How We Present
Pakistan: 'The river has been stolen from us'
by Dera Ismail Khan
IRIN News Translate This Article
4 July 2010
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, (IRIN) - The small group of child beggars walking home from a market in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, 320km west of Lahore on the border of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and Punjab provinces, seem subdued.
'We tried hard but we didn't collect much money today,' said Raqib Ullah, aged 9-10.
The children belong to the riverine Kihal community, based along the banks of the River Indus, which wends its way from northern Pakistan down to the Arabian Sea in the south.
Once scattered all along the river, the nomadic Kihals can now be found between the Chashma Barrage near Dera Ismail Khan and the Taunsa Barrage some 300km further south along the river in the Punjab, but are mostly concentrated in an area stretching 30km south of Dera Ismail Khan.
Little data exists on this indigenous population but the Kihals, who say they are Muslim, face discrimination similar to that of other religious minorities—such as the Ahmadis whose situation has been more extensively documented.
'Firstly, the Kihals are not registered as citizens and have no ID cards. They are considered a 'floating population' with no fixed address, although they are now essentially settled,' Wasim Wagha, director of programmes at Islamabad-based NGO DAMAAN Development Organization, told IRIN. 'The provision of an ID card, required by all adult citizens, is dependent on being able to provide a permanent address.'
This lack of registration also means that there is no official data on the size of the Kihal population, though they say they are around 50,000 families.
The community has limited access to schooling, health care and adequate shelter—living for the most part in huts which they move from place to place.
'We want our children to go to school, but when we send them they are taunted, even beaten up, by the other children,' Samu Kihal, 35, told IRIN. The father of seven children said he had never heard of birth control and that his family now lived from begging.
The mainstream Sunni Muslim population of Pakistan considers the Kihals 'impure', largely because of their diet, which includes tortoises and crocodiles.
Prejudice runs deep. 'These people are dirty. They steal and they eat meat prohibited to Muslims,' Muhammad Mansoor, an elderly shopkeeper in Dera Ismail Khan, said.
'In the past, settled populations depended on the Kihal for fish and other products. Now, discrimination is increasing,' said Wagha.
In response, the community has begun adopting Muslim names and other Islamic practices in an effort to gain acceptability. Some have moved permanently to urban areas.
Livelihoods under threat
As a people who have for centuries lived off the Indus river, the livelihoods of the Kihals are increasingly under threat because of commercial logging, the construction of big dams and corporate agricultural farming, according to a 2003 study by international NGO Minority Rights Group International.
The system of contract fishing awarded by the government on the Indus means they cannot fish any longer, while increased pollution of the river has also reduced the fish population. The expanded cultivation of land by farmers along the banks of the Indus means the reed-like plants used by the Kihal to weave baskets have vanished.
'The river has been stolen from us. It's now filled with waste and we cannot fish in it or even drink the water. No one cares about us Kihals,' said Samu. The community continues to demand a right to land lying alongside the river.
'These people live in the most terrible poverty. There is no provision for schooling for their children and many of these children have never been vaccinated or seen a doctor,' Saima Zaheer, a social worker, said. She said Kihals were sometimes 'chased away' even from charitable clinics.
'We will live just like our parents,' said a young boy, Raquib, jangling the few coins in his pouch and watching as other children rushed to buy ice-cream from a vendor. 'We have never tasted an ice lolly. I wonder what it is like.'
Copyright © IRIN 2010
The material contained on www.IRINnews.org comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.
Global Good News comment:
For Maharishi's Vedic Approach to solving the problems of today's news, please visit:
For the good news about Maharishi's seven-point programme to create a healthy, happy, prosperous society, and a peaceful world, please visit: Global Financial Capital of New York
Translation software is not perfect; however if you would like to try it, you can translate this page using: