Saturday, April 13, 2024

Remembering T Peter: Leader of India’s fishworkers

T Peter, General Secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), passed away on 8 October 2020 from COVID-19 related complications in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. A Collective of 15 organizations including the National Alliance of People Movements, Delhi Solidarity Group, Coastal Action Network, and Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy and Forum for Trade Justice, issued a statement remembering T Peter.

Read the unedited text of the document:

Peter fought for more than three decades, as a full time activist and union organiser, to empower India’s fishing communities. He played a critical role in advancing their struggles from the margins into the political mainstream. 

He joined the Kerala Independent Fishworkers Federation (KSMTF) in the early 1980s as a young militant organiser in the fight against trawlers which were destroying both the fragile coastal ecosystems and traditional livelihoods.He quickly rose through the union ranks, first to district-level leader and then to state president. His soulful association with groups as a cultural activist before being a political activist brought him closer to the community wherever he went.

After passing on the state leadership mantle to the next generation, Peter spent his last years playing a creative and active role at the national and international levels. Taking on the responsibility of the General Secretary of NFF, Peter had his task cut out in organising fishworkers’ unions across the coastal states and protecting the livelihoods of traditional and small-scale fishworkers from the destructive impacts of large development projects and market-driven globalisation.

As an executive member of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), Peter was instrumental in raising fisher concerns at multiple levels. He was central to the organising of the 7th General Assembly of WFFP in New Delhi in November 2017 which drew participants from across the world. 

Peter was a firm believer in solidarity amongst various social, workers and environmental movements and constantly worked to forge alliances across a number of people’s platforms in India. He played an active role in the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and worked closely with groups such as the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Coalition for Environment Justice in India (CEJI) and Forum for Trade Justice.

His political astuteness, built over decades of experience of struggle and working with great leaders like Fr. Thomas Kochery, Harekrishna Debnath, Matanhy Saldanha and Ram Bhau Patil, among others, gave him a clear vision of what was demanded to protect rights of fisher folk of India, and also of the kind of action needed to protect India’s coastal areas for posterity.  He saw these struggles to save India’s coasts and its peoples as an integral part of organising against corporate led neoliberal development and for economic, social and environmental justice. This ensured that the NFF and KSMTF were active participants in many joint struggles against special economic zones, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), free trade agreements (FTAs), industrial corridors, nuclear parks and port expansion.  

Peter was a well-known and respected media commentator and was also chief editor of ALAKAL, a fortnightly magazine published by KSMTF since 1985. Despite running at a financial loss, he ensured that the magazine was published on time to convey the message of the fishworkers to government officials, political leaders, media and the general public.

Ever so eager to learn new things, Peter pushed for these qualities to be developed in his coworkers and younger friends. The COVID-19 pandemic did not deter his ability to organise. He quickly mastered online mechanisms and ensured that various district level leaders of KSMTF and NFF were in touch through video calls, participating in meetings at the regional, national and international levels and that news about struggles and policy changes were regularly posted on social media, and thus reached the wider public.

When Kerala was hit by floods in 2018, Peter played a pivotal role in mobilising fishworkers and their boats in rescue and relief operations. His commitment to the issues of the fishworkers made him an important ally to leaders across the political spectrum.

Even in his last days, Peter was back on the streets mobilising KSMTF cadres to oppose the pro-corporate draft of the 2020 National Fisheries Policy and the West Coast Shipping Corridor being pushed unilaterally by India’s Central Government. 

Despite all these responsibilities and roles, Peter was a very accessible and simple person, but who would unhesitantly walk into any Ministry to push the public cause, just as he would walk into any fisher home to extend solidarity or lead a protest or a rally asserting traditional fisher rights. His trademark all weather light blue half-sleeve shirt and white mundu (dhoti) with a cotton cloth bag on the shoulder, is how we will always remember Peteretan- as he was known to his younger friends.

Peter’s sudden passing is an irreparable loss to people’s movements in India and globally. His infectious energy and enthusiasm, which inspired millions across India, and elsewhere, will be deeply missed. His life’s mission – to work with commitment and for solidarity action towards justice and equality for all – will have to continue in our actions now.

In solidarity

National Alliance of People Movements (NAPM)

Delhi Forum

Delhi Solidarity Group

Chennai Solidarity Group

Coastal Action Network

SNEHA

LAW Trust

Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD)

Third World Network

Environment Support Group

Coalition for Environmental Justice in India

Programme for Social Action (PSA)

Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA)

Focus on the Global South

Forum for Trade Justice

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