I received the shocking news of Tahira Ali’s death on the morning of March 10 when her daughter, Yasmeen, called me from Thatta. Mohammad Ali Shah, the president of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and Tahira Ali, who ruled the hearts of the fishing communities like a queen, met an accident. Shah is under treatment at the Aga khan Hospital but Tahira has left us.
Our rani has left us but I strongly believe that we should not leave her and keep her dreams a part of ours. She had been trying to get an organisation, Noori, off the ground for many years and we should help Noori fly. The inspiration we get from Tahira’s commitment and energy alone is enough for the next generation.
I have known Tahira since 2002 when I was heading Action Aid and we developed a partnership with the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum. The real contact with Tahira was made when I took Tahira to represent the fishing communities and Aqila to represent the peasant movement, with me to the World Social Forum in India in 2003.
It was the three of us staying together, sharing our dreams, fears and aspirations. Tahira mentioned that trip several times later as it was the first time she made a speech for an international audience and said that I had been a big source of support.
Tahira taught so many women from the fishing communities to speak, to think, to be political, to be proud of their tradition, to come out of their homes, to make noise about issues that are taking away their livelihood, their lifestyle and their songs.
She was the one who mobilised the very first fishing communities with her husband. Once she took with her on stage two women so that they do not become nervous in front of a large audience. Tahira started asking them questions like a television anchor, making it easy for them to answer and get the message across. She told them later that a speech is much like someone asking you a question and you answering them. It is no wonder that a large number of women at Tahira’s funeral said, “She taught me how to speak.”
Tahira gets full credit for making Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum a truly representative body for all the fisher folk of the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan. Her heart was heavy though, she felt that female issues were sidelined due to politics within the organisation.
She was saddened that women stood alongside men on the larger issues but the men were reluctant to support them when it came to women’s issues. This realisation came to her when a girl from a fishing community was kidnapped and raped, and their group held a series of protests. The women did not get the kind of support from the men like they provide on other occasions. Hence, she started a separate organisation, Noori, to focus on women’s issues, where she thought women to take a stand for themselves.
Despite the fact that she was the wife of the movement’s head, Tahira started off from the lower ranks of the organisation and eventually became the vice-president.
When an issue was raised that two members of the same family cannot be part of the central committee, she readily stepped down and continued to work as a volunteer. That was my Tahira, a person who did not need a position to rule the hearts of people. Nothing was going to keep her away from taking the community forward.
Noori, which was overshadowed by the fisherfolk forum, was just beginning to come out as an independent organisation. I hope Tahira’s fans and supporters will complete her dream of making Noori a true voice of the women of the fishing communities.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2015.
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