Fishermen’s release

Published June 22, 2015

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi’s recent phone call to his Pakistani counterpart to convey Ramazan greetings may not have solved the Sir Creek dispute, but it was no less momentous for around 200 Pakistani and Indian fishermen imprisoned in each other’s countries. Mr Modi’s promise to ensure that Pakistani fishermen detained in his country would return home for Ramazan was promptly reciprocated by Mr Nawaz Sharif with the release of 113 Indian fishermen behind bars here since around nine months. This was immediately followed by India releasing 88 Pakistani fishermen held in its prisons. The freed Indian fishermen were taken to Wagah by train to be sent to their respective destinations, and eagerly waiting families. A report in this paper on Friday offered a glimpse into the hardship their long absence from home had caused; families on the verge of starvation, struggling to make ends meet.

These impoverished people feature in a pantomime that regularly takes place every few months or so between the two neighbouring countries — the release from prison of a clutch of hapless fishermen belonging to one side or the other. The dispute over the maritime boundary at Sir Creek — which is where most of the straying fishermen are apprehended — makes this yet another front for politics to trump the exigencies of life. The fishermen, only looking to make a decent living, are no threat, nor does anyone seriously consider them to be so. Yet they are used as bargaining chips, to be played when the time is right. Surely it did not need the sighting of the Ramazan crescent, or a phone conversation between the premiers of Pakistan and India, to bring the misery of over 200 families to an end. At least, it is heartening to note that most fishermen are not treated badly during their incarceration. But that is small comfort for those who get caught in the infernal game called politics, much like the struggling fish they catch in their nets.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2015

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