interior regions, they had to cut and remove branches of uprooted trees floating on water, clear bamboo hedges and break down brick walls to push in their boats to the compounds and doorsteps of flooded homes.

One fisherman said he stood neck-deep in water ignoring snakes while clearing hurdles on the way. He said each of the boats on an average accommodated as many as 35 to 40 survivors.

Another fisherman said their team worked day in and out for over a week saving more than a thousand lives. He said none of them thought of recognition or reward. All they wanted was to save maximum lives as flood waters kept rising.

Fishermen elsewhere had similar stories to tell. In a video widely circulated on social media, a man from Fort Kochi, Khais Mohammed, politely refused the reward offered by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

In the video, he says: “Sir, I’m honoured to know your government has recognised us fishermen as an ‘army’of saviours. I also heard you have announced Rs3,000 ($42) to each of us as reward for saving lives. But I’m sorry to say we can’t accept any reward for saving the lives of our brothers and sisters.”

However, in the video, Mohammed welcomes the government’s offer of repairing their boats which is their only means of livelihood.

Many viewers congratulated Mohammed for his outlook.

Siblings donate land

Another report that touched a chord with millions of people closely following the flood story was a rare gesture from a brother and sister studying in a school in Paiyyannur in northern Kerala.

Swaha and Brahma, who belong to a family of farmers, have offered one acre of land costing around Rs5,000,000 ($71,555) as their contribution to the government’s flood relief fund. Their father Shankaran, who had bequeathed nine acres of land to them, readily gave permission to gift one acre to the government.

Students and teachers of Shenoys Memorial Government Higher Secondary School, where the siblings study, and social media users hailed them for their noble gesture.

In neighbouring state Tamil Nadu, nine-year-old girl Anupriya of Villupuram was so touched by the Kerala flood scenes shown on TV that she sent Rs9,000 ($128), which she had saved in her piggy bank to buy a bicycle, to the flood relief fund.

Hearing her story, one leading cycle company promised to send her a brand new cycle free of cost.

Social media users praised both Anupriya and the cycle company.

Another individual who won praise from social media users is K Samuel from Adoor in Pathanamthitta district. He has offered his land for cremation or burial for any family who have lost some member to floods and whose land is submerged under water.

In a Facebook post, Samuel says his property and the road leading to it have not been affected by floods.