Indian fishermen on Thursday leave the Malir district prison, which had been their home for the past nine months.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

Indian fishermen on Thursday leave the Malir district prison, which had been their home for the past nine months.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: There they were the lucky 113 Indian fishermen squatting on the floor of the office block of the Malir district prison. It being extremely hot outside, the prison staff thought it better to assemble them inside until they could be handed over to the Special Branch men who were to accompany them to Wagah for their deportation to India.

Their release is a goodwill gesture from the Pakistani prime minister after his Indian counterpart aired his intention to release Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails so that they could be back home with their families in time for Ramazan.

The Indian fishermen being released themselves, of course, didn’t know of these details. All they said was that they were going home after spending around nine months behind bars here for having entered Pakistani waters by mistake. “We came this side without realising it. We were only after bigger and better catch. But who knew that we would ourselves become the catch,” said Alam Dada, adding that he had spent exactly nine months and 24 days in jail for illegally crossing the border.

“I have six children back home. While I was here in jail my wife, Zubaida, had to clean people’s houses and wash their dishes to keep them from starving. Meanwhile, here in jail I was eating chicken three times a week. Once back home I wouldn’t take even the risk of stepping inside a boat. I’d rather take up labour work,” he said.

Besides Alam, there were nine other Muslim fishermen in the group. Shabbir Iqbal Mansuri said he had parents, six brothers and one sister, a wife and three little ones waiting for his return home. “My brothers helped my wife and children make ends meet in my absence,” he said.

‘All I care about is getting back home, however it happens’

When asked if being Muslim helped or put him in a better position than the other Hindu jail inmates here, the fisherman shook his head. “The only thing that helped me was a mosque inside the jail premises where I would go to pray,” he said.

Hemant Gulab, the only fisherman there sporting a red tilak on his forehead said that the kumkum powder for his tilak was sent to him by his mother inside a letter from Gujarat. “She also sent me a postcard size picture of Lord Hanuman in front of which I used to perform pooja,” said the young man, who was arrested with his older brother, Dharmesh, when their boat Maa Sagar entered Pakistani waters.

“I am glad that my brother is also being released with me. Though I’m still single, my brother has a wife and a little baby girl back home. She must have gotten so big in these past nine months,” the doting uncle smiled at the thought.

Besides being overjoyed at being released, the fishermen were also excited about their train journey to Lahore. “I’ve only travelled on a bus before, never a train. And to do it for the first time on your Pakistani train is something I had never even imagined,” Hemant laughed.

Another fisherman, Abhi Singh Deva, also said that he had only travelled on boats and never by train. “We are water animals and trains run on lands, no?” he jokingly commented.

Among the joy there was also some sadness. Vinod Kala, one of the fishermen said that his boat, Dharperkal, was one of the four caught by the Pakistan coastguard with three others nine months back. “All of us on those four boats, except for one, are going home now. The one left behind is Tapu Hira. Somehow his case is still in court. When he heard that we were going home he thinking that he was also among the ones being released was so happy. But when the names were called out his name was missing. That’s when he broke down. He also has a family awaiting his return home,” said Vinod.

Meanwhile, Nagaji Karson, the one bearing the number 113 among the total 113 fishermen, said that he had been arrested eight months back and had only learnt about his release a day earlier. Asked if he knew why he was being released, he said that he didn’t know politics so didn’t care. “All I care about is getting back home, however it happens,” he said and smiled.

Mohammad Hassan Sahito, deputy superintendent at the jail, said that he didn’t know politics either and could only comment about the goings-on at the Malir district prison. “Here we have released 113 today while another 361 fishermen we still have as prisoners. Most of the ones released today have done around nine months time and are the oldest ones here. Among the 361 that we still have in jail, 76 are detainees, 157 convicts and 128 under trial,” he said. “The 113 released fishermen today will be taken to Lahore by train for which arrangements have been made by the Edhi Foundation.”

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2015