Kutch: Bharat Patel came to the rescue of fishermen of Kutch when industries were wiping away their livelihood. He took their voices to the authorities and despite being threatened, 'Bharat Bhai', as he's known, fought for them.
Ibrahim doesn't squint at the glare of the waters. The vast Arabian has been his home for more years than the lines on his forehead. But today, his life and livelihood are at stake. More than a lakh fishermen families along the shoreline of the Kutch are living under perpetual fear.
With the Gujarat government having sanctioned permits to powerful names to set industries there, loosing their lives and earnings is not too far away.
But fighting the fishermen's battle each step of the way has been one man, Bharat Patel. An M. Phil in Rural Mangement, Bharat Patel came to a small settlement near Bhadreshwar in 2002 for his thesis. But he was so moved by the pathos of the fishermen families that he simply couldn't go away.
Bharat Bhai's first step was to get rid of the middle man. Mobile shack shops were created where the fishermen could sell the fish directly to the exporter. Within a year the fishermen could pay off all their debts. The idea of direct marketing was a success.
But this was just a small victory compared to what stared at the fishermen community of Kutch. The construction of port project on the coastline, threatening to take over their livelihood and land, anger and resentment in the community is obvious.
Bharat Patel realised that if this community did not speak up, they would be silenced under the noise of industrialisation. The first thing was to make them aware of their rights. Bandar panchayats were created and men, women and children stopped to listen. After this, Bharat Bhai formed the Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti, and started a movement of sorts. It is because of Bharat's constant campaigning that a stay order was issued by the courts on construction activities on the bandars.
Thanks to Bharat Bhai's efforts, the new generation will be more empowered and assertive. Bharat Bhai started tent schools all across the Kutch coastline.
Hope is a flickering flame, but the fact that three big industries are still waiting for clearances, and several showcause notices because of the voice of the fishermen is an accomplishment of sorts for Bharat Bhai and his organisation.