Mangroves Martyrs
Visits 238
June 01, 2012
Nature has blessed Pakistan with abundant resources; forests are one of several blessings. Today, these precious resources are shrinking rapidly. Land and coastal forest reserves confronting many environmental challenges primarily due to intense human impacts are damaging more than anything else.

Mangroves, known as coastal jewels, are threatened today, not only because of climatic changes but mainly because of rising human materialism. Human interventions into nature but influential and dangerous land-mafias are extreme threat to these innocent plants and related communities as well. Absence of rule of law, strong presence of corrupt factions in the society and dominant land mafia turn out to be more acute cause of mangroves depletion.

Kaka Pir – a two-acre fishermen village of more than 2,000 inhabitants, lacks basic amenities of life but is blessed with thick mangrove forest, which is an appealing piece of land for the blood-thirsty land-mafia. So far, the land-mafia has illegally occupied 27 hectares of Kak Pir land, purchasing most of the land at nominal rates by forcefully snatching the resident’s national identity cards and with links within the land revenue department, reclaiming it, and illegitimate construction is on, majority of land was already sold to non-residents while handicapped state institutions, provincial government, elected representatives and Karachi city administration keep mum at this vital issue.

Experts believe mangroves are natural walls against sea surge; saving mangrove forest means protecting coastal inhabitants, generating livelihood for them and a life-line for submarine and coastal living creatures.

At the same cause, two environmental activists, Haji Abu Bakkar president Pakistan fisher-folk forum (PFF), Kaka Pir unit and Abdul Ghani Mirbahar, general secretary of Karachi division of PFF and a former councilor, have taken the lead and laid down their lives for protecting “Mangroves”, but never bowed their heads in front of land-grabbers, timber mafia and cruel police officials, who, according to locals, have brutally murdered two activists on May 5th, 2011.

Strong protests were held and black day observed after these killings all the way through the coast line, many fishermen refused to sail out to deep sea and anchored their boats at their respective village jetties scattered along Karachi’s 129 km coastline, concentrated mostly in areas like Ibrahim Hydri, Rehri, Hawks bay and Karachi Fish Harbour.

Horrific episode of twin murders and past memories of Kakapir village were in mind, when on April 27th, 2012… almost a year later, landed in Karachi to share knowledge on ‘Climate Change Impacts and Challenges’ during a media workshop organized by Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS) Pakistan office and Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan.

On the last day of three-day media workshop, renowned activist, former federal minister and global President of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Javed Jabbar has once again jolted participants and facilitator’s on Kakapir incident and paid tribute to twin ‘Mangrove Martyrs’ in a way that every sensitive heart was in pain, eyes were in tears and left majority in grief.

This has given enough steam to travel to the home town of departed souls, so, on April 30th, 2012…. reached Kaka Pir, where residents portrayed Haji Muhammad Younis and his son Zulfiqar Younis, a former town nazim, Kaimari as notorious land-grabbers and accused them of burning PFF unit office in village, threatened local residents and halted both environmentalists to get-off their way otherwise face the consequences.

If this was the case then it’s pathetic that despite repeated threats, police and administrative authorities never acted upon and as a result two families and whole community had suffered heavy losses.

While taking to Weekly Pulse, Haji Muhammad Younis refuted the murder allegations and termed it a worst ever conspiracy against him.

“Murders imposed on me, it was all planned by Muhammad Ali Shah (chairman PFF) and his mates to malign us, both deceased were having natural deaths”, while commenting on land-grabbing issue, he added, “we are not snatching land, majority of it was a family property from several decades with all official documents available”.

PFF had already been engaged in a campaign against the land mafia since many years but taken pace in early 2011. PFF leadership have written letters to higher authorities and government functionaries, held rallies, hunger strikes, a short march was organized from Kaka Pir village, Kiamari to Karachi Press Club and held demonstrations outside of Sindh Assembly. Government of Sindh and even former provincial home minister, Zulifiqar Mirza, while seeking complete inquiry and a detailed report, assured stern action against culprits but of no use.

In twin murder case, Haji Younis and his son Zulfiqar Younis, were nominated in FIR#93/2011 with docks police station but surprisingly, police has taken no action against accused, so far.

“This was clearly a targeted killing to terrorise PFF leadership and its workers to give-up their persistent struggle to protect mangrove forest around Karachi and their campaign against land mafia” says Muhammad Ali Shah, Chairman PFF told Weekly Pulse.

