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Plight of fishermen

June 26, 2015

The fisher-folk of the deep sea in Pakistan and India are without any shadow of doubt a most unfortunate community in the two countries. Every now and then they are arrested by maritime forces for violating the international sea border, thrown in prison to languish there for months even years, and their boats are confiscated and are left to rot.

Occasionally the two prime ministers are moved by compassion and ‘forgive’ their crime and they are sent back to their respective countries. Their families suffer in their absence with no one to provide them sustenance. Quite often all the male members of a family go together in a fishing launch and are rounded up. They are financially the poorest of the poor and their lives are ruined.

The article in the June 19 issue and editorial ‘Fishermen’s release’ (June 22) throw further light on this problem. However, the headline on the Metro page (June 24) “I begged them to please not send me home without my little boy but it was of no use” discloses a pathetic case in which a father was released by the Indian authorities and sent to Pakistan but his eight-year old son was detained because the Pakistani high commission had not done its duty in time was heart-rending.

These poor folk are not rich enough to equip their fishing launches with sophisticated navigational instruments. Most launches do not even have gyro compasses to chart their course and just rely on the experience of the Nakhuda. Under such circumstances it is only natural that these fishermen misjudge their position and unwittingly enter the territorial waters of the other country only to be caught by maritime forces.

Anyone having anything to do with law knows that the existence of “mens rea” is essential before a person can be accused of having committed a crime. There is, however, no mens rea in the cases of these poor wretches. It is therefore wrong and illegal to arrest them.

When a vessel of a maritime agency spots a fishing launch inside its territorial water, the proper thing to do is to warn the fishing launch, inform it of its position and ask it to quit the territorial water. Both the countries must realise that the high seas and swells can mislead even the best of navigators.

Salahuddin Mirza
Karachi

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2015

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