Bewildered by years of captivity, nine fishermen reunite with families in Karachi

Published May 28, 2023
A fisherman fails to recognise his relatives who had come to receive him on Saturday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
A fisherman fails to recognise his relatives who had come to receive him on Saturday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Nine Pakistani fishermen, who were languishing in Indian jails for years, reached Karachi on Saturday. They were among the 21 Pakistani prisoners released by the Indian government on May 19 at the Wagah Border following Pakistan’s release of as many as 198 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture some two weeks ago on May 11.

Most of the nine fishermen — Abdul Munnaf Thaeem, Qasim Mallah, Achhar Mallah, Ahmad Jat, Sher Ali, Salim Khuda Bux, Iqbal Thamore, Allah Bux Thamore and Majeed Solangi —belonged to Thatta and Sujawal. After crossing over to Lahore via Wagah, they spent a week in quarantine to check for contagious diseases, before coming to Karachi.

They were brought to Karachi via road by the Edhi Foundation, who offered them gifts and cash upon their arrival here. Also present to receive them was the Administrator Fisheries Zahid Ibrahim Bhatti with more cash.

Here, they looked totally lost, crazed and bewildered as they emerged from the van at Edhi Foundation’s Centre near the Merewether Tower. The fisherman Abdul Majeed of Keti Bandar, who had spent the longest time of over nine years in prison among the returning nine, was not even making sense. He only had one word, “no”, to say in reply to whatever question anyone put to him.

When asked if he missed home while in jail in India, he said “no”, when asked if he was happy to be back in Pakistan, he said “no” and when asked if he knew what he was saying, he again said “no”.

His maternal uncle, Rehmatullah, who had come to receive him, said the fisherman was only 16 years old when he was picked up by the Indian Coast Guard and now he was 25. “He spent his teenage years in jail in another country, away from his family. All the other fishermen who had been caught with him returned to Pakistan one by one but him, because he was underage when he was caught and had no identification on him. Here he didn’t even have a B-Form to prove his nationality due to the lack of awareness of his parents,” Majeed’s uncle explained.

“His father used to cry inconsolably as he would pray for his return. Slowly, all his organs—liver, kidney and lungs—failed. He died eight months ago. It will take Majeed some time to come to grips with reality,” the uncle said.

Qasim Mallah, a fisherman from Sujawal, laughed in reply to every question. When asked how he was treated in Indian jail, he laughed. When asked about his family at home in Sujawal, he said he had five children. When asked who took care of them while he was in jail, he laughed till he had tears in his eyes.

Another fisherman, Sher Ali, also from Sujawal, looked confused like others. Returning after five-and-a-half years, he said that he had parents and a wife waiting for him at home. When asked if he had any children, he said “no”, only to be informed by relatives who had come to receive him that he in fact had a little five-year-old daughter. That’s when he broke down and cried. “Yes, my wife was expecting when I was arrested for unknowingly crossing over to Indian waters. This is the first time I learnt that I have a child,” he wept while embracing his cousins, the bearers of good news. “Please take me to my little girl, please,” he begged them.

Speaking to the media on the occasion, Mr Bhatti said that he was glad to see the ice melting between Pakistan and India. “We released so many Indian fishermen earlier this month and will release more in June, too. Hopefully, these nine Pakistani fishermen, who returned this time will be followed by our remaining 95 in the jails of that country,” he said.

The chairman of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Mehran Ali Shah told Dawn that human rights violations against fishermen of both Pakistan and India are happening despite both countries being signatories to Article 73 of the United Nations Convention of the Law of Sea. “According to the law, arrested vessels and their crews shall be treated with leniency and promptly released after establishing that they only crossed over to the other’s territory by mistake during fishing. But there has been no implementation of this law on both sides,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2023

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