Monday, 01 August 2011 11:09
Though Federal and provincial governments always announce plans for the uplift of poor and unprivileged people but still there is a lot of room to do more for their welfare especially for the marginalised women and indigenous people of River Indus who have been deprived of not only for basic facilities like education and health but also of their livelihood.
The Kihals, also called Mors, are such an old and unfortunate community of Indus valley that stretched within 350 kilometer from Chashma Barrage to Ghazi Ghat district DG Khan on the banks of river Indus that have neither national identity cards or any other documents which can prove that they are Pakistani national nor they have their own homes on lands as traditionally they used to lead their whole lives on boats that always move from downstream to upstream in Indus River. That was why this community has always been totally disappeared in all Pakistan s census reports.
According to an estimate, the total population of this indigenous group is around 80,000. Though their main occupation is fishing but they are also engaged in crafting river forests into baskets, cages and sheds.
Interestingly, apart from fish, the people of Kihal community, used to eat other river food like crocodile, tortoise and blind Indus dolphin, as well as the birds like wild-duck, wild goose partridge. They used to travel up and down and shift on east and west of river Indus according to their livelihood and cultural needs.
Before the building of Tonsa Barrage, fishing was so rewarding profession for Kihal community that they have been catching fish from river Indus since many centuries at their will and sell them in open markets according to prevailing prices but now their economic condition has reached at an alarming level as government had given fishing contracts to influential local contractors who have barred them to catch fish with their own. Instead, these contractors hired them for fishing purpose and pay them around Rs 10 per kg. With this change, this old community has no option but to beg to contractors for their livelihood or they are bound to make tokarey, cages and ropes from Kaanb and Kanh and sell these household items in local markets to make their both ends meet. Kaanb and Kanh forests in deltas have now become lifeline for Kihals as wheat is to Punjab farmers. The introduction of contractual fishing system along with building of dams, barrages and canals that distributed River Indus into little pockets have deprived the Kihal community of almost 60 to 70pc of their livelihood in term of river food.
Though, earlier Kihal community was leading simple and satisfactory life but after the building of Tonsa Barrage and introduction of contractual fishing system, their economic condition has become so vulnerable that some NGOs like Action Aid Pakistan and Hirrak Development Center had to come forward to share their burdens. Hirrack is really doing a laudable job for the welfare of this community with a focus on sustainability and rehabilitation by organising them at the platform of Sindhoo Bachao Tarla (indigenous organisation) for getting their economic, social and cultural rights.
Last week, Action Aid Pakistan and Hirrak Development Centre invited Lahore s leading economic journalists to visit Jhakar Wala Pattan (Layyah) to have first hand knowledge regarding the economic vulnerability of this community. It was really shocking to observe that even after one year, flood s water was still standing there and local dwellers have had no option but to take bath and to use stagnant water for their kitchen utensils.
A volunteer and school master Mohammad Naeem Chishti said that the vulnerability of this community can be gauged from the fact that they haven t basic facilities like fresh water, homes, education and health while their main source of income – fishing - has also been awarded to contractors who have made them slaves and pay them in pennies for their day-long labours, he added.
A spokesman of NGO, Irfan Hote, who guided delegation, was of the view that his organisation had tried to create awareness among the people of this under-privileged community to voice their rights.
He later showed a film to journalists and local community wherein some Kihals were chanting slogans for the acceptance of their demands while other were cursing Irrigation Department for depriving them of their right of livelihood (fishing). He revealed that beside Indus Basin Treaty, there are four main factors which were directly affecting their livelihood.
Construction of dams, canal and barrages is drying up the river in the downstream area abating the fish and other river food; Licensing the fish to contractors has directly deprived Kihals of their right over fish and other riverine food; Contamination of the river near urban centers further reduces fish quantitywise and lastly introduction of exotic fish species in river Indus that has become another reason behind reduction of fish, he added.
Irfan Hote further said that if Punjab government follow the footsteps of Sindh government and discontinue contractual fishing system, allowing all fishermen to fish according to their requirements and distribute barren land amongst homeless Kihal people for irrigation purposes, not only the economic position of Kihal community would improve but they would also be able to play their role in the uplift of country s economy after coming into national mainstream.
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