Porbandar, Gujarat: A decade ago, Muslim fishermen, who live in the Gosabra village of Porbandar district in Gujarat were barred from doing the only thing that gave them employment— fishing. Now, 600 of them have sought permission from the Gujarat High Court to undergo collective euthanasia.
The Muslim fishermen allege that while the local authorities barred them from fishing, fishermen from other communities are permitted.
"We were first barred from fishing in the river. Then we were given permission to fish in the sea. Three months later, we were barred from it too by the local administration," Allarakha IsmailBhai Thimmar, leader of Gosabar fishermen, told BOOM. The first notice of the ban on fishing came in 2010.
"But only we are barred. Fish traders from Navi Bandar and Porbandar port do fishing very often in the same sea," he said, alleging that they have been discriminated against because of their religion.
He also alleged that the fishermen from his village are not allowed to anchor their boats at the port. They are allowed to anchor the boat neither at their village nor at the Navi Bander port, which is some kilometers away from their village. The prohibition, he says, is only on the Muslim fishermen.
"Others are being allowed to anchor their boats at the ports. But they are prohibiting us from doing so at our own village port because of our religion," Allarakha said.
Lalji Kanji Bai, the sarpanch of a neighbouring Tukda Gosa village, a Hindu man in his sixties, told BOOM that the allegations are indeed true. He said that the only reason the fishermen are not allowed to fish in the sea is because they are Muslims. "The administration should give them permission to do fishing so that they can earn livelihood."
Most of the fishermen who live in this village are illiterateate and fishing has been their only source of income for generations.
What Does The Petition For Euthanasia Say?
On May 4, the 600 fishermen, led by Allarakha IsmailBhai Thimmar filed a petition in the court, seeking permission for death- collective enthunasia, if their demands are not met.
The petetion sought direction to concerned authorities to allow the fishermen to park their boats at Goasabara Bandar or Navi Bandar "otherwise Your Lordships may be pleased to pass such other and further appropriate order and direction, directing the concerned Authorities for by and large collectively euthanasia (Ichha Mrityu) for 600 lives of petitioner and his community to end their lives happily and willfully as per their desires."
Allahrakha said that over a hundred families of Gosabara, that is located between a river and a sea, have been in the business of fishing for a century. The problem started in 2010 when some people came and told them that they will not be allowed to do fishing in that area because of the presence of birds. Subsequently, the District Magistrate stopped them from fishing. When the fishermen protested against it, the matter went to the Gujarat High Court. But they lost the case.
While the court barred them from fishing in the river because of environmental issues, they were given permission to begin fishing in the sea. A couple of months later, they were stopped from fishing in the sea as well after the fish traders of Porbandar port opposed it.
"The official told us to go away from there and do fishing at another port 150 km away from our village," he said.
What Do The Fishermen Want?
BOOM met the fishermen in Gosabra village who admitted that they would sometimes engage in fishing, secretly. This would often mean paying bribes to officials or getting harrassed by police officials for days. The secret fishing, they say, was able to earn them some to bring food to the table of their families. "If we have rice for a day, we don't have vegerables or pulses. This is howe have been living for a decade," a fisherman told BOOM.
According to Allahrakha, the fish traders, who put pressure on the local administration to disallow them from fishing, are all "high-profile". "They are politicians and businessmen. They enjoy every kind of government facility available for the fishermen. Government loans for buying boats, compensation if anyone dies while fishing, fuels and other government facilities," he said.
However, he said, that the benefits that are meant for the fishermen have completely evaded the fisherman from his village.
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The Gujarat Commissioner of fisheries have a range of facilities provided by the state government to the fishermen. Accident Insurance, subsidised kerosene distribution and diesel VAT scheme relief are some of them. It also includes a compensation of Rs 4 lakh if the fisherman is caught by Pakistan marine and dies in Pakistan's prison. A compensation of Rs 2 Lakh compensation is promised if the fisherman dies and goes missing due to natural disaster.
Gujarat contributes about 20% of India's total marine production. The sea production accounts for around 7,00, 809 million tons. And its total estimate was around 532915.45 lakhs.
For Allahrakha and the 600 other fishermen of the village none of these compensation matters. All that they want is to be allowed to fish in the sea.
"I don't need anything. Just enough food to fill my family's stomach," he said.
No Fishing, No Home, No Water
The battles for the fishermen are too many. While the ban does not allow them to earn their livelihood easily, they neither have homes or regular supply of drinking water. Despite being situated amid water bodies, the closest drinking water is available at least 3 kilomtres away.
They are not allowed to build houses under the government housing scheme as the authorities have declared that no houses can built in the area.
The Deputy Director of Gujarat's Fisheries department K.R Patani, however, denies the allegations. He told BOOM that the fishermen of Gosabara were not barred from fishing. "Nobody has barred them from fishing. They were in fact given license to do this. They were given all required permission for fishing," he said.
However, he pointed out that the area where they do fishing comes under the "prohibited areas". The High Court had prohibited fishing in that area because birds were dying there. "It's an issue related to the forest department. They can do fishing in another area," he said.
Allarakha said that the High Court has only banned fishing in the river. In the sea, fishing was not banned by the courts. And despite that, the police officials harass them and take them for questioning when they try to fish in the sea.
Patani also rejected allegations that the Gosabara fishermen were denied the government schemes available for fishermen.
However, in their letter to the Gujarat governor, the fishermen alleged that they were not given tokens necessary to do fishing because of the pressure from some "influential people".
"Due to pressure from some dissidents, the Fisheries Department does not issue tokens. So, are we not allowed to fish in Gausabara? Can't we do fishing by following all the rules and regulations issued by the government?" they asked in their letter.
The fishermen say that they have also been asked to migrate from the neighbourhood and take their business elsewhere.
"Recently, we were called by the S. O. G. branch and were informed to shift our business to any other district with our boats. Is it possible for us to go from our lineages' place and settle down in any other place? And is it reasonable to say so?" they asked in the letter.
In the letter, they also pleaded that if they are not allowed to do fishing in the area, they should be provided with some monetary help to secure their basic living.
Allarakha said that they have also sent the letter to Bhupendra Patel, Chief Minister Gujarat State, Rameshbhai Dhaduk, member of Parliament Porbandar, Rambhai Mokariya, member of State Parliament, Babubhai Bokhiriya MLA, Porbandar, Kandhalbhai Jadeja MLA, Fire Secretory, Dept. of Fisheries Gujarat, commissioner, Dept. of Fisheries Gujarat, Gandhinagar, Mamlatdar, Porbandar, Deputy Collector, Porbandar, assistant Dept. of Fisheries Gujarat, Porbandar,S. P., District Police Officer, Porbandar, D. I. G., Junagadh Range, Bilkha road, Junagadh, Fire secretary, Forest and Environment Dept., D. F. O., Porbandar, Police Sub Inspector, Navi Bandar.
BOOM also tried to contact Probander's District Magistrate Ashok Kumar to know his version regarding the issue. He was not available for comments.
Waquar Hasan is an Independent journalist. He covers hate crimes and human rights abuses. He tweets at @WaqarHasan1231.