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Tuesday, September 13, 2011
A different war in the deep South
There is another kind of war raging in Pattani. It is not the fight for power in the restive South. Nor is it for the locals' right to an ethnic identity. It is the struggle of ordinary fisherfolk to be able to make a living from their seas.
Not a tall order, is it? What the Pattani fisherfolk want is very simple. Their ancestors have been fishing freely in Pattani Bay for eons without anyone claiming ownership of the commons. And they want it to remain that way.
"The sea belongs to everyone," shouts the message from one of the protest placards held by some 1,000 Muslim small fishermen who rallied in front of the Pattani provincial court recently.
"Our fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers have been making a living from the seas. Stop taking over for personal ownership. Stop NOW!"
The ethnic Muslim fishermen in the deep South are normally peace-loving folks who have to live in fear from both national security forces and the separatist movement. Ask them what they want, and they will tell you the same thing _ a return to their normal, traditional way of life.
Discrimination and injustice is part of their life. But when they took to the streets with protest placards, it meant the level of injustice had gone beyond endurance.
These fisherfolk broke their traditional preference for silence after nine of them were arrested. These people face a charge of cockle theft, from a cockle farm investor who is demanding 50 million baht in compensation. The cockle farm investor claims these fishermen intruded into that part of the sea which "he owns".
For the Muslim fishermen, these mushrooming cockle farms with high bamboo fences have for far too long been preventing some 30,000 traditional fisherfolk around the 74-square-kilometre Pattani Bay from making a living.
According to Islam, the seas are the commons created by Allah for all to share fairly and with care, so that future generations can also live off this bounty. No one, including cockle farm investors, can carve out a piece of the sea and call it one's individual property.
"We want our sea back," the fisherfolk are demanding.
Make no mistake. The protest is not only a clash between traditional fishermen and cockle farmers. It is also an explosion of the locals' anger against the state's long support for the plundering of their coastal seas.
Cockle farms were actually introduced into Pattani Bay by the state fishery authorities. The farms with bamboo fences expanded quickly with outside money, blocking the fisherfolk from fishing freely in the bay. The sea surface was also ravaged by environmentally destructive harvesting tools, making the sea dirty and destroying the habitat of marine life. The villagers have cried foul, but the authorities have done nothing.
Cockle farms are not their only enemy. Big trawlers have also plundered Pattani Bay and the sea surface, resulting in the depletion of fishery, leading to poverty among the local fisherfolk.
Again, the authorities are impotent against big trawlers with big money and close connections to influential politicians.
Meanwhile, Pattani Bay has become heavily polluted from factories along its shores. The construction of ill-thought-out, man-made barriers in the sea has also created severe coastal erosion, with accumulated residues making the sea shallower.
The locals blame it on the centralised government's money-first policies which neither heed the locals' needs nor respect their traditional way of life.
Rubbing salt in the wound is the ethnic factor. The locals' anger is understandable when the policy-makers and plunderers of their natural wealth are outsiders of a different race and faith.
When the oppressed and the oppressors are of different ethnicity, we have a recipe for violence. It has exploded elsewhere. The deep South is simply no exception.
The Pattani fisherfolk only want to make a living in peace. If the authorities fail to help the locals win their battle against the sea plunderers, they cannot complain when the state's war against southern insurgency gets the local cold shoulder.
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