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'Muslim fisherfolk being targetted': Spate of demolitions near historic Dwarka town

Counterview Desk 

In a statement, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Gujarat, condemning the “inhuman demolitions” done by the Government of Gujarat over the past six months at several locations in Devbhoomi Dwarka district, has said targets are "the Muslim traditional fishing communities along the Saurashtra coastline”, regretting, this is happening “without any plans for rehabilitation and restoration of fishing, their traditional livelihood.”
Claiming that the demolitions began in October last year, it said, “The manner in which the demolitions were carried out seemed to be intended to terrorise the Muslim population, forcing them to flee within 24 hours taking whatever belongings they could retrieve, on their boats." 


PUCL Gujarat expresses its serious concern over the manner in which the Government of Gujarat has been demolishing the homes and properties primarily of Muslim citizens, particularly belonging to the traditional fishing communities in different locations in Devbhoomi Dwarka District.
The spate of demolitions has been going on since the first week of October starting with approximately 150 homes and commercial establishments belonging predominantly to Muslims in Bet Dwarka. Among the structures so demolished there were also over 15 places of worship such as shrines, mazars and dargahs.
In January 2023 the fisherfolk of Harshad and Navadra coastal villages of Kalyanpur Taluka of Devbhoomi Dwarka district were given eviction notices by the administration which they challenged in Gujarat High Court. The High court disposed of their petitions as the government of Gujarat gave an assurance of rehabilitation. By 11th March 2023 the bulldozers came in, targeting minority shops, shrines, homes and mosques in Harshad village/harbour near Gandhvi harbour and Navadra village rendering 122 families from Navadra and 69 from Harshad homeless and bereft of the locations from where they carried out their fishing activities, their only means of livelihood.
The manner in which the demolitions were carried out seemed to be intended to terrorise the Muslim population, forcing them to flee within 24 hours taking whatever belongings they could retrieve, on their boats. The community has been completely scattered and rendered helpless, with the condition of women and children being extremely painful. Most of them have gone to other fishing villages and local harbours, where the local people are not in a position to take care of them or offer them much assistance. They also do not have space for their boats; and the local administration is not giving them the online permission to engage in fishing from these new locations. This is leading to harassment of these internally displaced families, to unfortunate conflicts with locals, and total despondency due to a complete breakdown of their traditional livelihood.
These demolition operations betray deliberate discrimination against and humiliation of the Muslim fisherfolk; in almost all these locations Hindu properties have not been demolished. Muslim shrines and mosques have been demolished with no sense of reverence. The manner in which the government has been justifying these demolitions also has been extremely humiliating. These traditional fishing communities have lived for generations in these villages over centuries, and they belong to both Hindu and Muslim communities. They live on the coast, launching their traditional fishing boats from natural harbours that have been used and preserved since hundreds of years. Along the coast the fishing communities have structures that are used for landing the fish, sorting them and temporarily storing them before selling them to wholesale fish merchants; but like all marginalized communities most of them may not have title deeds to the structures they have been using since a long time. It should also be noted that fisherfolk have customary rights on the sea-coast to effectively pursue their traditional occupation of fishing. This is clearly indicated in the Coastal Regulation Zone
The government’s narrative that they are ‘illegal encroachers’ and that the structures they use for fishing activities could pose a threat to national security or could be used for drug smuggling, and hence the demolitions have to be done in national interest, has been insensitive and infringes on the right to life with dignity of the traditional fisherfolk. A government unleashing such a demeaning, generalized narrative can only result in public mistrust and hatred against a hardworking, dignified community. The fact that only Muslim shrines and mosques were targeted while Hindu places of worship were untouched, betrays not just discrimination, but also a form of institutionalized hatred, leading to a situation where the state turns against its own citizens.
The community has been completely scattered and rendered helpless, with the condition of women and children being extremely painful
The High Court had dismissed the plea of these citizens based on the government’s assurance of rehabilitation. The government could have waited and ensured rehabilitation first, allowed the people all constitutional remedies before they resorted to the cruel and inhuman step of demolitions. The government that is bound by the constitution to protect the life, liberty, and dignity of its citizens itself violated that right by turning a significant number of households into internally displaced citizens without homes, bereft of their means of livelihood, nowhere to go. Even to this day the state has not made alternative arrangements for the citizens they thus displaced.
PUCL Gujarat strongly condemns these inhuman demolitions targeted at Muslim traditional fishing communities along the Saurashtra coastline, without any plans for rehabilitation and restoration of fishing, their traditional livelihood. We further condemn the insensitive, discriminatory, and humiliating manner in which the government destroyed the mosques and shrines that were integral to the culture and right to freedom of religion of these traditional fishing communities.
We demand that:
  1. The government puts an end forthwith to all demolitions that it plans to undertake along the coastline.
  2. National security cannot be ensured by alienating communities who have been living along the coast since centuries. The government should hold dialogues with the leaders of the fishing communities and work out ways and means of continuing fishing while ensuring security requirements of the state. Demolitions may be pursued only after their rehabilitation and the facilities to continue fishing operations are provided
  3. All the families whose houses, shops and other structures along the coast have been demolished be provided temporary shelters in the same villages and be explicitly and formally allowed to continue fishing operations as they used to do, till such time that the government provides them with alternative housing and other requisite infrastructure.
  4. The state should take serious note of the fact that mosques and shrines were demolished and immediate actions should be initiated to rebuilt in locations identified in consultation with the fishing communities who have been displaced.
  5. An immediate survey needs to be done to ascertain the condition of women and children; and proactive steps are taken to ensure that their right to education and protection and health are protected.
  6. Fishing communities have been residing along the coast for generations and have been dependent on the sea for their livelihood. Government earlier had launched the Sagar Khedu Yojana for holistic development of the coastal communities. Allocation of housing plots and permanent housing should be taken up as part of the development plan and should be taken up on priority basis by the government so that coastal communities get their housing rights.



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