The voice of fishers

He championed fishers’ rights and conservation

By Thomas Kocherry
Published: Sunday 31 January 2010

The voice of fishers

Harekrishna DebnathOn december 30 , 2009, fishing communities lost a friend in Harekrishna Debnath, the chairperson of the National Fishworkers’ Forum (nff) that represents fishers’ associations of all coastal states in India. Debnath, 60, died of lung cancer.

In the past two decades, Debnath spearheaded several campaigns for conserving coastal and marine resources. This included the movement against the Coastal Management Zone notification that proposed industrial and commercial development in coastal areas. The notification was eventually allowed to lapse by the Union government.

“I know my days are numbered but we still have a long way to go and it’s time not for mourning but to think of ways of taking forward the struggle for securing the rights of fishing communities in coming years." This was Debnath’s message to his comrades when he last addressed the general body meeting of the nff in December.

Debnath was born in erstwhile East Pakistan (Bangladesh) on October 16, 1949. He studied physics at the University of Dhaka and was an active student politician. He was the president of Chhatra League, the students’ body of the Awami League political party. Debnath was close to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president of Bangladesh and edited Padakshep, the mouthpiece of Awami League. He moved to India after Sheikh Mujib’s assassination and the army coup in 1975.

Debnath became an Indian citizen and joined the nff in 1989 during the Kanyakumari march when fishers protested destruction of coastal environment. Debnath was a friend to the fisher people all over the world; he was secretary general of World Forum of Fisher Peoples. He received peer praise for giving voice to the voiceless.

Thomas Kocherry is a former NFF chairperson

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