KARACHI: Grateful to be back, more than a tiring journey, it was a very emotional moment for the 20 Pakistani fishermen who reached the Karachi Fish Harbour here by bus from Lahore on Friday afternoon.
Overjoyed as well as overcome by emotion on being back home, finally, they were screaming Pakistan Zindabad at the top of their voices as those there to welcome them garlanded and showered them with rose petals while Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) officials presented them with ajrak, gifts and cash envelopes.
When lunch was served, they hungrily dug into their boxes of chicken biryani with plastic soup spoons, grateful at not finding lentils before them.
Earlier on Tuesday, these fishermen, who had completed their two- to five-year terms in Indian jails, were handed over to Pakistan by Indian authorities at the Wagah border in Lahore. It was said that they would be kept in quarantine in Lahore for around two weeks to check for Covid-19 before being allowed to travel to Karachi but with all, save one Ali Nawaz, testing negative they were allowed to come to Karachi. Ali Nawaz is still in Lahore and under treatment. He will join his family when better.
The reunions turned tearful as young children ran into their fathers’ arms and elderly mothers hugged their sons. There were some children also who were so young when their fathers were picked up by the Indian coast guard that they had no recollection of them whatsoever. They had to be coaxed by their mothers to go on and greet their fathers.
“I used to show my youngest daughter his photograph all the time. She was barely one year old when he was arrested,” said Machhar Colony’s Kulsooma Bibi, who had come to receive her husband Huzaifa.
FCS chief questions why only Pakistan offers goodwill gestures to India
Shah Alam, also from Machhar Colony, was there to receive his son Sohail.
“My son was also taken away five years ago,” said the father. “I am grateful to FCS for supplying me with food rations during this entire time. Now that my son is back, I will make sure that such a situation never arises again. He has to find another means of earning besides fishing,” he said.
Around seven of the returning fishermen belonged to Sujawal, Thatta and Badin.
Noor Mohammad from Sujawal was there to receive his older brother Allah Bachayo who vanished at sea in 2017.
“He has eight young children but myself along with other family members helped feed his family during this while,” said the brother, who is also a fisherman, and who said that he would never ask his brother to change his profession.
But the returning fishermen said that they were caught unawares at sea by the Indian authorities.
“We had no idea that we had drifted into Indian waters. There is no boundary in the sea to mark territories,” said Mohammad Abu Kalam, who was arrested by Indians in 2016.
Mohammad Ismail of Machhar Colony said that he was happy to be back in Pakistan because he missed the food here.
Khuda Bux of Jati, Thatta, returned with his son Aslam.
“It is good to be back but I am also sad because India only released my one son, while the other, Saleem, is still languishing there. Saleem was caught at sea even before Aslam and I in 2018 and we reunited in jail,” the father said.
Plight in Indian prisons highlighted
When asked to think positively, he shook his head sadly. “I have only seen pain during the last two years. Even now we saw India not even willing to release two Pakistanis from our Punjab who died there. They were not fishermen but they were Pakistanis and in jail with us there. When they fell ill they were in desperate need of medical help, which was not extended to them. Even when we would fall ill and request an aspirin, we would be told that we were not in India to attend a wedding ceremony to be pampered like guests,” Aslam said.
Abdul Majeed, another returning fisherman, said that he has really aged during the five years that he spent in India’s jail. “They didn’t have aspirin or fresh food for us Pakistani prisoners but they had plenty of sedatives to give us. The sedatives slowed us down and took away our ability to work. I am still unsure if I will be able to work as hard as I used to after going through all that,” he said.
He also said that they were not allowed to pray in India’s jails. “We were beaten up if we wanted to say our prayers. The jail staff would get extremely angry with us for little things,” he said.
Speaking to the media, FCS chairman Hafiz Abdul Berr said that his blood boils upon learning how inhumanely the poor fishermen were treated by jail authorities in India.
“They were not allowed to say prayers, they were tortured if they didn’t eat the rotten food thrown their way, and what’s more they were kept drugged all the time,” he said.
“The federal government must fight for the release of the remaining 95 fishermen languishing in Indian jails,” he said.
“In one year, Pakistan releases 500 Indian fishermen as a gesture of goodwill. And we send them home with gifts. In our jails, they also receive letters from home and are served very good food too. But India treats our people like dirt in their jails. They send us tortured bodies of dead fishermen,” he said. “Our fishermen want to know why only Pakistan offers goodwill gestures to India. Why does India not return the favour? Why doesn’t our foreign ministry talk of releasing all our poor innocent fishermen?”
Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2020