Nestled between the highrises of Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point is a quaint fishing colony – the Cuffe Parade fishing village, or Machhimar Nagar.
Initially used by residents of Jamshedji Bunder as a place for fishing, fisherfolk set up their homes in the area following the reclamation in the 1970s.
It now stands on four plots of land reserved by the government for Mumbai’s fisherfolk in the posh Badhwar Park locality.
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According to Damodar Tandel, founder of the Akhil Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti, it was sustained protests by the organisation that finally led to the government reserving the colonies for the Koli community.
Today, Machhimar Nagar stands out as one of the few places in south Mumbai that time seems to have left untouched.
About 250 boats in the village proclaim that the main occupation of residents here remains fishing.
The breeze carries the smell of fish, and the small colourful houses sit around winding lanes difficult to navigate for outsiders.
The village is at its most active in the mornings, when women sit outside their homes to sell fish while children run about getting ready for the day.
At other times, locals laze around and chat in groups.
Even though the number of active fishermen in the village is dwindling, many take pride in their occupation.
Fishing in the area is becoming more difficult by the day with several obstacles, much to the worry of Parshuram Meher, a member of the Sarvodaya Machhimar Sahakari Sanstha, a society formed to ensure the smooth running of boats for the fishermen in these colonies.
“It is not that people are not interested in fishing any more. The reason is that the number of fish in the sea is much lower than what it was before. One factor is the pollution caused by untreated sewage and waste in the sea water. Often, we have found plastic in the fish’s stomach. Another major reason is the purse seine fishing that people from Raigad carry out in this area,” he says.
Purse seine fishing involves encircling the fish with a fine net and then pursing it from the bottom to ensure a large catch. Even though the central government imposed a ban on it, Meher alleged it remains rampant.
Development has touched the village in a haphazard way. Although members of the society claim more than half the women in the village have completed higher education, every home still does not have a toilet.
The colonies have community toilets for women, but only two colonies sport community toilets for men.
The BMC recently carried out a survey of all the homes in the colonies to understand in which houses toilets were a possibility.
However, for the community, says Tandel, the biggest fight is to get the land on which their homes stand registered under the fishermen’s names. He hopes the government will pay heed to their demand soon.