KARACHI: The second batch of 200 Indian fishermen imprisoned in the Malir District Jail for having mistakenly crossed over this side were released and sent to Lahore via the Allama Iqbal Express from the Cantonment Railway Station here on Thursday.
As many as 10 of the Indian fishermen, all of whom belonged to the Indian state of Gujarat, happened to be Muslims. Most of them wore prayer caps and sported beards which made them stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Turning over a new leaf
Speaking to Dawn, one of the returning Muslim fishermen said that he would always remember Pakistan and his stay in prison here as it helped him become a better Muslim. “I was born Muslim but I didn’t know how to pray. I didn’t even read holy Quran with meaning. But here in jail, I was able to read the holy book properly with translation. I was also taught how to say my prayers also, Alhamdulillah,” he said, adding that he had been in the jail here for 27 months.
“I am grateful for the kind treatment I got from the jail authorities and the respect I received here from fellow prisoners. I will go home and tell everyone about my good experience in Pakistan despite it being in jail,” he added.
Another Muslim fisherman, said that he grew a beard here in Pakistan only. “Hope my family will recognise me with my beard,” he smiled.
He said that being a Muslim, he was entrusted with the job of sweeping and mopping the floors of the jail mosque. “I felt very lucky and proud to be doing the work. It also helped me spend more time in the mosque where I learned how to say my prayers,” said Ismail, who was being released after three-and-a-half years.
Hussain Latif, yet another Indian fisherman, also said that although he knew how to say his prayers, he started saying his prayers regularly, five times a day, while in jail here.
Meanwhile, Talib Kutchi, general-secretary of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s Karachi division, was both shocked and surprised to run into a relative among the fishermen. “His name is Shabbir Saleem,” he told Dawn. “Here I was interviewing the fishermen and suddenly I ran into this one here who seems to know everyone in my family,” he laughed while hugging the fisherman.
“I had no idea he was in jail here. And I only met him now when he is leaving,” said Mr Kutchi.
Keeping up fashion trends in jail
Many of the fishermen wore earrings. Several sported trendy haircuts with well-defined eyebrows, too. “I got my haircut in jail only. There are expert barbers here. They also threaded my eyebrows and often gave me facials, too,” said Harshad Mohan, adding that the barbers and beauticians were also prisoners but Pakistanis.
He had a similar-looking, equally fashionable youngster sitting next to him, who happened to be his cousin Suresh Vinod. Vinod’s right eyebrow had a razor design in the shape of a neat ‘V’. “For my surname ‘Vinod’,” he explained.
Both the cousins said that they were happy to have found barber and beautician services in jail here.
Another equally beauty-conscious Indian fisherman was Jaish Bhai, who had his gelled hair slicked back and looked sharp with his well-defined eyebrows. “I will also have to find a good barber and beautician in Gujarat,” he said.
The solution was sitting right next to them. Shukal Bhai, another fisherman, said that while he was in jail here, his wife had been running the house and taking care of everyone back home as she had opened a beauty parlour. “They can come to their bhabi’s [sister-in-law’s] parlour in Gujarat,” he smiled.
As a goodwill gesture from Pakistan, the second batch of fishermen were preceded by the release of 198 Indian fishermen on May 11. In between, India also released some 21 Pakistani prisoners, nine of whom were fishermen. There are still 97 Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails.
The third batch of about 100 Indian fishermen is said to be released on July 2.
As always the responsibility of transporting the fishermen to Lahore, where they will be handed over to the Indian authorities through the Wagah Border, was taken by the Edhi Foundation. Faisal Edhi was there to send them off from Karachi with gifts and Rs5,000 cash for each fisherman. They were also given food, including biryani, fruits, juice, cake and biscuits courtesy the Fishermen Cooperative Society.
Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2023