Boats take to the water as part of the rally on Thursday. —Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Boats take to the water as part of the rally on Thursday. —Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: At least 20 fishing boats and a couple of small speedboats took part in a boat rally that started from Ibrahim Hyderi’s busy and undeveloped Jamote Jetty to the twin Bundal and Dingi (also known as Buddu) Islands as part of the ‘Samundari Jazair Bachao Tehreek’ organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum on Thursday.

The people in the boats represented not just the fisherfolk community, but also trade unions such as the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and the Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF), non-government organisations including the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Indigenous Rights Alliance, Aurat Foundation, research groups and politicians. They raised red and blue banners along with political party flags in their hands while tying them to the boats as well.

The flags flapped and fluttered in the sea breeze as the people chanted slogans such as “Stealing of Sindh’s resources unacceptable”, “Stealing of islands unacceptable” and “Snatching the livelihood of the poor is no progress!”

Loud Sindhi folk songs playing from some of the boats also prompted the fisherfolk, including old women to dance on swaying boats. “We develop our sea legs as we take our initial steps on the ground as toddlers,” laughed one old woman on a boat as her feet tapped and fingers clicked to catchy tunes.

‘Construction of the city or cities here will be a violation of the Ramsar Convention’

Unfortunately, as Dingi island came into sight, so did two Pak Marines gunboats that circled the rally boats, refusing them access to the island. The boats then turned and headed to Bundal island but by that time the tide had turned very low making it impossible for the boats to drop anchor there. The rally leaders then addressed the rally from their boats through a microphone.

PFF chairman and convener of the movement Mohammad Ali Shah said that the federal government’s decision to constitute the Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) was “unconstitutional and against provincial sovereignty”.

“It was decided to construct modern cities on the twin islands without any consultation with the Sindh government despite the fact that this area falls under provincial jurisdiction,” Shah said.

“The islands are part of the Indus Delta, which is a Ramsar site and construction of the city or cities here will be a violation of the international Ramsar Conven­tion,” he reminded.

“Pakistan has a coastal belt of over 1,050 kilometres and there are 300 small and big islands located in the Sindh coastal belt that the federal government seems to have an eye on,” he said, adding that former governments too had attempted to construct cities on the two islands though they could not be successful in their plans as then, too, the people of Sindh, especially the fisherfolk, who happen to be the traditional custodians of the islands, organised themselves and stood up together to stop the ‘wrongdoing’.

A protester displays a placard inscribed with her demands.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
A protester displays a placard inscribed with her demands.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

“We will not let the wicked plans of the federal government see light again,” he said.

The PFF chairman was also joined by chairman of the Sindh Taraqqi-pasand Party Dr Qadir Magsi, leader of Sindh United Party Zain Shah, Jeay Sindh Mahaz leader Abdul Khaliq Junejo, Sindhiani Tehreek’s leader Noor Nisa Palijo, Shaheed Fazil Rahu Yadgar Committee’s Shahnaz Rahu, MNA Jam Abdul Karim, MPA Raja Razzaq, MPA Mahmood Alam Jamote, fisherfolk leaders Suhail Jamote, Jan Alam Jamote, activists and researchers Khuda Dino Shah, Illahi Bux Bikek, Gul Hassan Kalmati, Zehra Khan of HBWWF and Nasir Mansoor of NTUF.

All unanimously rejected the construction of the new cities.

They were of the view that the presidential ordinance that allowed the taking over of the islands by the federal government was against the Constitution of Pakistan, and that it should be reversed immediately.

They said that the islands were the property of the fisherfolk and nobody would be allowed to construct a city or cities on them.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2020