The Meendharas of Sunderbans, their Struggle for Existence

Can you guess what these two women are doing? I took this capture in Sunderbans National Park.

Meendharas of Sunderbans

The first time I saw them walking with nets, I guessed they were fishing. But what made me curious was their style of fishing. Fishing is a livelihood practiced by people of Sunderbans for ages. The topology is such that this means of livelihood fetches them just enough to carry on with their lives. Because of salinity the soil is not suitable for cultivation therefore inhabitants there resort to other means of livelihood. 

Meendharas of Sunderbans

Fishing women spend more than half of their waking hours pulling fishing nets along the shore lines to catch the spawns of Tiger Prawns. They are locally called Meendharas. They then sell these to shrimp farms. Meendharas of Sunderbans earn about Rs.50 to Rs.100 per day (approx 1USD.) per person in this manner. Collection of seedlings takes place during low tides. Those who can’t afford big nets use small hand dragged nets. They drag them through 1.5 feet thick sticky mud backwards and forwards approximately 4 miles per day. There is one particular community which is involved in this fishing activity – the Bagdi community.

Tiger Prawns live in the sea but enter the Sunderban Rivers and creeks to lay their eggs. The spawns make their way back to the sea and that is when they are trapped by nets. While water provides opportunities to thrive, it also harms due to constant exposure to this saline water, but these are rarely mentioned. 

I came across this elaborate study done on this issue in this pf format: The Prevalence of Musculoskeletal Disorders Among Prawn Seed Collectors of Sunderbans.


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51 Responses to “The Meendharas of Sunderbans, their Struggle for Existence

  • It looks like an interesting way to catch the Tiger Prawns.. Great post, Indrani! Thanks for sharing, have a happy day!

  • it looks like a lot of hard work.

  • Interesting indeed, and strong, admirable women! And, I thank you for making me appreciate my own world — once again, Indrani

  • Wonderful photos and bit of trivia. Great blog post.

  • Geesh.. when we sit here at our computers and click around .. it's easy to forget that there are huge parts of the world that work so very hard for so little.

  • That looks like really hard work!

  • Its a tough life for these people. The sunderbans also houses the worlds largest mangrove forest. The soil below the water is clay and its very difficult for these women to walk. A great pic as you have caught a lot more.

  • Definitely a unique way of prawn fishing! Great pictures Indrani.

  • Thanks for sharing.

  • i'm learning there's many different ways of catching fish all over the world.

  • At the end of the day, I wonder the status of their skin, Being in the water all the time, Feel sorry for them, Indrani

  • Looks like hard work!

  • The women always get the hard work, and what do men work at???????

  • Thanks friends for the comments. 🙂

    Sudhir, I too felt the same seeing them and I was holidaying and clicking pictures. World boasts of technology, can't something be done here to ease their means for livelihood. I read somewhere it is not legal though it is not declared officially yet. An official declaration would mean starvation for many families there.

    Thanks Bob for that question. Truly I was perplexed too. There were some men too but women outnumbered them many times.

  • i'm thinking maybe they're fishing and then I got it right, but
    women?! wow,
    to have that kind of skill and stamina… hands down to them.

  • Fishing and I did guess before reading on, never seen prawns caught this way, fascinating, thanks for sharing.

  • I could guess roughly what they were doing because as a teen I went on a sailing trip to an island that no one lived on but had great shrimping. Late at night we would hold the nets and shrimp would swim into them. We were able to put shrimp on ice and bring tons of it back with us after we spent a week on that island which was a couple of days sail from a fishing/sailing village where my parents had a summer house. Although this isn't the same, your shots brought back happy memories. I sure wouldn't like to have to earn a living hauling those nets like these women do. Hard work!

  • there are many ways to earn a living. Thanks for sharing as I did not know.

  • Such hard work…. and boy, that mud must be hard to get through.

  • I admire these women. It's very hard work.
    Thank you so much for showing this.

  • The income for a day's work is hardly adequate.

