By Ragini Shree
Jaipur: Good fences make good neighbours. But what happens when one crosses over the fence. Well, when the parties on both sides are India and Pakistan, the final destination is the jail. Of course, the fences were never good to begin with. But that's another story. This one involves Indian prisoners languishing in Pakistani jails and the concern over their safety among family members across the border.
After the killing of Sarabjit Singh, convicted Indian ‘spy’, in an attack in Kot Lakhpat jail of Lahore and the assault on a Pakistan national Sanaullah in Kot Bilawal jail of Jammu, the families of several Indians lodged in Pak jails are a worried lot. Apprehensive of retaliatory attacks on their kin, a number of harried families in border districts of Rajasthan have approached higher authorities in the Centre to secure the release of their members, lest they meet fate of Singh and Sanaullah.
After these cases made it to the headlines, life is no more the same for Laxmi, wife of Bhag Singh, resident of Gohad Ka Tala village of Barmer. Bhag Singh strayed into other side of the border while grazing cattle in the year 1985 and was nabbed by Pakistani rangers. Since then he has been lodged in various some jails there.
Twenty-seven years on, Laxmi still believes Bhag Singh will be back with her. She still wears bangles and applies vermillion on her forehead with that hope and makes it a point to show these to whoever would care. But her heart has started sinking after the Sarabjit and Sanaullah incidents. The family has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the external affairs ministry, and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot through the Barmer district administration seeking his quick release. In the absence of her husband, Laxmi reared her two sons Arjun and Pratap and daughter Kenku with great difficulty. She originally belonged to a Pakistani village and got married to Bhag Singh in 1974.
"We feel Indian prisoners in Pakistan jails are no more safe. Death of Sarabjit and now attack on a Pakistani in Jammu jail has increased our worries. I have visited many religious places praying for release of my father," says Arjun Singh.
Rajasthan has over a dozen of its residents lodged in Pakistan jails. However, when it comes to their release the authorities feel helpless as in a majority of cases it is not known in which jail they are lodged. Also, their identification becomes tough.
In fact, those still lodged in Pakistan jails seem to be not as lucky as Anwar Khan, Koja Khan, Bija Ram, Isra Ram Meghwal of Barmer district and Jamaluddin of Jaisalmer who were released from Kot Lakhpat jail of Lahore in June 2010. After their release, families of other jail inmates stepped up efforts for the release of their members but all went in vain as the Pakistan authorities did not convey anything about their whereabouts.
Harish Choudhary, member of Parliament from Barmer, says he is doing his best for release of rest of the inmates. Choudhary is also credited with making efforts for release of six inmates. "I have talked to the prime minister and the external affairs minister. But identification of those still lodged in Pakistan jails is a problem. Efforts are still on," he says.
Like Bhag Singh’s, the families of Jamaludin of Jaisalmer, Sahuram Meghwal and Tilaram Bhil of Barmer are running from pillar to post for their safety.
"My father incidentally entered Pakistan territory on 31 May 1989. He was looking for firewood. Pakistan rangers held him and since then he is in some Pak jail. My mother Lakshmi and sister Daya died after six months of his arrest," says Sahuram Meghwal’s son Meghram Meghwal who was just eight years old in 1989. He said they are making efforts to secure the release of his father but the government is not doing enough.
The family got two letters from Sahuram on 6 November 1989 and 27 February 1990 from Hyderabad Central jail of Pakistan but after that there has been no information about his whereabouts. Likewise, family of Jamaludin received his last letter in 1990 from Karachi jail. "He crossed over the border while grazing cattle in the year 1986. We do not know in which jail he is presently lodged," says Hasan Khan, Jamaludin’s son.
All the families now share same woes. They do not know in which jails their family heads are lodged.
"Identification of locals lodged in Pakistani jails was a problem. We collected information about them and tried to prove identities. But then the problem of their whereabouts faced us. There is no information as to in which jails they are lodged," said Bhuvnesh Jain, convener of Thar Jagruk Nagrik Manch. Jain, who is also associated with India-Pakistan People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, has been working for release of locals lodged in Pak jails.
Jain said a majority of locals were nabbed by Pakistani authorities even though they crossed over the border inadvertently since the border did not have proper fencing in those times. He said more such people from Sri Ganganagar and Hanumangarh districts are lodged in Pakistani jails but there is no information about them.
Meanwhile, following the attack on Sanaullah, the Rajasthan jail department has shifted 27 Pakistani prisoners to different jails. The inmates were lodged at central jails in Ajmer, Bharatpur, Kota, Sri Ganganagar, and Kota districts. Director general of police (jail) Omendra Bhardwaj said the department could not compromise with security of Pakistani inmates after recent incidents. "They will be shifted back to their original jails once situation normalises," he told the media.
As per government estimates, there are about 270 Pakistani national lodged in Indian jails and more than 535 Indians, including large number of fishermen, are serving sentences in Pakistani jails.
Meanwhile, the department is also concerned about security of four Pakistani prisoners who are undergoing psychiatric treatment in police custody. The inmates had completed their jail terms but are still lodged here. In the age group of 40 to 60 years, the inmates were arrested when they crossed into Indian territory through the border along Jaisalmer, Barmer and Sri Ganganagar districts.
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Updated Date: May 06, 2013 16:34:47 IST