KARACHI, Sept 10: Forty-eight Indian fishermen were released from the Malir district prison here on Monday and seen off on their way to India via Lahore.
They were arrested for crossing the border some six months ago. They all hailed from Gujarat.
Previously 311 Indian fishermen, including 20 juveniles, were released on June 27 and 55, including three juveniles, on Aug 15.
Asked if they were on the same boat, they said no but they were caught at around the same time with the difference of a day or two.
“I have been here for six months and two days,” said 30-year-old Ramesh Lakha, who repeated what the others had been saying that they did not know when the strong sea current pushed their boat to the Pakistan side.
The current batch includes 14 Muslims including Allah Rakha, Azim, Mahmood, Habib, Sameer, Hussain, Nasir, Mehbub, Ahmed, Ismail and two Ferozes. The two with the same name were known as Chhota Feroze and Bara Feroze, said the men crouching down on the ground in a queue. Some of them sported woven prayer caps.
Asked if they had learnt making the caps while in prison, Bara Feroze sitting nearby said they had only learnt beadwork here.
“Now almost all fishermen back in our village know beadwork as almost all have done time in your prisons for having crossed the border,” he quipped.
On being picked up by Pakistan Coast Guards, the fishermen also see their boats confiscated. The Ferozes were aboard the Marine Queen, while Shaikh Ismail, a far more experienced fisherman, was the captain of another boat named Dhanraj, who was not really as concerned about the vessel as he was about being separated from his family.
“I have five children, three boys and two girls, all of whom are married and live with me and my wife back home. We are a lively joint family and I have missed being at home every second of the time I have had to spend here. I’m glad to be heading back now,” he said.
About the confiscated boats, another fisherman, Subhash, said: “It’s not our problem. It’s the boat owners’ problem.”
According to the prison authorities, there are 32 more fishermen locked up in Pakistan jails. Twenty among them are doing time while 12 are still under investigation about their nationality.
Meanwhile, 15-year-old Kishan Babu, who was declared unfit to leave on the previous two occasions with the other fishermen, is still undergoing treatment at the Civil Hospital Karachi.
When Dawn contacted the CHK to inquire about his condition, Dr Capt Safdar Ahmed, head of the jail ward, said that he had undergone brain surgery recently and was taken to the operation theatre again on Monday for shunt replacement.
All the prisoners embraced the jail staff while bidding farewell. “They are not here for having committed any crimes and you can see that in their demeanour. We keep them in separate barracks from criminals and give them light things to do such as learning certain crafts, but still they volunteer to take on extra work,” said Ashiq Hussain, a head constable, at the district prison.
Hiding outside Malir district prison under a tin shed were some Pakistani relatives of the fisherman and captain of Dhanraj, Shaikh Habib Ismail, waiting patiently to catch a glimpse of him when he came out. They were three women and four men who never entered the prison grounds where the media had been meeting the Indian fishermen.
“We are not here for media attention; we only want to meet our cousin as we have heard that he is among the 48 Indian fisherman being released from here on Monday,” said one of them. “We live in Karachi, in Agra Taj,” she said while declining to give her name.
Then the moment they saw their cousin come out and was about to board the coach, they just ran to him for a group hug and a tearful reunion before it was time to part again.
The Pakistani government has been releasing the Indian fishermen at short intervals as a gesture of goodwill although the response from across the border has been rather lethargic with very few Pakistani fishermen being set free from India in return.
The inspector general of prisons, Sindh, Captain Abdul Majeed Siddiqui, present there to see off the fishermen, said that when making a goodwill gesture one did not expect anything in return so he would not get into what India did or would do in return. “We are more concerned about the fishermen who are here incidentally and not for having committed a crime. Therefore, we concentrate more on sending them back as soon as they complete their jail sentences,” he said. The prisoners, travelling on air-conditioned coaches to Lahore, will be handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah Border on Tuesday morning.