KARACHI, July 31: As the coach carrying the 14 Pakistani fishermen released a couple of days back from Indian jails pulled up outside the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) office at the Karachi Fish Harbour on Wednesday, Langh Mullah was waiting with bated breath for its doors to open and his five young sons to step out.
It was a touching reunion of father and sons after seven months of separation. Not just Mullah, Mohammad Hamza, another father, was also there to receive his three sons. All the 14 returning fishermen were on board two fishing trawlers confiscated by the Indian Naval Task Force in January in the disputed Sir Creek area off Badin’s coast.
“We haven’t heard from them since they went missing,” said Mullah as he hugged his five sons — Abdullah, Ramzan, Hashim, Qasim and Sumar — and kissed their foreheads with tears in his eyes. “I was the only male family member left at home. God alone knows how my wife and I spent these months without our boys,” he said.
Mullah’s youngest son, Sumar, is only 12. He wouldn’t talk much, and smiled sometimes in answer to the questions put to him. He said he was also put in the GIC Kutch Putch, a prison for grownups in Gujarat, India, and that he had been going out on boats to fish with his brothers since he was just two years old.
One of his brothers, Ramzan, said jail staff used to beat them up night and day. “It would kill me inside to watch them beat my brothers but I could only stand by and watch. My reaction would only make things worse for all of us and the Indians thought it their right to treat us badly because we were Pakistani,” he said.
“They wouldn’t just beat us up with their hands, they also pelted us with sharp stones from a distance while we would be made to sweep the prison floors,” said Ghulam Qadir, another Pakistani fisherman. “For food they gave us some very badly cooked rotten lentils. It was just enough to keep us alive.”
Qadir said he was very happy to be freed at last but was very sad to have left behind so many other Pakistani prisoners in India. “There are so many of them there. And we are the lucky ones to have been allowed to come back so soon, within seven to eight months. The others have been there for years. Please do something for them,” he pleaded.
The fishermen also brought back word that the 11 fishermen picked up near Badin recently had also reached their prison.
Meanwhile, frail-looking Hamza was also overjoyed to have his three sons, Allah Bachayo, Ishaq and Qasim, back on home soil. He said: “We were only given some respite since the start of this holy month of Ramazan when we were given nice food during sehr and iftar by a Muslim social worker named Haji Adam. He also provided us with these clothes we are wearing today. But there was also a limit to how much he could do for us. He told us frankly that he could only help us as much as the prison authorities permitted him to,” he said.
The coach also brought back a father and son duo — forty-year-old Yar Mohammad and his 20-year-old son Mashooq Ali were also on the boat on that fateful night in January. Yar Mohammad said that with them in Indian jail, his poor wife was only left with his other two minor sons. About the time they spent behind bars, the father said: “We were mostly kept in solitary confinement-like suffocating cells.” About what they intended to do now after their return, he said: “We only know how to catch fish. It is our only livelihood.”
The 14 fishermen, all hailing from Badin, were released to Pakistani authorities at the Wagah Border in Lahore on Tuesday with eight other Pakistani prisoners, who are not fishermen.
These remaining eight, three of whom hail from Thatta, one from Shikarpur and another from Tharparkar with the remaining three from Punjab, have been accommodated at the Edhi Home in Gulberg, Lahore, for now. The fishermen were brought to Karachi by the FCS, who also said that there were still some 108 Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian prisons.