How climate change threatens India’s coastal fishing community: NPR

For the Koli people of Mumbai, the full moon marks the traditional end of the monsoon rains and a chance to return to the sea. Climate change threatens their way of life.

Scott Simon, host:

For the Koli people of Mumbai, the end of the strong monsoon rains also marks the return of the sea for fishing. This year, they celebrated this new beginning at the end of August. Namrata Kolachalam sends us this postcard from Mumbai.

NAMRATA KOLACHALAM, LINE: Surrounded by the gleaming high-rise buildings of India’s financial capital, the small shops and stalls of this Koli fishing village bustle with activity. At an outdoor café, local community leader Muhit Ramla is busy preparing for the evening’s celebrations.

Mohit Ramli: The Western concept is Thanksgiving, but for us it is Narali Purnima.

Kollachalam: Narali Purnima is an annual holiday held in the Hindu month of Shravan after two long months of monsoon rains, when fishermen are unable to go out to sea. It marks the beginning of the new hunting season and brings the entire community to celebrate.

(sound of Music)

KOLACHALAM: As rival brass bands lead dancing processions through the narrow streets, thousands of people flock to the sprawling sandy beach. Colorful fishing boats decorated with wreaths are arranged on the sand. Men wear a traditional red hat with blue stripes. The women strung luminous beads through their hair and the ends of their saris, so that their gold jewelery glowed in the fading light. Oh, and there are coconuts everywhere.

Narendra Karde: (They don’t speak English).

KOLACHALAM: While arranging coconuts on the sand, Narendra Karde walked me through the religious rituals. He says he will offer the flowers to the coconut and top it with red powder and light incense. He passes around a tray of karanji, a half-moon-shaped coconut dessert, while waves crash on the shore.

(Sound of crashing waves)

KOLACHALAM: As the sun begins to set, he joins his wife and young child in throwing coconuts into the Arabian Sea, as an offering to the sea god Varuna. They require calm waters and lots of fish. In the morning, fishing boats will take to sea as they have done for centuries. But climate change now poses new challenges. Here’s Mohit again.

Ramla: Then we walk in the seas. But the future is unknown for fishermen because of this climate change – what hurricanes they will encounter, what storms they will encounter.

KOLACHALAM: A research group has found that the frequency and intensity of severe cyclones around Mumbai have doubled since 2010. Koli fishermen have to navigate increasingly polluted waters, competition from industrial fishing boats, and extreme weather. I asked Mohit if the Koli people are more afraid of the sea these days. He answers with the popular Koli song.

Ramla: (Singing in a language other than English). Any hurricane, any storm that may come, no matter how much rain it falls. But Collis is not afraid of anything.

KOLACHALAM: At the beach, I met several young Kuli who had decided not to work as fishermen, like Minal Sandhyacha, who teaches science at a local college. She says that many young people like her are now first-class doctors, engineers and lawyers. However, she says, it’s important to honor their heritage.

Minal Sandiacha: We are first-class doctors, first-class in everything, but we still have to be rooted.

Kollachalam: We have to be rooted, says Minal, because if we forget the sea, the sea will forget us.

For NPR News, I’m Namrata Kolachalam in Mumbai.

(sound of Music)

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