Fish-vending woman (Credit: Ishita Patil)
Fish-vending women buy fish individually or in groups from the boat owners, depending on their financial capacity. This stock is then taken to the ice factory and cleaned before packing. It is sold over the next couple of days, with women travelling to different villages and fish markets in nearby areas. Every woman has a fixed place in the market where she has been selling fish for years. Many start as young girls accompanying their mothers and continue after their marriage.
The arrival of boats marks longer days for the women as they have to manage household chores alongside the fish business. The day starts early, going to buy fish from the boat owners, then walking almost a kilometre to the ice factory. Some are able to hire help – men with carts to transport the fish. Fish buying capacity differs from woman to woman. The co-operative charges them a nominal rate for a block of ice and space in the ice factory for storage. By now, it is midday, and the women have to rush back home to feed their families and do other household chores. By 3 pm, they are off to the fish market to sell the fish; they do not return home until late and definitely not before the day’s produce is sold. Most of them travel by rickshaw and bus with a heavy basket on their heads.
The unavailability of credit is a challenge for many fish-vending women. The co-operative society recognised fish-vending women as ‘active’ fisher folk in 2017. However, this remains nominal, as they do not receive any benefits from this membership. Women have to borrow money from traders and boat owners and are often unable to repay their debts.
Ethnographic documentation Ishita Patil