How Seraikis from southern Punjab came to dominate Dubai fish trade

BE2C2 Report — Ali Hasan, Mohammad Gulzar and Gul Mohammad belong to the 1.6 million Pakistani expats community in the U.A.E. They have one thing in common though. Working at the Deira Fish Market in Dubai, they all belong to one particular region in Pakistan and speak a unique tongue. The commonality among them also binds most other fish vendors, wholesalers, cutters and porters in Diera.

From left: Old-timers Ali Hasan, Mohammad Gulzar and Gul Mohammad at the Deira Fish Market. (Photo Gulf News)

What’s strange is the fact that most of those working in the market had never even seen a sea fish before taking up a job in the fish market in Dubai – hundreds of miles away from home.

Hailing from southern Punjab, members of the Saraiki community have come to dominate most sections of the Deira market, particularly fish vending.

So how this community of people, who had nothing to do with the seafood or the Arabian sea back home, came to dominate this trade?

Mohammad Gulzar, a member of the community and one of the oldest fish vendors in the market, told Gulf News that it all began in the late 1960s when a few members belonging to the Seraiki belt boarded a ship from Karachi in search of jobs.

Mohammad Iqbal from Saraiki community at work at the Deira Fish Market. (Photo Gulf News)

“Some of our elders set off from southern Punjab to Karachi, looking for jobs. When they reached there, they heard about a ship sailing to Dubai. It was around 1967-68 and Dubai was still not more than a small town, but it was finding its feet. Some of those who came in, found jobs with local fishermen and stayed on. That’s how it began,” said Gulzar, who has been working in the market for 35 years.

According to Gulzar, 59, who is set to retire after more than three decades in the business that has seen him transform from a humble vendor to a millionaire in Pakistan, tying up with local fishermen during the early days of Dubai’s rise helped the community own the profession.

“It is the case of being at the right place at the right time. Once a few people came and saw the opportunity, they got more people in, that’s how it spread,” said Gulzar.

“When I joined work, I didn’t know anything about fish. In fact, I had never seen any live fish in life,” Gulzar said.

The market has helped several generations of the community make a living and prosper.

There are more than 20 million Saraiki speakers in Pakistan, mostly living in the region around the historic city of Multan. The language is spoken also in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and border regions of North Sindh and Eastern Balochistan.

Some of the Seraiki-speaking towns that supply Dubai’s fish vendors include Bahawalpur, Lodran and Muzaffargarh apart from neighboring villages.

The Deira Fish Market, one of the last remaining relics of old Dubai, will close down by the end of this month, with a new market opening for business.

In operation since mid-1980s, the market is one of the busiest in the country and a favorite location for seafood lovers to buy fresh fish.

Apart from the seafood section, the market also has fresh meat section, fruits and vegetables as well as a chilled meat section.

The new market is on Al Khaleej Street opposite Dubai Hospital in Al Hamriya and is set to open for business from March 1.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *