Ravina Bambhaniya was seven in the winter of 2008, when her relatives gathered to conduct the final rites of her father. Ramesh Bambhaniya was on board the fishing trawler Kuber that was hijacked by ten armed terrorists to reach the Mumbai coast on November 26, 2008.
Nine years later, Ravina is hoping to become a teacher, even as her mother struggles to keep the family going — Ramesh is still listed officially as a “missing person”.
Hailing from Simasi village in Una taluka of Gujarat’s coastal Gir Somnath district, Ramesh was with four other fishermen on Kuber that trip. While the body of captain Amarsinh Solanki was found off the Mumbai coast, there was no trace of the rest. Officially, the government is yet to declare them “presumed dead”.
Vinu Masani, Kuber’s owner, paid Ramesh’s family Rs 75,000 in compensation, but most of it was spent on arranging the customary community feast after the final rites were conducted. So it fell on Ramesh’s wife Jasi (43) to raise their four school-going children: son Mahesh, and daughters Reena, Ravina and Manisha.
Mahesh, then in Class VIII, dropped out of school immediately and now works as a daily-wage labourer. Reena, now 20, dropped out a couple of years later to join her mother as an agricultural labourer — she is now married and has a baby girl.
Ravina was able to continue her education as Ramesh’s younger brother Mukesh began to support the family. After completing primary education in Simasi, she was sent to Bhabha High School in Dolasa, around 5 km away, until her studies were disrupted by illness two years ago.
“She came down with fever just a month before her Class X board examination in 2016. The fever persisted and she could barely take the exams,” says Jasi. Ravina didn’t clear the exams and joined her mother as an agricultural labourer.
Located 20 km inland from the Una coast, Simasi is a village of agriculturalists. Born to Nagji Bambhaniya, an agricultural labourer, Ramesh was fourth among five sisters and two brothers. He was the first from the family to take up fishing, for a monthly salary of Rs 8,000.
Jasi earlier paid Rs 300 in rent for a little home, but since her mother-in-law’s death this year, has been living in the attic or garret of her father-in-law’s residence.
“I have been running the family by working on farms. Masani gave us Rs 75,000 after the incident. But that was spent in performing my husband’s last rites. The government has not given us a death certificate for him, nor provided any assistance,” says Jasi, who has never been to school.
Jasi says she has approached various officials for financial help, but could not get any without a death certificate for her husband.
Ajay Prakash, district collector, Gir Somnath, says the fisheries department paid Rs 1.5 lakh to Ramesh’s family after he went missing. “The fisheries department will have to send a proposal to the state government for Ramesh to be officially declared presumed dead. But the department has not moved such a proposal so far,” said Prakash.
When contacted, Gujarat Fisheries Minister Babu Bokhiria said, “There is a rule that the government has to wait for seven years before declaring a person dead. I agree it’s been nine years in this case but the death certificate has not been issued as the family has not approached the government formally. But I shall personally look into this case once the Assembly elections get over. Fishermen are covered by an insurance scheme and the government shall extend all benefits to them.”
Ramesh’s daughters, meanwhile, hope they can study further. “As advised by my teacher, I filled up the form for taking the board examination again in March this year. But I forgot the date of the examination. It was a serious mistake,” says Ravina.
“I remain worried as a mother of young daughters. It is better to get them married off and send them to their homes. Then I’ll think of getting my son married. Maybe, a bride will bring some happiness back into the home,” says her mother.
Jasi says Ravina is the most academically inclined of her children, but she can’t afford the examination fee of Rs 300. “On an average, I am already paying Manisha Rs 30 every day to attend the Dosala school. I don’t have any more money,” she says. Manisha, 15, is in Class X.
“I want Ravina to resume her studies. What will she do if she doesn’t study? She will remain a casual labourer all her life. I want her to study and find a government job,” says Mukesh, the 38-year-old brother of Ramesh.
Mukesh says he joined a group of fishermen this year but had to return to Simasi after his mother died in October. In 2008, Mukesh had taken up a job on a boat operating from Okha but had to rush home from his maiden fishing season when news of the attacks came. He then worked as an agricultural labourer to help his brother’s wife raise the children.
Ravina says she has dreams but respects her mother’s decisions. “I want to become a teacher. But I wonder if that dream will ever come true. The immediate priority is to work hard and lend a helping hand to my mother. Had father been around, I would be in school today. I enjoy studying Gujarati and Hindi,” she says.
About her mother’s hurry to see her married, Ravina says, “It is completely up to her.”
Mahesh says he’d like his sister to pursue her dreams, too. “But there is not much I can do. I don’t have the skills needed to work on a farm and get half the regular wage. What can I do by earning Rs 60 per day?” says the 22-year-old.