Ayesha was home when the phone call came informing them that her father’s body had been found. Two bodies had washed up onshore that evening around 8pm, Abdul Ghani’s was one of them. By the time the fishermen arrived on to the scene, the police were already there.
Abdul Ghani’s arms and legs were broken, there was blood on his face and the imprints of the nets they had used to bind him with had left marks all over his body. They had thrown the bodies deep into the channel, hoping that they would not be discovered, but the currents that night had swept them up ashore. The police wanted to take the bodies away, but the fisherman resisted.
“We used to stop him and tell him that his work was dangerous,” recalls Ayesha. “He would say that he had to save the livelihood of the people of our community and safeguard the environment.”
Also read: Footprints: Pushing out the sea
Abdul Ghani worked tirelessly in the Kakapir community, a fishing village located near Hawkes Bay and Sandspit. His mission was simple: to stop the cutting down of Mangroves in the area. In the early years, eight different species of Mangroves grew in Pakistan and the plants themselves were as numerous as 400,000. By 2011 the number was down to 132,000 and the species had diminished to three.
They killed Abdul Ghani but they can’t end his work
His work bought him face to face with the timber and land mafia who cut down the mangroves and sold the land they cleared as plots.
In 1989, the World Wildlife Fund established a center in Kakapir and Abdul Ghani began learning from them and in turn educating his community about the natural benefits of mangroves. He formed a committee called “Equatorial” and they began monitoring the groups that were cutting down Timber. Abdul Ghani encouraged the community to speak to the press and to air their grievances about how their community was changing. That is when the problems began.
In January 2011, a group of men burnt down their office as the community watched helplessly. The police refused to register a case and by May of that year, the mafia sent a group of men to the community to fire at the homes indiscriminately. That is when they took Abdul Ghani away.
Countless people die across Pakistan every year. They are the ones brave enough to fight the status quo, brave enough to ask questions that make people uncomfortable and brave enough to have their voice heard.
Ayesha is a quiet young woman, but you can see her father’s determination in her eyes. Her community has completely changed since the land mafia set their sights on them. They claim the local police are complicit and harass the young men in the community on a daily basis. “No one is safe,” says Ayesha. “The police have turned on us, our houses are burnt down, our boys are kidnapped and they watch from the sidelines.”
Why should we care about the Mangroves? Most of us don’t even understand what their significance is. What Abdul Ghani died preserving was not just for his community; it was for all of us. Mangroves are important breeding grounds for fish, shrimps and crab. Many birds nest in the mangroves, which themselves serve as a protective wall against heavy storms and tides. Without them, we would be at risk of flooding and tidal waves.
Countless people die across Pakistan every year. They are the ones brave enough to fight the status quo, brave enough to ask questions that make people uncomfortable and brave enough to have their voice heard. Their actions make others squirm, those who would rather sweep our country’s issues under the carpet and hope that they go away. These brave warriors of Pakistan attack our ostrich mentality and force us to look ourselves in the mirror. They do not do this for personal gain or fame; like Abdul Ghani they do this because they care about our collective future.
Ayesha has followed in her father’s footsteps by educating her community about its rights. “I have this dream that the people of my community are educated, and they know what is right and wrong,” she says. She has worked with a local company to set up a school in the community, which now educates 150 students. “I just want them to be self-sufficient, and they should not lay down their head for anyone. They should fight for their own rights.”
And if the killers of Abdul Ghani think that they have silenced a community, they are wrong. Ayesha has a powerful message for them and for all of us: “To those who have done such terrible things to my father, I would like to say that now you may walk with your chest out, but that will not always is the case. We will triumph in our mission …”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 23rd, 2014