  • Amazing and interesting! They seem like experts.

  • I never knew about all the work given to these delicious morsels.

  • Hey this is a very informative post…thanks!

  • And once again we don't know how good we have it…luckily I can buy my shrimp or prawns at the fish market..I will eat them with a bit more care from now on…congrats on Post of the Week

  • Oh wow, I did understand the fishing bit, have always always been curious about the sunderbans.

  • Loved this. Sunderbans always fascinates my imagination because of what I've read and also because of my fascination with water. Interestingly the word 'meen' means fish in Malayalam too.

  • Really nice post. 🙂

  • Fishing right? Read your comment above, I guess paapi pet ke liye kuch bhi karna padta hai..

  • Bit worrying facts about the health about those destitute women. Very nice awareness creating article!

  • Sunderbans remind me of 'The Hungry Tide' by Amitav Ghosh!
    Great post, Indrani:)

  • there life's would have been much easier if technology would have been made available to them !

  • Good. I remember to have once seen pictures in a Bengali magazine ('Desh'), depicting their life-style and the ecosystem of this place.

  • Besides skin disease they face death due to attacks from crocodiles, Kamats and tiger. The Mahajans give them advances and cheat them badly. They are paid partly in cash and a major part as wet paddy, dhoti, Saari and lungi, kerosone, Match boxes. I saw them distinctly while working in Sunderbon area for search of Subsurface drinking water.

  • this is the hidden agenda that give aquaculture a bad name. Not all culture of seafood has this history, fortunately. And if the food was not purchased, these women would starve. "There but for the grace of God."

  • Inspiring post on the strength on these women who pull a risk to earn their livelihood. Sad that these brave women are underpaid and hope so called social activists don't turn a blind eye.

  • Something different to read and know thankyou for sharing in ..hope to try once whenever get a chance:)

  • What hard work they do to earn a living and that too for only 1 dollar a day! Sad!

  • I am so glad that you wrote on a profession that needs to be told to the world and given respect. The ladies work so hard and earn a meager 100 bucks. It’s so sad when we see such exploitation.

  • Looks like a very hard way to make their living. Thank you for your insight.

  • That looks like very hard graft! You have to admire the fortitude of the people. I know a lot of people in England that would never do this, even if things got tough!

  • Never knew that’s how the shrimp farms got their shrimp spawn. What taxing work to undertake. I can’t imagine how tiring that most be to do, especially when the weather turns sour.

  • Fascinating and backbreaking! I have always been a bit hesitant about farmed shrimps and now I am even more so

  • Wow that definitely looks like hard work. I have nothing but respect for those women. It makes you think how much we take for greater how easy it is for us to walk into a grocery store and buy what we need.

  • Hey Indrani, interesting article. I love when someone writes articles about more cultural stuff, rather than things to do in whatever place. So, these people who earn 100 rupees a day, do they work for someone else like the tea collectors of India and Sri Lanka?

  • It’s truly remarkable what some people must endure in order to live. These woman are amazing. It really puts things into perspective – the difference between the struggle that some have to go through and how easy life is for some people. Thank you for sharing this little snippet of culture.

  • I cannot imagine having to drag something through thick sticky mud back and forth for about 4 miles on daily basis. Often, only when we travel and see things like this take place in front of our eyes that we become more reflective and appreciative of what we have, no matter how bad we think it is.

  • what a hard work these women do! they do it just for $1 per a day. It is shocking. what about men what do they do for living?

  • Hard work, and a lot of it. It’s really a tough life having to do all of the slogging to earn just Rs 50 to 100 a day. I’m guessing there may be days when they wouldn’t even get a catch….

  • I had read about the study and also on how excessive shrimp farming is harming the mangrove ecosystem in Sunderbans…

    It’s quite a sad situation with no one being the winner on ground

  • Very interesting. You always see fishermen, not typically fisher women. It’s really hard work to do for only $1 per day. It makes you stop and think about when you might want to complain about your own job.

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