Children of the river
10 March, 2006
By Zafar Iqbal Bhutta
They used to make a living out of fishing, knitting baskets and harvesting, but now the two riverine communities of middle Indus valley, knows as Kihals and Mors, feel threatened after losing fast their means of livelihood to contractual fishing and mechanized farming.
Fish once made 60 per cent their total food and they used to travel up and down and shift to east and west of the Indus River according to their livelihood and cultural needs. The river kept them as a group and connected them from upstream to down stream. They had distinct culture and used to celebrate with pride.
They consider and call themselves "children of the river" (darya-dey-poongey), and both these riverine communities are Muslims.
While telling story of the once mighty Indus and their livelihood, the Kihals and Mors say the original water bed of the river was once spread over 20km, stretched from Dera Ismail Khan city on its west to Darya Khan on its east. There were huge forests of Kanb or Pilchi (Tamarix gallica), Sar (saccharum munja) and Koondre (a grass that grows on river banks) in bbeits (delta). They used these forests by making baskets and ropes out of soft twigs and other vegetation, which would fetch good price.
Compared to mainstream societies, Kihals and Mors had wider food diversity and choices, and apart from fish, they used to eat Sisars (crocodile), Kumhis (tortoise) and wild duck.
But now their sources of food and income are under threat as licensed fishing has deprived them of their right to fish. Some times, the contractors imprison them when they try to catch fish out of hunger.
Kihals say contract fishing has deprived them of 50-60 per cent of their food and livelihood sources so far.
Allotment of local lands to migrants and clearing of forests for cultivation after partition delivered another blow to the riverine communities` ancestral right to land and forests.
Kihals say the landlords now obtain bank loans for agriculture inputs (tractors, fertilizer and pesticides) and clear riverine forests and cultivate cash crops -- a definite cut on Kihals and Mors` source of earning through cultivation.
Ghulam Haider, who belongs to Kihals community, says: "We used to shift along and across the Indus River, but now the dams, barrages and canals have locked us in little pockets.
"We now remain within union council, tehsil council and district council boundaries. Thus, we are not gypsies any more. And we need national identity cards to participate in the elections."
Obtaining national identity cards is a bit tricky for the two communities. The National Database and Registration Authority usually asks for some documentary proof of residence or some certificate showing family roots.
Interestingly, some Kihals and Mors say the landlords of the area escort them to cast votes during elections, but they don`t know how they met the condition of identity cards.
Now the two communities want that some land be allotted to them along the riverside where they could set up their homes.
After losing their major sources of livelihood i.e. harvesting of Kanb and Kanch, weaving of baskets and ropes, and hut making, they have now taken up begging.
Previously, their women were not involved in begging nor was the practice spread over the whole year. Now it is purely women`s job and spread over the whole year. This new trend has adversely affected women by exposing them to harassment and violence while begging in the neighboring markets. Children are the immediate victims of this shift in livelihood source as women have to leave them behind in huts when they go out for begging.
Kihals and Mors want to get their children educated. "We do send our children to nearby schools, but the children of the neighboring communities bully them," said Wazir, a local.
Kihals prefer religious education for their girls, while boys shoulder the responsibility of earning livelihood.
Health issues of Kihals and Mors are very serious and there is a clear decline in health quality due to lack of any medical facilities in the area.
Contamination of river near urban centres has further reduced the availability of fish. The whole effluent discharge of Dera Ismail Khan city falls into the river through four big drains close to the area Kihals live. Chashma sugar mill near Dera Ismail Khan city is another source of contamination, which has given rise to water-borne diseases among the two riverine communities. Key Sources:
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