KARACHI: As many as 20 Indian fishermen behind bars in Pakistan for unknowingly having crossed over to this side were released from the District Prison and Correctional Facility, Malir, on Sunday morning.
The fishermen were in jail for the duration of three to five years. All told Dawn that they had no idea that their fishing boats had drifted off towards Pakistan waters.
“It was dark and we thought that we were still in India when we were approached by the Pakistani coast guards in a big white boat. They arrested us for crossing over and seized our boat,” said Suneel Lal, the longest serving prisoner among the 20, who was arrested five years ago.
He said that he was looking forward to meeting his family now, especially his two daughters. “My daughter’s are 20 and 17 years old now. They must have really grown up in these five years,” he said as his eyes grew moist.
Bhavesh Bhika, who has served four years in prison, also said that the boat he was on also drifted towards Pakistan waters at night. “There is no boundary in the sea. We had no way of knowing that we had violated your border,” he added.
“But the jail staff here has been more than kind. We were provided with fresh clothes, soap, shampoo, hair oil, etc. We were also offered good food. There is chicken on the menu four times a week here. Also fish, egg and fruit,” he said.
“I had never seen an Indian jail but it was my fate that I was to see and stay in a Pakistani jail,” said Karshan Khima. He also said that they used to receive letters from their families in India up till 2018. “Then the exchange of posts stopped. Our families don’t know how we are doing and we often wonder about them,” he said.
There was one Muslim also among the group.
Ahmed Dada spent three-and-a-half-year imprisonment here. There was also Dheero Kalah who was with Ahmed. Dheero didn’t look too well. The left side of his face was swollen.
“I have been suffering due to an infected wisdom tooth. But I’m doing better now as the tooth has been pulled out. I longed to be home when my wisdom tooth used to act up but the jail authorities were always extra kind to me. I received medical treatment here as well,” he said.
And everyone, even Dheero with his face swelling, couldn’t suppress a giggle when a member of the Pakistani media noticed a big suitcase with one of the fishermen named Naresh Sidi. She commented if he had a 21st fisherman, an escapee, hiding inside the suitcase. “Oh no Didi. I would never dare to even think of that,” he laughed.
“It has letters, little presents and clothes from our other fishermen friends whom we are leaving behind here. They asked us to deliver these to their families back home,” Naresh shared. “The presents are beaded lockets, rings and other little trinkets that we learned to make here in jail. We are not just taking back the love from this jail to India. We are also taking back this craft of beadwork with us. We will also teach it to our children back home,” he added.
The rest of the 20 fishermen who were released are: Raju Vinod, Bachi Lal, Babu Lal, Vivek Ram, Jai Singh, Dinesh Singh, Kamblapa Bhavyesh, Hari Bheeka, Manu Vira, Bhagat Basu, Kana Deva, Gopal Jina, Bheema Mala and Bharat Haja.
Malir jail DSP Azeem Thebo said that with the release of these 20 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture on the part of the Pakistan government, there are 568 Indian fishermen still left in his jail.
The fishermen were being escorted to Lahore by road by the Edhi Foundation. Each of them was presented with a big sack of gifts and eatables along with Rs5,000 in cash by the charity. They would be handed over to Indian authorities via the Wagah Border after reaching Lahore on Monday.
As the bus carrying the fishermen drove past the prison gates, the men inside could be seen waving away to the prison staff who waved back with equal enthusiasm. “Jeetay raho [live long and prosper],” one of the men in uniform called out to them.
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2022