A tale of two villages

Print edition : March 21, 1998

THE people of Varanwada and Saudwara, two villages in the Union Territory of Diu, depend entirely on fishing. There are more than 2,000 fishermen in these villages. Almost an equal number of fishermen come here from neighbouring villages before they set out into the sea.

Once the breadwinners are at sea, the rest of the residents of the villages are full of worry, for fishermen from these villages are often caught by the Pakistan Navy on the charge of crossing the maritime boundary.

According to Lakhan Bhai Puja, who heads the Boat Association at Varanwada, more than 500 fishermen of this area have been arrested and more than 150 boats seized in the past 20 years. One fisherman who belonged to Nawa Bandar died in a jail in Pakistan.

Ramila, wife of a fisherman who was jailed in Pakistan more than three years ago, works as a casual labourer to raise their four children.-

Three fishermen, Velji Lakshman, Kanji and Devji, did not return after they went to sea. They were detained and their boat was seized by the Pakistani authorities. Their family members live in extreme hardship.

Dhanji Harji Rathod wrote to his family from Barrack No. 11, Landeo Jail, Karachi East 34: "They caught us in mid-sea. For five days we were kept in the boat. Then they took us to the jail. We got one cup of dal and two rotis to eat. Only one side of the roti was cooked. One Pakistani prisoner sometimes gave us cigarettes and soap."

Mulji Lakman was jailed in Pakistan three years ago. Awaiting his return are his wife Ramila Mulji and four children. As soil salinity made their small piece of land unfit for cultivation, Ramila worked as a casual worker. She got work for about 15 days a month under the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana. She was thus able to earn between Rs. 350 and Rs. 400 a month. As she found it difficult to make ends meet, she turned to her brother and father for help. Ramila met the Collector of the district to secure her husband's release. She also sought financial help from the Government. However, what she was given were only false promises. The fish workers of these villages, who were arrested, include at least 50 children. For years they were lodged in jails or an idhi centre (a centre for juvenile delinquents). They talk of the past with fear.

The Pakistan Government released 38 such children a year ago. Among them was 18-year-old Manji Dayar of Varanwada, who was arrested in 1994. He said: "It was early morning when we heard gunshots in the air. The Pakistan Navy stopped our boat and cut the net. There were five people on the boat. All were taken to Karachi."

Nanji was released by the Pakistani authorities but his father continued to be in a Karachi jail.-

Manji's family includes his aged parents and two younger brothers. After returning home he stopped going for fishing. He became a wage labourer. Manji said: "At the idhi centre, we did not have any problems. But here the family was in distress. No one helped our family. Three years of our lives were just wasted."

The fishermen are sceptical about efforts to find a solution to their problems. Manji recalled: "When we came back, there was a meeting in Diu. The Collector and the Commissioner came. They said that we would get some help. We even filled a form. But it all came to nothing. Whoever comes here does so for his own selfish reasons."

Although 12-year-old Nanji Murji was released by the Pakistani authorities, his father continued to be in a Karachi jail. At home are Nanji's mother, two younger sisters and a younger brother. When he was detained in 1994, Nanji was studying in the 7th standard. He had gone with his father during the holidays to work at sea for the first time. Nanji was in jail for five months and was then sent to the idhi centre. He said: "The centre had good facilities but there was no freedom or friends. I really missed my mother and sisters. I used to write letters to my father in the other jail." Nanji's studies were discontinued. Now he does not want to go back to school.

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