An outpouring of emotion was on display at the Edhi Centre near Merewether Clock Tower on Thursday, as the families of several fishermen were reunited with their loved ones. (From left to right) A father embraces his stony-faced son; a man sets eyes and lips on his newborn for the first time; and two brothers cry tears of joy.
—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
An outpouring of emotion was on display at the Edhi Centre near Merewether Clock Tower on Thursday, as the families of several fishermen were reunited with their loved ones. (From left to right) A father embraces his stony-faced son; a man sets eyes and lips on his newborn for the first time; and two brothers cry tears of joy. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Twelve Pakistani fishermen arrived here after being released from Indian jails to a touching welcome from their families and well-wishers at the Edhi Centre near the Merewether Tower on Thursday morning.

Nine of the fishermen belong to Goth Chachjhan in Sujawal, and three to Machhar Colony, in Karachi’s Lyari area.

Some of them had been in jail since 2009, some others since 2013 and a few since 2017.

In a sharp contrast to the horrific stories of mistreatment and beatings in Indian prisons told by so many of the returning Pakistani fishermen in the past, the ones who returned this time had something different to say about the jail authorities in India.

106 Pakistani fishermen are still languishing in Indian prisons

“We were very sad to be away from our homes and from our families but as far as life behind bars in India is concerned, they treated us normally, like they treat their own prisoners,” said Mohammad Jumman of Goth Chachjhan Khan, Shah Bandar, Sujawal, who was captured by the Indian coastguard in 2017.

Brothers Maqbool Shah and Allah Bachayo, who were also in the same boat as Jumman, also said that there was no harsh treatment towards them just for being Pakistanis. “The only problem was that we were given vegetables and lentils to eat,” said Allah Bachayo.

“But that we will remedy here when we get back to catching fish,” smiled his brother Maqbool Shah.

Mithan Jat, the captain of the boat they had all been in, couldn’t stop the tears. Asked why he was crying since he was in Pakistan now, he smiled through his tears, shook his head and said that these were tears of joy.

When asked if he was also going to get back to catching fish now, Mithan shook his head again. “I think my wife and children won’t even let me leave home now. It will be a new kind of captivity for me,” he said, making the others around him chuckle.

There was also Amir Hussain eagerly waiting for his son Shabbir Ahmed’s return. Amir was caught with his son as their boat Al Ghous was captured back in 2013. While the father was released after two years, in 2015, the son Shabbir was released only now. “Each day of my life was terrible without my son who I had to leave behind since they were not releasing him. I am so grateful to my God to have ended this difficult time of separation for us,” he said as he was finally reunited with his son.

Both embraced for a long while as they wept without saying a single word.

Chairman of the Fishermen Cooperative Society Zahid Ibrahim Bhatti said that it was unfortunate that the poor fishermen on both sides of the border had to spend years behind bars for mistakenly crossing over into alien territory. “They are separated from their families who have difficulty making ends meet without their earning members. We also try and support their families by helping getting some money and food rations to them but still it is not the same,” he said while handing over Rs25,000 cash to each returning fisherman.

With his uncle Faisal Edhi busy with earthquake victims in Turkiye, Ahmed Edhi, was also there to welcome the returning fishermen.

He had helped get them all to Karachi, as the Edhi Foundation has been doing all these years, following their being handed over to Pakistani authorities at Wagah on January 27.

He also presented each with Rs5,000 cash.

After the release of these 12 fishermen, there are still 106 more Pakistani fishermen languishing in India’s Gujarat prisons.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2023

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