Segregated by a thin wire, supporters of India and Pakistan shout, cheer and jeer at each other. But this audience is different. They are inmates at District Jail, Malir, one of Karachi’s handful of prisons.
The men turned out in the hordes to watch the India Pakistan World Cup semi-final on Wednesday in a colourful tent in the jail. “When the prime minister himself announced a half holiday, we also thought that the match should be screened. Plus, there was a huge demand,” explains Shahabud Din Siddiqi, the assistant jail superintendent of Malir jail.
Among the prisoners are about 350 Indian fishermen who were arrested from Pakistan’s territorial waters two years ago.
Despite being seated separately, the bonhomie among some and the belligerence among others is obvious. “He’d better support Pakistan,” says Hafeez Hussain, nodding towards Govind, a stout man in his 40s. “Because I manage to get him cigarettes every day.” The comment earns him quick pokes and laughter.
Ashok, a 20-year-old resident of a village in Gujarat, is cheering the loudest for India — much to the annoyance of others. “Yuvi aa gaya! bhayee aa gaya!” [Yuvraj Singh has come]. But when the Indian batsman is out on the first ball, someone quickly retorts, “Woh toh chala bhi gaya.” [And he’s gone already].
Ashok becomes a little emotional when he is asked about how he feels. “I feel like I am in my own country. Usually we just spend our time smoking. Some even use drugs to pass the time or to escape their depression.”
This is the first time a cricket match is being screened for prisoners. Otherwise, they just play the sport themselves. “But there is no one to cheer us when we play. Watching our countries play is a completely different fun,” says Dev Suhal.
Most of them miss their families. However, they feel a little better with their friends sitting by their side. “When we were brought here, we were told that we would be free in six months,” says Prabhu Das, another Gujarat native. “It’s been two years since then.”
Inmates say they love receiving letters from their families.
But as Prabhu Das points out, their content hasn’t changed from the usual conversations they used to have at home. “My parents are forcing to me to change my profession. They want me to start farming on our ancestral lands,” he says with a laugh.
Kassim Hussain, calling the prison his “ancestral home”, takes it upon himself to come up with witty one-liners. “I have three children and I miss them a lot. Inshallah (God willing) if Pakistan wins, I’ll go back to Multan,” he says with a wink. This statement is met by a glare from a constable. Another shot by India goes uncaught and everyone seems to momentarily forget about going home.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2011.