When someone goes missing

Print edition : January 05, 2018

It is a punishment to the family that is left ashore when someone goes missing at sea: life remains in limbo until his dead body is retrieved or seven years, the government-mandated time for a missing person to be declared dead, pass. There is a sliver of hope when the name is not moved into the “dead” column in a government statistic, but there is extreme pain, anxiety and suffering as each day passes without any news of the person.

“There are no words to describe this,” said Baby John, whose brother went missing in 2009. “The worst part is that no one in the government is willing to help us when we approach them for compensation.”

His brother, John Cletus, was among those who were reported missing after a cyclone. According to the first information report (No.900, dated November 17, 2009) filed at the Balipattam police station in Kannur, Kerala, from where John and the others had left, “on November 2, 2009, at about noon 10 fishermen went for fishing from Azheekal, Kannur, Kerala, in a boat named Theertham bearing registration number TN 15 MFB 471, and at about 40 nautical miles from Malipetti shore, Goa, the boat collapsed and sank on November 11 at 3 p.m. on account of cyclone and seven fishermen were missing. Three men survived suffering injuries and lost property worth Rs.46 lakh, etc.”

Cletus’ mother, Kurusumary, his three sisters, Sony, Pretta and Selvarani, and two brothers, Paniadimai and Baby John, waited. Seven years after he went missing, the family began the excruciatingly painful process of seeking compensation. For this, the FIR in Kannur had to be accessed, it had to be translated (since the original was in Malayalam), and certified in Kerala by a magistrate. A big bureaucratic process awaited them in Kanyakumari too.

“The whole process itself cost me about Rs.50,000, right from the cost of going to Kannur,” said Baby John. “We have given all the original documents to the Nagercoil fisheries office. The officer there wanted us to meet the tehsildar. The tehsildar told us that he had nothing to do with this, and that we had to directly talk to the Fisheries Department. Then we were asked to get the death certificate. I went there three times. Nothing happened,” he said.

The local MLA, S. Rajesh Kumar, promised help and took them to the fisheries office. “They told him that only after the death certificate is received could he apply for compensation. When [Tamil Nadu Fisheries] Minister D. Jayakumar had come here the other day, we approached him. He directed officials to handle the case in a week. Nothing happened. One copy was given to the Fisheries Secretary, too, more than a week and a half ago. We have received no news yet,” he said.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

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