Back where they belong

Emotional scenes were witnessed at the Wagha border where 141 Indian fishermen were handed over to India.


Express September 08, 2010

LAHORE: Emotional scenes were witnessed at the Wagha border on Tuesday where 141 Indian fishermen were handed over to Indian authorities after having served their sentence in Pakistani prisons.

Out of the 141 prisoners, 18 were Muslims.

The batch of Indian fishermen was the last one to be released from Pakistani jails and handed over to India as a goodwill gesture. The Supreme Court (SC) had ordered that the fisherman who had completed their term in jails should be repatriated. A total of 442 fishermen, imprisoned in different jails of Sindh, have been released since August 31. They had been imprisoned after they were caught fishing in Pakistani waters. Some of them had been in jail as long as four years.

The ecstatic fishermen said that the governments of the two countries should come up with a fast track solution to ensure that fishermen, who cross the border by mistake, are released early. Daish Baghwan, a 33-year old Indian from Jona Garh, said that he had spent 18 months in Pakistani jails. He said that he had spent 10 months in Landhi Jail and eight in Badin. “The water border is a tricky one. You don’t even realise that you have crossed it until border patrol forces arrest you. The governments of Pakistan and India should resolve such cases qickly,” he said.

Tapu Tega, a 35-year-old released prisoner from Gujarat, said that the attitude of Pakistani officials had been nice enough, “but a prison is a prison”.

He said that he had crossed the border without knowing it. He also said that it was easy to drift into alien waters since a “water border is hard to identify”. Tega said that he was overjoyed at the prospect of returning home.

Civil society organisations had filed the petition with the SC for the release of the Indian fishermen who had served their sentences. Farzana Mumtaz, media coordinator of the South Asian Partnership Pakistan – that has been working for the release of such prisoners – told The Express Tribune that a delegation of Pakistani civil society activists comprising Justice (retired) Aslam Nasir, Iqbal Haider and Karamat Ali is currently in India to seek the release of 180 Pakistani prisoners being held at Indian jails. “The delegation will call on the Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and Supreme Court judges for the release of the Pakistani prisoners,” she said.

Mumtaz said that sending the Indian fishermen home was an achievement of the civil society organisations. She added that the organisations were trying their best to ensure that the Pakistani prisoners being held in India reached home before or immediately after Eid.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2010.

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