‘Slaves of the sea’


By Mohammed Mamun Rashid
Jan 6 2019 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Employment in fisheries and aquaculture around the globe has
grown faster than the world’s population. The sector provides
jobs to tens of millions and supports the livelihoods of hundreds
of millions.

Bangladesh, the world’s largest deltaic zone, is crisscrossed
by big rivers and their tributaries and distributaries. Moreover,
as a land with an abundance of torrential monsoon rains, most of
the plain lands remain inundated during the monsoon season, thus
turning the countryside into a big reservoir of freshwater for
almost half the year. These huge, inland, sweet water bodies
together with the expanse of saline water in the Bay of Bengal
provide the basis for a large and diversified fisheries sector.
Fisheries have always played an integral role in the lives of the
people of Bangladesh. It is more ancient than the profession of
agriculture itself.

The fisheries sector of Bangladesh contributes 3.69 percent to
the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and fish accounts for 60
percent of national animal protein consumption. The sector also
plays an important role in rural employment generation and poverty
alleviation. Traditionally, low-caste Hindus have been engaged in
the fishing profession. The Jaladas (slaves of the sea) belong to
the Hindu fisherfolk community which is made up of caste-bound
people. In most cases, they live in segregated paras which are
localities within a village. The high-caste Hindu and the Muslim
aristocracy and gentry carefully avoid any social mingling with
them. Traditional fishing communities, which mainly comprise
Hindus, are being put under pressure by incoming Muslims who have
taken up fishing as their profession. The newcomers are either
self-employed or find employment as labourers. The majority of
Muslims opt for fishing due to population pressure, economic
constraints in agricultural sector, and adverse effects of climate

Many elite rich men entered the fisheries sector in the 1960s.
The then aristocratic Bengali word motshojibi had been introduced
instead of the word jele. What is noteworthy is that the word jele
is not included in fisheries act, rules, ordinance, and policy
though motshojibi and mach chashi are included in such documents.
According to the National Fisheries Policy 1998, about 1.2 million
people were engaged in full-time work in the fisheries sector and
12 million people were engaged in part-time work. It is important
to include the word jele in policy documents in order to know their
number and their contribution to the national economy. It would
also help us to understand their socio-economic conditions and
undertake different initiatives for improving the lives and
livelihoods of fishing communities. However, there is no updated
information on fishermen based on para, source of fishing,
religion, socio-economic conditions and position. But we do get the
number of fishermen from different studies, surveys and project
reports. But these things are not always consistent or continuous.
According to the Coastal District Information 2005 under Integrated
Coastal Zone Management Plan, the majority of traditional fishermen
are Hindus in 19 coastal districts.

The majority of Jaladas families are in financial debt and
receive short- and long-term loans from relatives, neighbours, and
businessmen. Their incomes usually increase during Hilsa fishing
season. The scope for savings for this community is limited. Due to
their dire situation, they spend mostly on food rather than clothes
and other things. It is during the off-season that they face
financial crises which occur round the year. The majority of
Jaladas don’t own boats but nets. Some don’t own either; they
work in others’ boats or hire boats for fishing. Many adolescent
boys accompany their fathers during fishing. A few of them receive
primary education but fail to continue. Fishermen don’t get loan
facilities from financial institutions due to a lack of
mortgage-free loan provisions in government banks. The average size
of many fishermen families is 5 to 7 which is higher than the
national average. The rate of early marriage within this community
is higher due to abject poverty and social insecurity. And youth
delinquency is also a major problem.

Jaladas don’t own lands. They mainly live on khas
(government-owned) land, embankments, and accreted char land in
huts. Due to the depletion of fish, piracy, and lack of capital,
these people remain stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty. They do
not even have pure drinking water as they live in over-populated

Even though they have been in the fisheries sector for
generations, they do not have a voice when it comes to policies and
laws. Furthermore, they are not well-informed about clauses of the
fisheries law although they are punished under this law.

Jaladas believe that it is not easy for them to switch to other
professions. This is a socio-psychological barrier. Some even
consider themselves to be “sinners” as they earn a living by
catching innocent fish. They identify themselves as “slaves of
the sea” without hesitation. They also believe they are destined
to carry this curse their whole life.

The Jaladas community has distinct socio-economic, political,
cultural, technological and informational characteristics. Water,
nets, boats, rivers and the sea are central to their lives and
livelihood. They are socially neglected, economically insolvent,
politically pressured, culturally ill-treated, technologically
backward, not up-to-date with information, and geographically
isolated and vulnerable. The government of Bangladesh should
address these issues pertinent to the Jaladas community in relevant
sectoral policies so that these people can live with dignity and
their rights protected.

Mohammed Mamun Rashid is Programme Manager, Civic
Engagement, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).
Email: rashidmamuns@yahoo.com

This story was
originally published
by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The post ‘Slaves of
the sea’
appeared first on Inter Press Service.


The long-forgotten Jaladas community and their need for policy

The post ‘Slaves of
the sea’
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
‘Slaves of the sea’