Trapped: The sufferings of Indo-Pak Prisoners
by Ravi Nitesh
Diplomatic tools include goodwill agreements on policies, trade, and about resolving existing conflicts between any two countries, but for two countries of the South Asia region, namely India and Pakistan, there is another tool as well, and sadly, this tool is the release of each other’s prisoners in the name of humanity and goodwill. This would help as a show of friendship between the governments. These prisoners have been made and are being utilised as objects, as mere pawns in the diplomatic game played by both the states. We all know how hundreds of prisoners including fishermen languish in each country’s jails. If we set aside the question of their sufferings and other problems, another basic question is if these persons can be released at a time when governments want to use them as a tool of diplomacy, it means that they are entitled to be released even before, so why are they not released then? Even if we talk on the basis of logic, humanity and justice, it means that they do not have the right to be released and their rights can always be superseded by a person sitting in government. The same constitution that provides rights of equality, deprives them through legalising the decision of ‘mercy’ using a constitutional post. Though even this should be welcomed as at least their lives can get some relief from the continuous suffering of being a prisoner in another country, but surely this relief is their entitlement anyway and need not be showcased only as a mercy of government?
Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak Friendship initiative, recently released a detailed list of prisoners that includes their name, place of arrest, date of arrest, present status and offences lodged against them. The importance of this list is determined by the fact that even today in the era of information technology and e-governance the governments have not released a similarly detailed list on their portals. Due to the unavailability of this kind of detailed list from the side of government, many families still do not know if their relatives are actually behind bars and for what offence. With the available data on this list that comprises Pakistani prisoners in India (the list of Indian prisoners in Pakistan would be announced within a month), some shocking facts have been revealed. The list shows that approximately 43 percent of arrested fishermen (46 out of 107) are held in jails without registering any offence against them, while the rest of the 57 percent are under trial. Also, in the prisoners’ list of 278, there are 48 persons who have completed their sentence but are still being held while waiting for nationality confirmation from the High Commission of Pakistan. A large number of prisoners are under trial. With this data, it is clear how much psychological pressure the state is imposing upon foreign prisoners. Everybody knows that the situation of prisoners is not good in India or in Pakistan, but with the prisoners of either country, the case becomes extremely serious due to security threats and other issues. The examples of Sarabjit and Sanaullah are there to understand how jingoism and hatred makes these prisoners so vulnerable. Apart from this, there is a need to overhaul the state machinery to facilitate these prisoners’ release with speedy justice. These prisoners are spread in various jails across the country, some of them are under trial for a long time, a few others have no access to advocates who can fight for them. Apart from this, there are prisoners for whom a sentence was awarded along with a ‘fine’ and in the case of unpaid fines the sentence is automatically increased for a definite term. It means that the fine is actually not a fine for them. How can we expect any prisoner of India or Pakistan to be able to pay the fine? Is it not another injustice with them?
However, there is reason to believe that this is not the case just because they are prisoners of India or Pakistan in each other’s country. It may not be any kind of rivalry; instead it seems to reflect bureaucratic slowness, disinterest and insensitivity. This seems to be the case as if it would not be so, then why would the nationality confirmation from their own country, from their own high commissions and ministries take such a long time? There is an urgent need to become sensitive towards this issue. This sensitisation needs to come from politicians and bureaucrats as well as from judicial systems. If it can be done with a desire for human welfare, it can automatically be a turning point of diplomacy itself that will be considered as true diplomatic steps for these persons by providing them some sort of relief rather than playing a game with their suffering. An urgent need of a common framework for treating each other’s prisoners is badly required. This framework can be created through the participation of civil society and government members from both sides.
Ravi Nitesh is from Delhi. He is the founder of Mission Bhartiyam (India) and core member of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
Posted on June 15, 2014, in Articles and tagged Indian fishermen in Pakistan, Indo-Pak fishermen, Indo-Pak Prisoner list, Indo-Pak prisoners, Pakistani fishermen in India, ravi nitesh. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.