So much human suffering – and for what?

Sharing here a piece I wrote published in The Wire and later in Aman Ki Asha about a poor man from a tiny village on the India-Pakistan border who went missing in 2008. For nine years his family didn’t know where he was. But his government knew for four years before the family learnt from another released prisoner that their loved one was in a prison across the border.

Under-trial for three years, he then served a five-year conviction – but remained imprisoned for three more years while the government dawdled over verifying his nationality.

When they finally repatriated him at the end of January this year following court orders, he was made to travel 1000 km upcountry, then wait for three more days at a border town until police from his home state went to bring him back, another 1000 km downcountry. Here’s a map I made about his enforced travels:

Ismail Sama’s short journey across the border (small arrow) – and his long journey home. Fisherfolk caught violating the maritime border also have to endure this when imprisoned on the other side.

Read the full story at The Wire: India-Pakistan Relations: What the Kafkaesque Case of a Repatriated Cattle-Herder Tells Us, or at the Aman Ki Asha (hope for peace) website that I edit.

Here’s a follow up story by Gopal B. Kateshiya, ‘Coming back is second birth for me’: Kutch man returns home after 13 years in Pakistan jail, The Indian Express. Extract: “A scorpion stung me and I felt giddy. I lost my direction. Next morning, around 10.30 am, Pakistan rangers caught me, telling me I had intruded into their country. They took me to hospital and after my condition improved, they handed me over to Inter Services Intelligence (ISI),” said Ismail, son of a farmer.

Ismail Sama with his family: Reunited and it feels so good. Photo: Courtesy Indian Express.

Thirteen years is a long time. The story would be remarkable if it was a one-off but sadly, such incidents are not rare.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Here's a report published some years ago which outlines some of the main problems (PDF). Here’s a report published some years ago which outlines some of the main problems (PDF).

Detained fisherfolk: Denial of consular access is denial of justice

It is beyond belief that Pakistan has STILL not nominated members to the joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, which India did in 2018. I have personally sent notes to several members of the ruling party through various contacts. They say they care but there are obviously more important matters to worry about than poor imprisoned fishermen. The Judicial committee, instituted in 2007, has been virtually defunct since the end of 2013. Cross-border prisoners completing their sentences continue to languish in prisons across the border because of lack of consular access. This wouldn’t happen if they were rich and powerful.

Arrested Indian fishermen in Pakistan lockup. File photo. Getty images
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India, Pakistan: For a better future, build on prisoner exchange agreement

Maier-tikka

Two-year old Maier Jawwad needs urgent heart surgery in India.

Wrote a piece on a glimmer of hope regarding India Pakistan relations that needs to be built upon. Published in The News and in The Wire; original text below.

The best news in some time is that India and Pakistan are rising above their differences and joining hands for a humanitarian cause – they have agreed to exchange vulnerable prisoners (women, the elderly over 70 years, and those with special needs), as well as revive the Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners that has not met since 2013. They will also allow medical experts from both sides to meet and examine mentally challenged prisoners in preparation for their repatriation.  Continue reading

Returning inadvertent border-crossers and more: Glimpses of humanity

fauzia-ansari-and-nehal-ansari-parents-of-hamidLast week I wrote this short piece below for Aman ki Asha (hope for peace) after the Indian border security forces returned a young, inadvertent border-crosser to Pakistan. Today, there’s news that the Pakistan government will allow the wife of the Indian national and alleged spy Kulbushan Yadav to meet him “on humanitarian grounds”.

This raises hopes that the parents of another Indian prisoner Hamid Ansari will finally also be allowed to meet him. In fact, as the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy has said, the families of all cross-border prisoners should be given access to their loved ones in prison across the border.  Continue reading

Hope for young Ateeq, a real life ‘Ramchand Pakistani’

Below, a report I wrote on Feb 23, published in The News aman ki asha page of Feb 24 (see accompanying report ‘Prisoners of archaic laws‘ by Rabia Ali), shortly before 12-year old Ateeq’s hearing in Amritsar on Feb 26 – which Asma Jahangir and I.A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan managed to attend.

12-year old Ateeq from Lahore, currently in the Juvenile Jail in Hoshiarpur, India

Here is an update from Asad Jamal in Lahore on Feb 26:
Release orders were passed for the 12 years old Pakistani boy in Indian Juvenile (Hoshiarpur) Prison after Asma Jahangir appeared in the Juvenile Court in Amritsar today. Now the Pakistan authorities have to complete procedural matters and bring the boy back home. Asma Jahangir met the boy in Amritsar and found him traumatised. She had taken video film of the boy’s father as well some clothes for him. Local lawyers/activists arranged and distributed sweets after the court order. Continue reading

Prisoners’ anguish

A lifetime lost...Left with no speech, no memory, no family (photo courtesy The News)

A lifetime lost...Left with no speech, no memory, no family (photo courtesy The News)

An 85-year old man acquitted after 38 years in prison has little to live for – he has lost his speech and memory, and is now being cared for by Christian missionaries at a shelter in Malir, Karachi.

See ‘The News‘ editorial 38 years .

The same day as news of Saeed-ul-Haq’s acquittal was published, newspapers reported that a Pakistani had been ‘tortured to death’ in an Indian prison. M. Nawaz Jamil had been a student of class 9 in 1991 when Indian troops arrested him along the Line of Control. He ended up serving far more than the six years he was sentenced for. This is what Indians regularly do to Pakistani prisoners and vice versa.

As I wrote in an article last December, ‘Media falls into old trap’):
Prison conditions and how the police treat prisoners in both countries are no secret. It is not that we treat Indian prisoners well, while they viciously torture Pakistanis. Sometimes a prisoner’s death results not from outright torture but illness arising from neglect — poor living conditions in a hostile environment, extreme temperatures, lack of medical attention, all compounded by lack of contact with loved ones back home.

There have been many instances of Pakistani prisoners dying in Indian prisons and vice versa. But what strikes me is the cruelty with which we treat our own prisoners, as the case of Saeed ul Haq shows. Not to mention all those other deaths in custody that periodically surface.

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