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A View from Below

P. Sahadevan

By Charu Gupta and Mukul Sharma
Routledge, New Delhi, 2008, pp. x 251, Rs. 650.00


This fascinating book depicts the agonizing life of millions of innocent coastal fisher-folk in South Asia who have become indirect victims of nationalism and interstate rivalry in the region. It demonstrates how these voiceless and downtrodden people are subjected to different forms of routine violence by competing states in the name of protecting their borders and commercial interests. Thus, while lending a voice to the voiceless the authors eloquently question the fundamental premise of state policy of restricting the movement of coastal fisher-folk and preventing them from crossing borders.   Unconventional and radical in its approach and argument, the book covers a wide range of issues relating to nationalism, border security, ecological crisis and fisher-folk identities. States define their maritime boundaries as their inviolable national borders and sea border crossing by fisher-folk is considered as breach of national security. Surely this is a far-fetched interpretation of national security which states conveniently use at their will to subject innocent and unarmed fisher-folk to harsh treatment including death. State borders sanctioned by national and international law are invariably incomprehensible to fisher-folk and crossing them is a ‘part of their daily existence’ (p. 4). It is not out of their desire for any adventurism, but due to economic compulsions of earning their livelihood. Fishing is the source of their economic survival and thus the community’s dependence on the sea is total. For them, seas do not have borders and state demarcations of them, though political and legal, are unacceptable.   Cases studies cover the agonizing experiences of fisher-folk in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Given the Indo-centric nature of the South Asian region there is a bilateral dimension to the problem involving India and its immediate neighbours. While Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan fisher-folks suffer in Indian jails, Indian fishermen are deprived of basic human rights in these South Asian countries. Arrest and detention of fishermen has enormous economic consequences for their families. Thus, it is not only fishermen as individual bread-winners who suffer but also their families due to their arrest or death. Governments in South Asia are not concerned about such sufferings. For them, maintaining security and sanctity of borders is far more important than upholding human rights of boundary-crossing aliens. In this context, the authors portray a grim and pathetic picture of the life of hundreds of such jailed people in South Asia. India and Pakistan are at the top in ...

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