ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Powerful Voice for Fishworkers

Thomas Kocherry

A priest whose commitment to justice was a way of living his faith and working hard for the betterment of fi shworkers, Thomas Kocherry was a fi rebrand among social workers on Kerala's coast for over three decades. His talent lay in translating ideas into a language that could inspire and mobilise, and move people to action. Rightly known for his courage and compassion, Tom, as he was popularly known, left behind a void that is not easy to fill.

Thomas Kocherry, legendary leader of the fishworkers, passed away on 3 May 2014, a week before his 74th birthday. A Catholic priest, lawyer, trade unionist, and environmentalist, he was for more than three decades central to the political mobilisation of India’s eight million fisher people and their formation into a social movement which, along with other popular and environmental movements, fought for a “people-centred” development against the dominant model of top-down development.

Tom was born in 1940 as the fifth of 11 children in a Syrian Christian family in Changanassery in Kerala’s Kottayam district. He attributed his social commitment to an early incident. One day, when giving him and his siblings spending money, his mother told them they could do whatever they wanted with it, even give it to a beggar, and that was precisely what his sister did. This simple act opened his eyes to a larger sense of family, and to the needs of those less fortunate than himself. His desire to serve and to work for justice that was not limited by the demands of family and career drew him to a religious life. After graduation, he joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists). During his seminary years, he read widely and was influenced by Marxist writings and liberation theology. He worked in city slums and in a refugee camp during the 1971 Bangladesh war.

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