iconimg Sunday, April 19, 2015

Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
Porbandar, December 12, 2012
The fishing community of Kharwas deals in a mostly-taboo culinary item in the predominantly vegetarian Gujarat. The community believes its concerns are “ignored” because they deal in fish. “Those sitting in Gandhinagar don’t eat fish and hate coming here to listen to us. When the CM talks industry, he means Nirma company, which employs 3,000 people, not Porbandar’s fishing industry which employs lakhs,” says a BJP local leader.

Among the oldest settlers on the Porbandar coastline, the Kharwas have a long list of grievances but no voice at all in the political landscape of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar.

“We will vote because we don’t want to waste our votes, but there’s a lot of resentment and anger in the Kharwas,” says Bharatbhai, a fishing boats owner and a local leader.

The community’s litany is long: fish catch in the waters close to the shore has considerably reduced in the last few years. They have to take their boats and trawlers farther into the sea where they run the risk of trespassing into Pakistan’s waters, and being caught. Fishermen caught this way languish in Pakistani jails for months and years and have no hope of getting their boats or trawlers back.

The Porbandar dock is too crowded with nearly 600 fishing boats or trawlers in a space for 300 and its infrastructure is out-dated or non-existent, and so on.

“There are around 3,000 large and 1,500 small boats in Porbandar,” says Sunil Gohel, owner of 15 boats, a couple of which are languishing in Pakistan. “Besides, there are ice factories, diesel outlets, kirana shops and 35,000 workers from other states. But they are being ignored.”

The 1.5 million Kharwas of Gujarat have oscillated between the BJP and Congress in the last couple of elections. This time, community leaders say they haven’t communicated a preference for either party to their people.