Let us Proudly Commemorate International Year of Small Scale Fisheries & Aquaculture - 2022

Fr.Thomas Kocherry is no more

Dear All,

Our Beloved Leader NFF Former chairperson, KSMTF Leader, WFF founder convener, Special  Invitee of WFFP, Fr. THOMAS KOCHERRY passed away yesterday 3rd May, morning around 8 AM at his place of stay, at Holy Cross Church, Trivandrum.

            Thomas Kocherry was born in Changanasserry, Kerala, the south-west part of India on 10th May 1940. He is 74 yrs old. He is fifth in a family of 11 children-7 boys and 4 girls.

            Father Thomas Kocherry after his ordination as a priest in 1971, he went to work among the Bangladesh refugees in Raigunj, a border area of Bangaladesh in 1971.

            Father Thomas Kochery is a social activist, priest, and lawyer who helped found the Kerala Swantra Matsyathozhillali Federation.

            For the past few  years he lived in Redemptorists House at Manavalakurichi of Kanniakumari District in Tamilnadu.

            Because of sickness for the past one year he lived in the convent of Holy Cross Church, at Muttada, near M.G. College, TRIVANDRAUM.

            Burriel will be held on Monday 5th May at 3.00 PM at Holy Cross Church, Near M.G.College, TRIVANDRAUM.

            Fr. Thomas Kocherry, Chatholic Priest, Trade union leader, environmentalist, lawyer, social activist is the former chairperson of the National Fish Workers Forum. He is the Co-ordinator of the world Forum of fish-harvester and Fishworkers (WFF) and Indian National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAMP).

            He is also the Rector of the Periyavillai Redemptorist Community of Tamilnadu. One of the organizers of the famous Kanyakumari march of 1989 that sought to protect India’s coastal ecology, he and his colleagues have mobilized the fishing community to fight the foreign industrial fishing fleets that had been invited to India by shortsighted politicians. A crusader against coastal pollution, he spearheaded protests against the Koodankulam Nuclear Plant in Tamil Nadu and is currently a member of the Coastal Zone Management Authority of India.
            He became a priest, He worked with the refugees from Bangladesh in Raigunj. The stories of despair and destitution that He heard changed him forever. His decision to spend his life defending the oppressed was further consolidated when He began to work in a small fishing village called Poothura near Thiruvananthapuram. Middlemen led by one politically well-connected family were using muscle-power to keep fisherfolk permanently on the edge of starvation even though they worked harder than any community He decided to arm them with knowledge by teaching them to read and write.

The 74-year-old legend of social movement politics in India shows no signs of slowing down,
Redemptorist priest, union leader, anti-nuclear activist and people’s movement educator – Tom Kocherry is a senior sage of India’s environmental and social justice movements. Despite scars from many battles, he remains an inveterate optimist – ‘Every fight, every movement, every reform is an optimism,’ he says.
You just can’t stop Thomas Kocherry. After four heart attacks, innumerable fasts and 16 stints in jail, he shows no sign of slowing down. His current target is the controversial Kudankulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu. The campaign has mobilized local villagers and activists from across the country who fear that, like Fukushima in Japan, the plant may be vulnerable to a tsunami. The movement has fought tooth and nail since construction started in 1989. ‘You cannot talk about social justice without talking about the environment,’ says Kocherry. ‘There can be no shortcuts, no depleting of natural capital.’ This in part explains his anti-nuclear stance. When not campaigning, he travels South India putting on seminars for young activists.

The fifth of eleven children, Kocherry grew up in the Backwaters region of Kerala, where poor fisher folk used small boats to eke a living from the fresh waters that parallel the Indian Ocean. The two influences on his early adult life were the church (particularly the social gospel of the Redemptorist Fathers) and the radical Left movement that contested Keralan politics (led by the Communist Party of India) from the first days of independence. It was natural enough for Kocherry to make common cause with the poor inshore fisher folk and their struggles. He and three other Redemptorists made their living as part of the Shore Seine fishery, and helped organize health clinics and nurseries amongst the hard-working but desperately poor fishers systematically exploited by a series of wholesalers and merchants.
In the late 1970s, Kerala fishers started to organize and assert their rights on a whole range of issues. They set up an organization called the Kerala Independent Fishworkers Federation. In 1981 Kocherry and fellow leader Joyachan Antony went on an 11-day fast in favour of a Monsoon Trawl Ban (the breeding season for many varieties of fish) in Kerala. Kocherry was arrested on trumped-up charges; in the course of defending himself he managed to fit in a law degree at Kerala University.
By 1982 the fishworkers’ struggle had gone national, with Kocherry elected president of the National Fishworkers Forum. In the mid-1990s he led a nationwide campaign to stop the Indian government from opening up the country’s fishing industry to a growing fleet of 2,600 large foreign trawlers. With 10 million Indians dependent on a sustainable fishery for their survival, the stakes were high. A militant campaign included marches, fasts and blocking of major fish ports around the country. The Indian government was forced to withdraw the legislation – one of the first and most significant victories against corporate globalization. Kocherry, who went on to help form the World Forum of Fisher People, understands the tensions of fighting for the rights of the fishing community in an era of declining global fish stocks. ‘You simply cut from the top. The biggest, most destructive, trawlers go first and you work your way down until you reach a sustainable fishery.’
Kocherry has thought a lot about people’s movements – how they succeed and fail. These days, he is highly critical both of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the established Christian church. ‘They become institutionalized, create dogmas and rituals and statues of their gods, they become powermongering or give in to the power of money.’ For Kocherry, the strength of a people’s movement lies elsewhere. ‘It must be from the bottom up. The challenge is to create an evolving revolutionary structure that never becomes institutionalized or ossified by power.’ It is a vision that would strike a chord with today’s Occupy Movements and their search for new organizational forms.
                With the demise of Fr. Thomas Kocherry, India lost one of his greatest sons of this country.
                We have lost a legend of social movement politics in India. We have lost an anti-nuclear activist and people movement educator.
                As the chairperson I am shocked by my beloved leaders’ demise. It was sudden and unexpected. I met him only three days back at Manavalakurichi, Tamilnadu, on 30 the April I was with him for about 3 hours and enjoyed his hospitality. He shared his experience with me.
                NFF  conveys its deep condolence to the entire fishing community in India and all over the world and his family members.