Urban Typhoon organizers accompanied some fishermen from Dharavi's Koliwada on a harrowing canoe trip through Mahim Creek - just across the road from the settlement - to see how the tradition survives today. Once the customary occupation and caste identity of Kolis, fishing is no longer the main activity of the community because of environmental and economic changes. Himanchu, a college-aged resident of Koliwada who accompanied us on the expedition, had never been fishing. Still, about 50 fishermen continue the tradition.
On a daily basis, these fishermen maneuver tiny canoes over waters choked with garbage, chemical waste, and sewage from all over Mumbai. Once they reach one of several pockets of water that have been sealed off from the polluted areas, they unfold their nets and collect the day's catch. The fish caught serves as sustenance for fishermen's families or is sold by their wives.
The fisherman have faced difficulties in recent months, as construction of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link (an expressway connecting Mumbai's suburbs to one of its central neighborhoods) has prevented sea water from replenishing the creek. Construction projects along the creek's edges have also affected water levels. As a result, fish are becoming smaller and fewer. Obstacles to the fishing tradition are nothing new: Kolis' access to fish has been impeded by a process of land reclamation that began in the 18th century.
Our boat docks on a sludgy bank. Each fisherman informally owns his own jetty and shed.
A fisherman explains traditional techniques.
A crab: a rare catch! They generously offered it to us as a gift.
A fisherman shows us the catch of the day.
The fishermen are used to it, but the journey on the polluted Mithi River was an adventure for the Urban Typhoon team, especially as the boat rocked wildly!
Docking at the edge of a pipe.
This fish died from lack of oxygen, as construction projects have prevented fresh sea water from entering — a sign of the environmental, economic and social impacts of development.
The water is bordered by a protected mangrove swamp.
A view of the Bandra-Kurla Complex, Mumbai's new financial and commerical center, from Maharashtra Nature Park, which borders the mangrove swamps and the Kolis' fishing area. Construction of these structures has had ecological impacts that directly affect Koli fishermen.