KARACHI: For the families of poor fishermen who are picked up at sea for violating the territorial waters of another country, the wait for the return of their breadwinners is agony itself. Imagine then the pain of a family when they get back a coffin.
On Thursday, the family of 35-year-old fisherman Abdul Karim Bhatti bid a tearful goodbye to him here in Karachi, two days after his remains were handed over to Pakistan by India through Wagah border in Lahore.
There was a huge protest at the Native Jetty Bridge by the fisherfolk community ahead of Bhatti’s final journey from his home in Bhit Island to the Mawach Goth graveyard, where he was buried.
Bhatti’s body, in a casket wrapped in a black sheet, was covered with two small Pakistan flags as the fisherfolk chanted slogans against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India. Two effigies of Modi were also set on fire.
“Modi murdabad [death to Modi]! Modi, the murderer of the poor and defenceless! Modi, the face of Indian terrorism! Hope you drown, Modi! Hitler Modi! Killer Modi! Murderer Modi!” They were chanting these slogans and carrying banners and placards on which was written ‘Muslim lives matter’, ‘We demand equal treatment of fishermen in both countries’, etc.
‘While Pakistan returns Indian fishermen in large numbers as gestures of goodwill, we get back our fishermen in boxes’
“Pakistan also has Indian fishermen in our jails, arrested for the same violation of unknowingly crossing over to Pakistani waters. But we understand that there is no line in the sea to tell these poor fishermen in their small boats that are devoid of sophisticated gadgetry to indicate their exact bearings or location,” said Fishermen’s Cooperative Society (FCS) chairman Hafiz Abdul Berr.
“There are 119 Pakistani fishermen languishing in India’s jails since as far [back] as 1999 but even after 21 years behind bars, nothing is being done to send them back home while they take regular beatings and are made to do menial work. When we release Indian fishermen from our jails, like we did recently, sending back to India some 500 of their fishermen, we send them home as a gesture of goodwill with sweets, ajrak and gifts for their families. We are peaceful people after all and we know that these folks are not criminals and should not be treated as such. But in stark contrast, our fishermen in Indian jails are tortured and if they are lucky enough to return alive from there, they come back as cripples or they have lost their mental balance,” said Mr Berr.
He added that the fishing boat in which the late fisherman had been picked up was a very small one carrying only five fishermen. “And they were caught by India for allegedly violating their waters back in January. Then one month ago, we received news about the death of one of the five fishermen, young Bhatti. They should have returned his body to Pakistan then but they were dilly dallying. Bhatti’s family members would go to the Wagah border again and again, only to return empty handed. Don’t the Indian authorities have a heart?” he said.
“While Pakistan returns Indian fishermen in large numbers as gestures of goodwill, we get back our fishermen in boxes. Recently, we have received three, their mutilated bodies tell stories of terrible torture,” he said.
“It is a sad reality that some of our fishermen, who are arrested at sea with their small fishing boats and trawlers, are not charged with mistakenly crossing over to India. Instead, they are charged with drug smuggling,” he said.
Diverting attention of the people at the protest to Bhatti’s aged father and brother standing quietly with his coffin, he asked if they looked like drug smugglers in any way, making the crowd scream more and chant more slogans against the Indian government.
“Bhatti’s only fault was that he was a Muslim, and that he belonged to Pakistan,” he said.
“These poor fishermen only know one thing, to head for the sea early in the morning to earn their livelihood and return by night with fresh catch,” he said.
“Our hearts are on fire. There is no mention of our poor fishermen in our assemblies. We also urge our respected leaders, our prime minister and our foreign minister to please take up their issues. We urge the international community, human rights activists, the UN agencies for human rights to take notice of the gross violations of human rights against our country’s poor fishermen happening in India.
“Today, with this protest, we declare a campaign against India. We will go to Islamabad and hold sit-ins outside the Indian High Commission and the offices of the United Nations. We will show Modi’s real face to the world. And we will carry on with our campaign until the world gets to know about our plight,” he said.