KARACHI: District Jail Malir released 217 more Indian fishermen on Thursday morning, taking the number of fishermen released from this facility in 10 days to 447.

Though all the men were happy to be finally going home after having done time here from nine months to one year for illegally fishing in Pakistani waters, there was also an air of sadness as one of the fishermen to be released had died suddenly a day earlier.

Overcome with joy over going home, Jeena Bhagwan died of a heart attack on Wednesday. “He was fine, talking about how happy his wife and children would be on seeing him. Suddenly he complained of pain in his chest. I took him to the constable watching over us, who told me to take him to the doctor in the jail hospital,” said Okka Lakhman Bahi, another Indian fisherman being released.

‘His name was Jeena, meaning life, but he is dead’

“The doctor there was putting the blood pressure cuff on his arm when I saw his body stiffen and jolt before he doubled up to vomit. The next instant he was gone. His name was Jeena, meaning life, but he is dead,” Okka said sadly.

Jail superintendent Hassan Setho said the dead fisherman’s body had been sent to the Edhi mortuary from where he would be sent back to India according to government procedure.

Of the fishermen being released on Thursday, 16 were Muslims. Ibrahim Mohammad said he had been in jail for 10 months and had two young boys waiting for him back home. “The older one is named Sahil. He is nine. And the younger one is Irfan. He is seven,” he said bringing out their photographs. “Both my boys go to school,” he shared.

“They sent their photos in their letters to me so that I don’t miss them too much. But I missed them even more when I saw their photos.”

The mention of letters from home got the others talking, too. Bahwesh Babu, who spent 11 months here, brought out one of his wife’s letters to him in Gujarati. “She wrote to me often though I can’t read,” the young fisherman laughed. The letters from his wife had her photos, too, which he had carefully placed in the bead-work wallet he had made for himself after learning the craft in Malir Jail. Bahwesh said that his son, Dixit, is a year old now, and when he had last seen him, he was just a month old. “My wife keeps telling me things about him in her letters. I have already missed so many things he has started doing,” said the young father, whose younger brother, Rohit Babu, was also arrested for crossing over to Pakistan a month after him. “But the good thing is that we are both being released together,” he said smiling.

Two more brothers — Deepak, 24, and Mahesh, 19 — were also being released together.

Abdul Razzak, squatting next to them, then shared what his wife had been writing to him in her letters. “In my 10 months in this jail, all I got was angry letters from Hasina, my wife. She is still mad at me for ending up in Pakistan by mistake,” he said, adding that he also could not read the letters.

The person who read everyone’s letters for them in jail was grinning from ear to ear in one corner. Kishen Lakhman said he had studied up to intermediate back in India. “My father was also a fisherman, who didn’t want me to follow in his footsteps. So he sent me to school. But the truth is that the jobs for people educated up to my level pay far less than fishing, so I also became a fisherman,” said Kishen. He also said that when he was arrested by the Pakistan Coastguard a year ago, he had only been married for two months.

Two of the 217 were arrested for a second time. Both Kamlesh Ramjee and Mahendra Dhanjee said they had done time in the same jail five years ago also.

From the jail, the fishermen were escorted to Cantonment Railway Station where they boarded the Allama Iqbal Express to Lahore from where they would be handed over to Indian authorities at Wagah.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2017