However, Haji Younis denied all allegations leveled against him and described himself, a mangroves guardian.

“Locals, are involved in deforestation not we are, responsibility lies on government of Sindh to take stern action against culprits and initiate inquiry,” and categorically added, “I am willingly ready to face any inquiry”.

However, standing in Kaka Pir, mysterious deep silence and fear at villagers faces depicts, how horrific past episodes were? Locals still watching terrifying dark clouds hovering over them.

Among others one young boy, 26, staring for several minutes and then reluctantly and on condition of anonymity said, “don’t ask for land-mafia activities, as I’m the only bread earner for my whole family of seven, media always wants a story, not interested in our future.”

“Journalists are visiting occasionally but these police and politically protected mafias are daily visitors, there informers existing within fishermen community and are spying for these gangs, so, I don’t want to lose my soul.” youngster stressfully added.

One of the old fisherman and resident of Manora island, Majeed Baba, 73, rang the alarm bells by saying, “Ruthless destruction of mangroves in Boat Basin, Natti-Jatti, Kaimari and Manora, need more sacrifices… Abdul Ghani and Abu Bakkar have set an example; rest will follow that because we can sacrifice our lives but not the generations.”

Abdul Ghani, one of the deceased, was pioneer in protecting mangrove forests from timber and land mafia. He set up the Fisherfolk Development Organisation (FDO), which later partnered with the international organizations and started “Mangroves Eco-Tourism” in assistance with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) but this informative recreational programme has also been put on halt since his death.

“Eco-Tourism suffered because gangsters have murdered our two brothers, one fiber glass boat has been completely burnt while other two suffered damages.” Now, FDO organizer, Haji Muhammad Siddique told Weekly Pulse.

Abdul Ghani and Haji Abbu Bakkar’s families still awaiting justice even after one year after those horrific murders, but still, there is no trace of early dispensation of justice and nothing done in terms of livelihood for effected families.

“No one will impart justice to the effectees, accept Allah Almighty (God, the Great), and when justice will be disseminated”, by taking deep breath and pointing fingers towards soil, he said, “this land will grab the land-grabbers” Majeed Baba added.

Passionate fishermen of Kaka Pir village believe that mangroves are the God’s soldiers, erected to defend storms and tsunamis, prevent coastal erosion, incubate variety of fish, shrimps and preventing food chain for birds, sea creatures and giving means of livelihood to fishermen families.

“Land-mafia had killed two green activists, and now making mockery. Today every fisherman is environmental activist and we all will save mangroves and precious land till our last breathe”, Chairman PFF, Muhammad Ali Shah added.

Green activist, advisor on coastal ecosystem with IUCN and famously known as ‘father of mangroves’, Tahir Qureshi sorrowfully termed green activists murder as brutal act and plead to end point scoring by certain quarters and to act.

“We have protested and forest department sindh has lodged FIR, but then some civil society organizations have started number game; ignoring the legal aspects of unfortunate killings and conservation of mangroves and welfare of related communities while local residents also indulge in meaningless war of words”.

Chief Conservator (mangroves), Sindh forest department, Agha Tahir loudly appealed the civil society, media and non-governmental entities to come forward to save mangroves and coastal residents.

“Forest department is a party to the case and fighting hard to save precious mangrove reserves and associated communities, who act as a catalyst for green revolution along coastal areas but others should feel their responsibilities and act as well”.

Unveiling the future plans, local residents of Kaka Pir and their development organization, FDO, announced revival of eco-tourism and mangroves plantation campaign.

“So far, 75,000 mangrove saplings were planted during 2010 and 2011 respectively. fishermen will now plant 5000 mangrove saplings in the name mangrove martyrs while UNDP-supported Eco-Tourism project, soon be revived, boats will be repaired, tourists will shortly be able to visit the bird watching tower and enjoy lunch at floating hut”, Haji Siddique vigorously elaborated.

Despite of several dreadful episodes in their lives, by and large, peaceful fishermen community in and around Kaka Pir, are hopeful that state, non-governmental organizations, civil society and court of law would act to end their sufferings and for sustainable green peace with ‘Mangroves’ and committed to act upon the cause initiated by twin ‘Mangrove Martyrs’.

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