Thursday, December 1, 2011

Victims of an uneasy relationship

Fourteen-year-old Sugra has seen only a photograph of her father. A fisherman, he was arrested for trespassing into Indian waters and jailed nearly 15 years ago. "The last we heard is that he is in jail in Ahmedabad," she says.

Sugra was three months old at that time. Her mother Janna and she work as domestic helps. Janna, in addition, makes dhurries (locally called rilli) from old clothes for Rs. 200 each. It takes her a week or so to make one.

In Ibrahim Hydari, the oldest fishing village in Karachi, there is great fear about fishing too far away from the Pakistani coast. Mohammed Ali Shah, chairperson of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), says that over 200 fishermen are in Indian jails — some for 14 to 15 years, like Sugra\'s father, or even longer. Pakistan too has 300 Indian fishermen in its jails. Four million people are engaged in fishing activities in Pakistan and the PFF was formed in 1998 to fight for their rights. In addition to demanding the release of fishermen picked up by Indian authorities, the PFF is fighting to oppose reclamation of coastal land and has managed to stop the private development of two islands.

Ibrahim Hydari village, with a population of 1 lakh, is 400 years old and Karachi was named after one of its residents, a fisherwoman called Mai Kalachi. Sugra\'s house in a narrow bylane of the village is a simple thatched room with a cot outside. Her father Achar was arrested along with four of his relatives. "My mother cries all the time and we keep hoping he will return. People tell me he must be dead. But I don\'t believe that. He will return one day," says Sugra.

She tells members of a visiting Indian media delegation from the Mumbai Press Club to convey her love to her father. "Maybe he will read the newspapers," she says.

Her mother says a lot of fishermen were released in the past but not her husband. "I am poor and helpless, and I cry." After her husband was arrested, Janna left Thatta, which was her marital home, and returned to her mother. But there is little or no help from relatives here.

I am a burden to my family. No one helps… they are poor as well," laments Janna.

She was married for a little over two years when her husband went away. Sugra cannot even go to school as she is too poor to pay the fees. And there are no schools nearby offering free education.

The first letter my husband sent came two or three months after his capture," says Janna. The local community representative read out the letters to her as she is illiterate. For the last five years there have been no letters.

Now the wives of fishermen are insecure. They tell their husbands not to wander too far, says Noorie

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