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Fishing is an important means of livelihood in Karachi.—File Photo

KARACHI: “Rozgaar pe qabza, jazeeray pe sabza na manzoor” was the slogan on everyone’s lips as the narrow winding lanes of Rehri Goth on Wednesday filled with residents coming out of their small homes to protest the leasing of the Dingi and Budal islands in Korangi Creek for development.

“They are stealing our right to a livelihood, which we will not allow them to do. We will keep on protesting till our voices reach the ears that hear us out,” Fatima Shaukat of Ibrahim Hyderi told Dawn.

“People come out of your homes and fight for your rights!” another woman by the same first name and from the same area, Fatima Majid, yelled out to the crowd. “If you build a new city here, it won’t have any room for us poor fisher folk just like we are not allowed to fish near the Marina Club,” she cried. “There is talk of connecting the islands with a bridge. Do you think our boats would be allowed to pass from under it? No. And that will block our passage to the sea,” she said.

“If development means crushing the poor residents of the area and their means to a livelihood, I say to hell with such development and progress,” she screamed.

“They are selling our sea on which our husbands, our sons depend for food. Over our dead bodies!” added Zebu of Rehri Goth.

Meanwhile, Yousuf Kadani, president of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s (PFF) Ibrahim Hyderi unit, said that they had experienced something similar in 2006 as well. “Back then it was a UAE-based company that was about to take over our islands. We came out to fight the decision even then and were successful in doing so as the project never materialised but now we hear of this company looking to develop the islands."

“Brothers and sisters, friends of Rehri Goth, this is war. You have fought and won a war before, too, and you have to fight again to show that no one can snatch from you what is your right. You have been fishing here in these very waters for years. You are the jageerdaars of the sea. Save your sea from the greedy people who are up to no good,” said PFF Karachi president Majid Motani who also happens to be an old boat captain and community leader from Ibrahim Hyderi.

PFF spokesperson Sami Memon said that they had been writing letters to the company said to be developing the islands. “If you try to learn more about this company, you will find that its owner is a well-known developer and entrepreneur credited with the development of several islands all over the world. They are major investors. Looking at our islands you will notice that they are not that far from each other and a little reclamation of land from the sea could also join the islands to create a long belt,” he pointed out.

The 60,000-strong population of Rehri Goth isstill struggling for basic rights such as schools and hospitals and instead of looking into solving their issues the government thought about ‘developing’ the islands while adding to the indigenous community’s misery, he said.