“I think this is because of our Muslim identity,” laments Allahrakha Ismail Thimar, a 45-year-old local fisherman. For more than a hundred years, a 600-member Muslim community in Gujarat has been residing in Gujarat’s Porbandar and dependent on the sea to earn their living.
Since 2010, however, the community was asked to stop the fishing activity and not to anchor their boats near the Gosabar or Navi Bandar ports. After writing many letters to the administration, they finally received a response in 2016 when the fisheries department allowed them to continue working only after the community replaced small boats with big ships.
“We couldn’t afford them but we somehow managed to buy them to save our only source of livelihood,” said Thimur, who has been working as a fisherman for the past 30 years. A few months later, when a group of Hindu fishermen started objecting to the community’s work in Porbandar, they were asked to leave the village by the authorities, he said.
“Where would we go to earn our livelihood? It was our right too just like it was anyone else.”
Since 2016, due to continuous harassment from the Hindu fishers and authorities, the community has been writing to all the senior government officials to seek help, however, there has been no response.
“Then we again wrote a letter to the district magistrate and even the chief minister to grant us permission to work otherwise we would commit suicide,” he said. “There was no reply, in return around 100 men were arrested. We have been working illegally even though we have licensed ships.”
Recently, the Hindu fishermen of Porbandar port protested against the community, asking them to leave. “We have lived peacefully with the Hindus for the past century, but only these few people have problems with us,” he said.
Due to no help from the government, the community finally decided to petition the High Court for mass euthanasia, in order to bring an end to the trouble. In the petition, it is also argued that the state government is discriminating against Muslim fishermen and is not providing them adequate facilities.
“Otherwise who wants to die? They want to kick us out of our own village. For a long time, we weren’t even allowed to collect drinking water,” Thimur claims.
Since their work has stopped, Thimur and many others like him have been surviving on taking loans.
“Survival is difficult for us now,” he said.
Dharmesh Changrakanth Gujjar a high court lawyer said that after filing the petition in the Gujarat High Court, the summer vacation started and it will last till June 5. “On June 6, the high court will reopen and the matter will be taken up for hearing,” he said.
Gujjar said that the behaviour of the administration is not good for the Muslim fishermen and therefore, they are not even given the basic facilities. “They [Muslim fishermen] say there is a bias against them. They wrote to the ministers but till now there hasn’t been any response or help,” he added. “It is happening because of their Muslim identity.”