Karachi, December 26 (Dawn): As a goodwill gesture, the Pakistan government on Sunday released 220 Indian fishermen who were in custody for more than a year for intruding into Pakistani waters.
Though each of the fishermen was glad to be able to go back home, for Bhaggu Sarman it meant extra joy as he was hardly expected to live to see the day.
“Eight months ago he suffered a stroke that has left him partially paralyzed,” said Ramesh Sadu.
Both belonged to Junagarh district of Gujarat state and served 14 months in Malir jail.
“We sent him to hospital for treatment and weren’t expecting him to make it, but surprisingly he has recovered enough to be discharged. He is also considered strong enough to travel to India by train,” prison clerk Ameer Baig told Dawn.
“He won’t be able to catch fish back home, but his two sons are in their late teens and will support him as they have been doing during his time here,” said Sadu.
At least 23 of the fishermen happen to be Muslim.
One of them, Yaqoob Taju, said it was his second time in Pakistan.
“I’m pretty familiar with your Malir jail by now. Let’s just hope I don’t drift towards your waters again. And that if I do come to Pakistan it is with my wife and children and on a sightseeing expedition to appreciate what’s outside the prison walls,” he said as he laughed heartily.
He added that he was the captain of his boat, Laal Pari, which had drifted into Pakistani waters while he was fell asleep along with his six crewmen.
He was woken up by the Pakistan Coast Guard at 2am about 15 months ago.
“The boat was confiscated by your government. I don’t expect it to be returned,” he said.
The boats are usually not returned to the fishermen even after they go back home after having served their sentences.
All the fishermen said they were arrested in the middle of the night when they had fallen asleep. Ilyas Farooq said they would try to not fall asleep on a boat at night in future.
“What do we do? It was God’s will that we came here by mistake. We can only try to be more careful the next time,” he said.
Next to him sat Gopal Huqa, who said Farooq got favours from the prison staff because he was a Muslim.
“He was served chicken three times a week here.”
Farooq replied that the other fishermen were served the same food and it wasn’t really his fault that Huqa would opt for lentils instead.
Many of the fishermen wore earrings. Pratab Jeena Bahi said that out of boredom one day he just pierced his earlobe with a needle while doing some beadwork.
“I didn’t know what else to do. I was so bored,” he said. Some of the other fishermen also got their ears pierced after that.
The 220 fishermen were taken to the Cantonment Railway Station in seven vehicles where volunteers from the Edhi Foundation presented them with gifts while seeing them off as they boarded a Lahore-bound train.
They will be handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah border crossing.