Jati is a small town of fisherfolk in Sindh’s coastal district Sujawal, that has been seeing each and every shock of the natural as well as manmade devastations that occurred in Sindh. During the 2010 floods, the entire area was flooded with water for months due to the breakage of Kot Alamoon Levee at Indus River. The area is naturally rich in resources: having numerous oil and gas reservoirs. Even today, there are around 40 oil wells in this otherwise backward tehsil of Jati, and many national as well as multinational oil exploration companies are functioning and excavating oil in the region. But sadly the condition of the locals remains unchanged. Hardly can one can find any school opened, any dispensary functional, any village having electricity facilities and any road in good condition here.
May the 19th, 1999, was an unforgettable day for the fishing communities of this belt as they witnessed one of the more devastating cyclones of Sindh’s history – that ruined almost everything that it encountered in this region. During that lethal episode of natural destruction, every local village had its own tale of tragedy. And its footprints can be seen even today if one visits this region.
The overall loss of 439 human lives, 15,000 houses, more than 1,800,000 acres of agricultural land )(which is still uncultivable) and countless livestock are added to be the tragedy of around 300 missing fishermen who were at sea that day. The loss of these breadwinners was disastrous to the poverty-stricken fisherfolk of the coastal belt. The real damage even in terms of loss of human life might well be more than the figure I quoted above – as this is what was revealed as per governmental records.
The famous natural lakes of the past – Chaubhati, Til, Chann Bhelo, Karr, Kalkaan Channi and many others – vanished in the sea and today there is no sign of their existence. These lakes used to provide local fishing communities with immense opportunities for earning their bread and butter.
For the people of the villages Abdul Rehman Dhandhal, Noor Muhammad Chaaklo, Abdul Rehman Thehmore, and many others of Union Council Jati, the calamity was a total loss: they simultaneously lost their fishing boats, nets, houses, agricultural lands, livestock, and worst of all, the loved ones whose dead bodies were been found for many days after the cyclone hit the region – hanging in trees or somewhere in the wilderness. Some bodies have not been recovered to this day.
The sisters of Ghulam Hussain, Abdullah, and Ibrahim in village Loung Abro are still not ready to bring out the handmade colorful quilts from the wooden box that they prepared for the marriage celebrations of their loving brothers who went missing on that day. They say, “Our brothers will come back one day and we will arrange their marriages” when asked as to what they are waiting for..
88-year-old Aroo Bhadhai, who does not have any movement left in his weak body and has become almost blind of eyesight, still hardly manages to touch the door and the doorstep of his house many times a day just to remind himself that his four young sons who went missing in the cyclone will return soon. He asks everyone who visits his ruined house as to why why Yousif, Hassan, Muhammad, and Hashim are late to return. “Don’t they know that their weak and old baba is about to die without seeing them?” he asks.
The wife of deceased Allah Bux of village Muhammad Khan Pathan still could not forget the last promise of her husband. He had promised her that he will go to Karachi and buy a new set of clothes and bangles for her after coming back from a fishing expedition. She received his dead body after the cyclone and could not afford the cloth for the shroud.
Mai Sukhan, who is 56-years old, still goes to the sea daily – both in the morning and evening. She asks fishermen who are going or returning from the sea about the whereabouts of her two young missing sons Abdul Jabbar and Karim Bux, who were in the sea on that day. She says, “Both Jabbar and Karim have wives and children and we have no male in the house since they went missing. How will we women survive and nurture our children?”
All this suffering does not seem to have affected the merchants of Jati town, who forcibly seized the relief cheques of Rs. 10,000 from the mourning families of dead fishermen to clear debts owed to them by the departed fishermen. These cheques had been earmarked for the families of the dead fishermen by the then government of Nawaz Sharif.
Before every election, the locals say, local politicians come to the door of the bereaved fisherfolk, asking for votes. But no real help has been forthcoming since that fateful day in 1999.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Sindh and can be reached at email@example.com