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Monday, 16 January 2012

Warm memories of time in Pak jail

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/Warm-memories-of-time-in-Pak-jail/articleshow/11494538.cms

*Warm memories of time in Pak jail*
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*Anahita Mukherji, Times of India | Jan 15, 2012, *

Within half an hour of the retreat ceremony at the Wagah-Attari junction,
the two gates on either side of a thin white line that forms the border
between India and Pakistan were re-opened once again at twilight on January
8. And 183 weary-eyed Indian prisoners released from Pakistan began
trickling into the country.

Of these, 179 were fisherfolk from Gujarat who had accidentally crossed the
invisible line in the sea that divides India from Pakistan. But as Sunday
Times sat down to listen to their stories, expecting tales of terror and
torture, what came out was both uplifting and heartwarming. Our prisoners
had actually come home with fond memories of their stay in Pakistan's
prisons.

While a Karachi prison scarcely seems the place for Hindu-Muslim unity, the
fishermen spoke highly of the Pakistani inmates with whom they shared jail
space. The Pakistani convicts went out of their way to help the fishermen
adjust to life in prison. "We became one large family," says Bharat Suda
Soma. "We were never discriminated against for being Hindu. Whenever we
needed something, like soap or buckets, the Pakistani prisoners would get
it for us.'' Pakistani jailers, who gave the fishermen hope that they would
soon be out, came in for praise, too: "The jailers liked us as we were
well-behaved. They would let us go for walks in prison.''

Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, retired Pakistan Supreme Court judge and current
chairman of the Pakistani government's Committee for Welfare of Prisoners,
says, "The Indian prisoners in our custody are well looked after. Someone
from our office visits them every day.'' It was on Zahid's mobile phone
that three minors released last week recall speaking to their families
while in prison. "Whenever I spoke to my mother, she would cry and ask me
when I would come home,'' 16-year-old Kamlesh told this reporter after he
entered India.

The fishermen had spent between a year and 15 months in jail. Ram Singh
Shamat of Junagadh district was in prison for two years. He had no idea he
had crossed into Pakistani waters until he heard a shot fired in the air
before being captured. "I was very scared. I had no idea what was going to
happen,'' he says.

Their joy at being released was, of course, tempered with grief for their
fellow fisherfolk left behind in prison. In a remarkable show of solidarity
with their brethren, the fishermen painstakingly drew up a list of 61 men -
with details of villages and talukas and dates on which they were arrested
- still in Pakistani jail. Each of the released fishermen has two
photocopies of this list which they hope to circulate amongst the media and
activists in a bid to get their friends free.

Jatin Desai, joint secretary of the Pakistan India People's Forum for Peace
and Democracy, feels that fishermen should be released by sea with their
boats instead of the long route via land, from Karachi to the Wagah border
and then onwards from Amritsar to Gujarat.

While 276 Indian fishermen still remain in Pakistani prisons, 29 Pakistani
fishermen are in Indian jails. India released 121 fishermen last year.
Zahid feels there should be a bilateral committee of officials on board a
ship between the two countries, looking at cases of fishermen straying
across the border and settling the matter in the sea itself. Because no
amount of affection in a foreign jail can make up for lost time with loved
ones back home.