Justice at sea - Development Studies Association

Vasudha Chhotray, UEA
DSA Conference, London, 2012
Fishing jetty
Kharnasi village
Mahakalpada block
Kendrapara district
Qualitative. Inductive.
10 exploratory interviews around justice in Kharnasi. Four framing questions:
- What aspects of resource use do you find just or unjust?
- Who/what is responsible for it?
- Which institution/set of actors can do something to redress this
situation (if unjust)?
- What can you do about it?
5 Focus Group Discussions in Kharnasi: male and female fishers; boat owners;
crew members; boatmakers; shopkeepers
35 Key Informant Interviews: Odiya and Bengali fishers in Kharnasi and
neighbouring villages, fisher leaders, trade union members, cooperative
presidents, environmentalists, fisheries and forest department officials (past
and present) active in Kendrapara district and coastal Odisha
A ‘prelude’ to environmental justice
What comes before equality and fairness?
Legitimacy of presence and acknowledged rights of fishing in this particular sea
Filters for environmental justice : caste, ethnicity, identity, class, territory and
Odiya environmentalism and eco-nationalism (Sharma, 2012)
Meaning of ‘justice at sea’ for fishers inseparable from such filters
Political struggles for justice removed from everyday material struggles
Relevant conservation debates
Nation state arch provider of a ‘community for justice’ (Dobson, 1999)
Conservation and rights of citizenship (right to be informed, rights of settlement)
(Jayal, 2010)
Local residence and legitimate claims to territory (Baviskar, 2003)
‘Longstanding’ customary association with place/resource use; passage of
uncertain length of time as ‘traditional’ (Skaria, 1999; Das, 2011)
Conservation is about how ‘nature ought to look’ (Neumann, 1998)
Turtle conservation in
Olive Ridleys, Odisha and the
global conservation spotlight
Arribadas (arrival) in
December-January each year
Alarming turtle mortalities
off Odisha coast in the 1970s
Passionate nationwide
environmental campaigns,
state scientific research and
keen personal interest by PM
Indira Gandhi
Principal measures for turtle conservation in Odisha
Olive Ridleys declared an ‘endangered species’ in Schedule I of Indian Wildlife
(Protection) Act, 1972
Fishery regulation through OMFRA (Odisha Marine Fisheries Regulation Act), 1982
Emphasis on ‘sustainable’ fishing; different zones for different crafts
Only ‘non-mechanised “traditional” boats’ allowed within 5km of shore
Notification of Gahirmatha as a marine sanctuary in 1997, blanket fishing ban
Protection of turtles at two other major nesting sites (Devi and Rushikulya river
mouths) through seasonal fishing bans (November-May)
Use of TEDs (turtle excluder devices) mandatory for trawlers
Operation Kachhapa (OpK), a turtle conservation initiative launched in 1989-90
under the aegis of the Wildlife Society of India
Conflict over marine fishing
Conservationists accuse state for sponsoring ‘overfishing’
Concern over ‘unsustainable rise’ in mechanised fishing: 250% in 25 years
(Greenpeace, 2008)
State has not been productivist enough, argue fishers and officials
Negative comparisons with Kerala (Sinha, 2012)
No investment in deep sea fishing, EEZ
Excessive exploitation of near shore waters and poor patrols produce turf wars
The fishing castes and communities of Odisha
Nolias in Gopalpur, Ganjam
Odiya fisherman near Paradip, Jagatsinghpur
Ethnicity and fishing techniques
Odiya woman with mugura (bamboo and stick
basket) in Kendrapara district
FRP gill net boats owned by Bengali fishers in
Kharnasi jetty
‘Then gradually these Bangladeshis spread to the entire Odisha coast. The
Odiya fishermen would never go to the sea for fishing. They would fish at the
river mouth. But after the influx of the Bengali fishermen, they started the
motorised boats and after overfishing in the river, they started going to the
sea’ (Sankhanad Behera, kaibarta leader, founder of Kalinga Karnadhar Fishing
Society and environmentalist).
‘Later on due to the rising population of Bangladeshi immigrants and
declining catch in estuaries in the late 1970s, they (Odiyas) could not fish
inside the estuarine and riverine areas, so they were kind of forced to go to the
sea’ (Biswajit Mohanty, Operation Kachappa).
