KARACHI: Amid the happy reunions, tears, hugs and garlands at the Cantonment railway station on Friday when 14 Pakistani fishermen returned home after months and years of captivity in Indian prisons for violating Indian waters there was also octogenarian Baba Ramzan Pariri. He was not there to receive any family member. He was hoping to hear from those coming back about his loved ones, as many as nine in number, still languishing in Indian prisons.
“There are my three sons, one son-in-law, three paternal and two maternal grandsons with seven other fishermen who all vanished two years ago along with the three boats that they had left on for their fishing expedition. I have not heard from them since then but I do hear from those returning occasionally from there that they are also imprisoned in India. I want to know how they are doing and if they have sent any message through the ones returning today,” he said. The old man also shared that in the absence of the nine male members of his family he was the only male member left behind. “There is my wife, my daughter and daughters-in-law looking to me to make ends meet with all the young and able men gone,” he said sadly.
‘My wife, my daughter and daughters-in-law look to me to make ends meet with all able men gone’
Like Baba Ramzan hoping to hear from his relatives there was also the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) volunteers asking after Amir Hamza, a cancer patient, and a resident of Ibrahim Hyderi, who was picked up by the Indian authorities at sea eight months ago. “His wife died some years ago and despite his ill health he had joined a fishing expedition as his children being young needed him to earn. His eldest children are aged 13, 12 and seven and they are all girls. His youngest is a boy, only six years of age,” said Kamal Shah of the PFF.
“We are providing the children food essentials in their father’s absence but they do need him, too. He is also a very sick man. We don’t know how he is keeping,” Shah added.
Tears of joy
The returning fishermen could not hold back their tears on being reunited with their loved ones. They included three minor boys — 14-year-old Ali Asghar, 13-year-old Sajjad Ali and 12-year-old Ramzan Mallah, all hailing from Keti Bandar in Thatta disrict.
Ali Asghar’s paternal uncle Ghulam Mustafa had come to receive him. He said that the boy’s father had passed away a few years back. “Ali Asghar was the breadwinner in my sister’s home until December 18, 2016, when he was arrested at sea,” he said.
Hussain, Sajjad Ali’s father, said that he just found out two days back that his son was among the ones returning. “We are so grateful to God Almighty,” he said. Speaking to Dawn, Sajjad said he was made to wash and sweep floors in captivity. “If I didn’t do the work given to me, they threatened to beat me black and blue with a stick,” he said.
Jammu, young Ramzan’s father showed his artificial leg. “I lost my leg in a motorcycle accident six years ago and my little son had taken on the responsibility of earning for the family. He could only find work as a fisherman and we didn’t object because the money was good. But we haven’t been able to forgive ourselves for letting him work ever since he was arrested by the Indians,” said Jammu, who on seeing his son noticed that he had lost a lot of weight.
Ramzan explained that he had caught a stomach bug, for which he was also given medicine in prison. “But I think they had added water to the medicine as it just didn’t seem to work,” he said.
Twenty-year-old Siddique Hussain, who said that he was behind bars in India for three years, said that they were only offered bad food. “They only gave us lentils to eat and it was full of stones and pebbles. If anyone of us complained about it, they were told to shut up and eat or starve to death. They told us that they offered worse food in Pakistani prisons and that we should be grateful that we were imprisoned in India,” he said.
Mohammad Malook, whose brother Mohammad Yaqoob was coming home after 28 months, said that he did not remember a day during this time that his mother had not cried for her son while breaking bread with the rest of the family. “We explain to her that we are fishermen whose work involves water and wind. Water provides us food and the wind takes us where it wants to take us,” he said.
Another returning fisherman, Yaqoob, said that the word atankwaadi echoes in his head. “The accused us of being spies. They just didn’t see us as poor fishermen,” he said.
Jamil Mohammad, another returning fisherman, said that he knew what to expect in India so he wasn’t surprised at the harsh treatment. “Our governments are at war with each other. I knew I had had it the moment they arrested me at sea. I am just glad to be back alive and in one piece,” he said.
Abdul Rehman, who was there to receive his brother Abdul Ghafoor, said that he himself had been arrested at sea by the Indian authorities back in 2010. “We have no control on the winds and the waves that take us in the wrong direction. And the sea doesn’t have clear borders or boundaries,” he said.
The rest of the fishermen who returned on Friday are Abdul Razzak, Ali Ahmad, Asghar Katiyar, Husain Katiyar, Abu Bakr Abbas, Mohammad Ibrahim, Abdul Aziz and Sikander Ali.
Meanwhile, the Fisherman’s Cooperative Society Limited has said that after the return of these fishermen there are still 103 fishermen remaining in Indian prisons along with 132 Pakistani boats that have also been confiscated. They said that the fishermen had all been captured from the disputed territory of Sir Creek.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2018