By Amar Guriro , Daily Times
KARACHI: The neighbourhood comprises some straw and mud huts, and log houses circling a huge courtyard without any boundary wall, with a common hand pump installed in the centre, which pumps saline ground water.
This is Goth Chhachh Jahan Khan, a historical fishing hamlet located in the magnificent delta of the past that now faces extinction, the Indus Delta of River Indus – the lifeline of Pakistan.
The village lacks even basic facilities including school, government dispensary and proper sewerage system. Surprisingly, majority of the village’s populations is of women and children, as most of the male members are in the jails of neighbouring country, India.
Stuck in poverty, for these people, the meaning of their dreams is only to get bread and clothes, for which they have fishing as the only option. Despite being attached with fishing, which contributes a major portion in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), they are never considered for basic rights.
Fresh water doesn’t reach the end of the river, due to which the delta is dying, and reduces the fish catch. Besides climate change, over fishing and increasing marine pollution has reduced the fish catch drastically, forcing the marine animals to shift to deep seas.
While chasing the catch, usually these fishermen go into deep sea, for which they need powerful motorboats and also have to spend huge amounts on fuel. Sometimes they even get near to the borders while fishing and are arrested by Indian Navy.
Just in the last month Indian Navy arrested around 11 fishermen, including one teenager, when they were sailing into what they call the enemy waters.
Among these captives was Muhammad Mallah, whose wife Hajiyani Mallah delivered a baby girl a couple of days ago. “He [her husband] was not ready to go for fishing, but then he thought that without fishing how will he arrange bread for the family, so he left,” she said.
“My husband was also worried about the expenditure on the delivery of the newborn. It seems I have become a widow due to his arrest. Nobody cares, as almost every woman in the village is going through the same conditions,” said Hajiyani. Each resident of this poverty-haunted village has a story. Around 45 fishermen of the village have already been arrested and sent to different jails in India.
Soan Bai is one of the ill-fated fisherwomen in the village. Her three sons including teenage Suleman were arrested along with her two sons-in-law.
Gul Hassan, who was born to a fisherman and was supposedly destined to be a fisherman himself, quit fishing. Now he works as a factory worker. He was arrested when he was only 13 and was released from an Indian jail after 14 months of imprisonment.
“For two months, they [Indian personnel] were beating us. Law enforcement agency officers were interrogating and were asking us why we came there [to India] and either we are terrorists or we have some weapons,” Hassan recalled his worst experience.
Navies of both nuclear rival countries have been arresting fishermen for many decades. After Mumbai attacks, the speed has increased on both sides. India often expresses its doubts that terrorists travel through sea. Fisherman Majeed Motani says that armed forces of both countries try to balance the score of the arrested fishermen.
“When Indian navy arrested 66 fishermen including me, I asked them why they have arrested me. They replied that last day Pakistani maritime security agency seized 6 Indian boats and arrested Indian fishermen, so we have to seize the same number of Pakistani boats for which we can raid anywhere,” said Motani. To resolve such conflicts, United Nations has given some guidelines in its Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS and to implement UNCLOS fishermen organisations are struggling for many years.
“While fishing, if a fishermen crosses borders, he can neither be arrested nor jailed. He can be issued a warning and/or a fine can be imposed. Fishermen are not be jailed for half their lives,” said Muhammad Ali Shah, Chairman Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum (PFF), an organisation which is struggling for fishermen in Sindh.
Most of these fishermen are being arrested from controversial Sir Creek, one of the 17 creeks of Indian Delta. Both countries [India and Pakistan] claim ownership of the territory, even United Nations is not able to resolve the matter.
Whenever, ongoing tussle between both rivals soften, fishermen benefit. As a part of measures of confidence building, both release fishermen from their jails.
“Those fishermen, who have completed their imprisonment, must be released immediately. We always release Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture and expect the same from the other side,” said Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary.
According to Pakistan Foreign Office, Pakistan is planning to release 73 fishermen in near future. Hajiyani is looking forward for Indian government to release her husband as a goodwill gesture by India.
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