Bengali immigration and Odiya environmentalism
No pre-existing ‘commons’ to be defended
Bengali fishers’ right to fish in this particular sea in contention
Struggle over territory linked to painful episodes in history: partition of 1947,
creation of Bangladesh in 1971 (Chatterji, 1997)
Territory no mean motivator of national allegiance; ‘eco-nationalism’ and ‘econaturalism’ (Sharma, 2012)
Rise of right-wing Odiya environmentalism: territory, nation, legality
Chief allegations
Ruining marine ecosystem,
depleting fish stocks, killing
‘Entire fisheries in the state
has collapsed because of these
Bangladeshis only’
Promoting infringement of
Indian sovereignty, territorial
Harbour illegal immigrants
Invite relatives from
Bangladesh during fishing
Dominant narratives within Odiya environmentalism
Crude typology of ‘legitimate’ (from West Bengal in the 1940s) and
illegitimate settlers (from former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, especially
after 1971)
No proper settlement for ‘hordes of refugees’ that came to Odisha
Impression of Bengali prosperity at the expense of Odiyas
Partial histories
Refugee journeys into India from Bangladesh a continuous process since 1947
Low caste/class immigrants, history of oppression
Adversely affected by refugee politics, disastrous state policies of
Patchy experiences with settlement; compelling factors
Strong feelings of association with Kharnasi village; distinctive territoriality
Controversy over infiltration
1998 public law suit, 2005 court directive to ‘identify infiltrators’
2005 episode of identification of 1551 ‘infiltrators’; deportation attempts halfhearted and unsuccessful
Disbelief, anger amongst Bengali settlers (who are Indian citizens)
Mixed reactions amongst Odiya fishers and elites
Crude pro-caste, nation and anti-refugee rhetoric, but no sustained attempt at
Justice at sea
Sea view from Kharnasi jetty
Marine police station, Kharnasi
Technique, tradition, turf
Who is killing the turtles?
Decimation of 'traditional’ fishing techniques: to be traditional is to be the least
Convoluted hierarchy of blame
Ethnic/caste/class branding of nets and technologies
Gill netting versus trawling
Class differentiation
Following fishers
Flagrant, unambiguous acknowledgement of transgression
Bengalis-Odiyas commonly aggrieved
Passage to sea
State vested interest in status quo
Marine policing difficult
Power struggles at sea
Corporeal injustice
Everyday struggles for justice
Sea fishing: risky, lucrative
Weakest links in the chain
Capitalisation and vulnerability
Chains of exploitation, despair
Despair at lack of ‘alternatives’
Political struggle for justice
Odisha Traditional Fishworkers Union (OTFWU); collective resistance
Negative attention to ethnic origins of leaders
‘This is the irony….it is a traditional association of Odisha but the office
bearers are Bengali and Telugu.’ (Biswajit Mohanty, OpK)
Tradition, time and technology
Personal politics
Credibility crisis with poorest fishers of all backgrounds
Prelude to specific questions of equality and fairness for immigrant Bengali
Rise of right wing Odiya environmentalism: caste, ethnicity, territory, even
Filters for just conservation (evidence of belonging, residence, tradition)
Markers of social identity, fishing technologies, environmental culpability
Absence of private property at sea; collective claims undermined within negative
Disjuncture between fishers’ (leaders) politics and concrete everyday struggle for
Baviskar, A. 2003 ‘States, communities and conservation: The practice of Ecodevelopment in the Great
Himalayan National Park’, in V.K. Saberwal and M. Rangarajan (eds.) Battles over nature: Science and the
politics of conservation, Permanent Black, Delhi.
Chatterji, J. 2007 The spoils of partition: Bengal and India, 1947-67, Cambridge University Press, New
Das, P.D. 2011 ‘Politics of participatory conservation: A case of Kailadevi sanctuary, Rajasthan, India’,
Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
Dobson, A. 1999 Justice and the environment: Conceptions of environment sustainability and theories of
distributive justice, Oxford University Press, USA.
Greenpeace 2008 ‘Odisha: Turning seas of trouble into seas of plenty’
Jayal, N.G. 2010 ‘Balancing political and ecological values’, Environmental Politics, 10:1, 65-88
Neumann, R. P. 1998. Imposing wilderness: struggles over livelihood and nature preservation in Africa,
University of California Press, Berkeley.
Saberwal, V. and Rangarajan, M. 2003 ‘Introduction’ in V.K. Saberwal and M. Rangarajan (eds.) Battles
over nature: Science and the politics of conservation, Permanent Black, Delhi
Salagramma, V. 2006 ‘Trends in poverty and livelihoods in coastal fishing communities of Odisha state,
India’, FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 490
Sharma, M. 2012 Green and saffron: Hindu nationalism and Indian environmental politics, Permanent
Black, Ranikhet.
Sinha, S. 2012 ‘Transnationality and the Indian Fishworkers’ Movement, 1960s-2000’, Journal of Agrarian
Change, 12: 2,3, 364-389.
Skaria, A. 1999 Hybrid histories: Forests, frontier and wilderness in western India, Oxford University Press,
New Delhi.

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