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Children of the river

10 March, 2006

By Zafar Iqbal Bhutta


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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:

  1. ["Full Text of Iran-India Joint Communiqu," Iran Almanac (Tehran: The Echo of Iran, 1974), p. 176]
  2. [George Quester, "The Shaw and the Bomb" (unpublished paper, 1975), and a private interview conducted in February 1975; in Anne Hessing Cahn, "Determinants of the Nuclear Option: The Case of Iran," Nuclear Proliferation in the Near-Nuclear Countries (Cambridge: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1975), Onkar Marwah and Ann Shulz, eds., p. 199.]
  3. [Nuclear News Buyers Guide, March 1983, pp. 19-24]
  4. ["India Says It Sold Iran a Chemical Used in Poison Gas," The New York Times, 1 July 1989, p. 1]
  5. [Nucleonics Week, 7 February 1991, p. 17; Nuclear News, March 1991, p. 56]
  6. ["An Iranian Nuclear Chronology, 1987-1982", "Nuclear Facilities," Middle East Defense News, 8 June 1992]
  7. [Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI): http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/India/Chemical/index.htm]
  8. [Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin, March 1995]
  9. [The Arms Control Reporter; Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin, October 1995, Issue Number 27]
  10. [The Arms Control Reporter; Chemical Weapons Convention Bulletin October, 1995, Issue Number 27]
  11. [Top Indian nuclear expert helped Iran develop power plant: report; http://www.spacewar.com/2003/031023051623.vbyeqa4o.html]
  12. [India`s Nuclear Tests: Will They Open New Possibilities for Iraq to Exploit?; ISIS Issue Brief; May 28, 1998]
  13. [Chengappa, Raj. 2000. Weapons of Peace, HarperCollins Publishers India, ISBN 81-7223-330-2]
  14. [Probe into illegal Indian exports to Iraq, New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra and Amol Sharma, January 26, 2003; Indian documents suggest Iraq violated U.N. resolutions, Satinder Bindra and Amol Sharma, CNN, February 5, 2003]

End.

Reader Comments:

Pictures

Hello is tthere anyway i can get some pictures of Kihals and Mors, your indigenous people....This is for a school project...It would be the best if i could have the pictures on this date...Thank you!!

Jay, Pakistan - 07 May, 2007

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