In the last one month, India’s fishing communities have suffered continuous setbacks—first came the pandemic, then the lockdown, and adding to their troubles is Cyclone Amphan. The hardest hit in these communities are the fisherwomen, by virtue of socio-economic practices. In order to support their livelihoods, 16 photographers have come together for a fundraiser called Fotos for a Cause.
The online fundraiser is an initiative by independent environmental photographer Arati Kumar-Rao, in collaboration with In Season Fish, a Chennai-based project that advocates sustainable fishing practices, and Kolkata-based NGO, Society for Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action (DISHA). Since its launch a fortnight ago, Fotos for a Cause has raised nearly Rs 4 lakh. About 3,000 families from coastal and riverine fisherwomen from 11 states, inlcuding Kashmir, Rajasthan, Manipur and Odisha, are expected to benefit from the proceeds.
Bengaluru-based Kumar-Rao sees this fundraiser as a natural extension of her work documenting the lives of fishers in West Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh. “This fundraiser is not about commercial fishermen who use trawlers or aquaculture. This is about the small-scale fishers, who fish by the shore or use small boats. The job of taking the catch to the market anyway falls on the women, and with most markets closed, they are leading a hand-to-mouth existence. In many of these families, there is no working male member,” says Kumar-Rao.
The catalogue of 46 photographs includes wildlife and travel, landscapes and portraits, the documentarian and the conceptual. Patrons can choose from Nirvair Singh Rai’s view of Panchachuli, urban moments by Gopal MS, Smita Sharma’s pink-uniformed girls cycling against a moody sky in the Gumla region of Jharkhand, and a cloud-dappled view of the Bandra Worli Sea Link by Kumar Rao, among others. Works by Deepti Asthana and Siddharth Agarwal, who have documented the lives of coastal and riparian communities respectively, are also part of this fundraiser.
To kickstart the fundraiser, Kumar-Rao reached to these photographers, many of them her friends, to donate their works. The catalogue could be launched only after she found an ally in her trusted printer, Prnt Gallery in Bengaluru, during the lockdown in the state. The prints are available in two sizes—a smaller one for Rs 6,000 and a larger one for Rs 10,000. Photographers and collectors often value prints by limited editions, but the fundraiser eschews that approach, choosing instead to ship as many editions as patrons order, with 100 per cent of the proceeds going to the distressed fishers.
Kumar-Rao says, “Many of these women don’t want to be forever dependent on handouts. It’s going to get worse once the fishing bans begin during the monsoon.”
While Disha Foundation has operations across 10 states, In Season Fish aids communities in Tamil Nadu. Marine geographer Divya Karnad, co-founder of In Season Fish, says that immediate relief in the form of rations will be the first step of the fundraiser. This will be followed by zero-interest micro loans to individual women fishers and entire communities through a mix of bank transfers and direct cash or kind. “The lockdown has affected supply chains and small-scale fishers are dependent on daily income. We have to support sustainable practices and give them incentives, so that they don’t chase high-value catch,” she says.
Visit the fundraiser at http://www.instamojo.com/fotosforacause